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Colorado Livin' / School

Is That an Office Depot Sign Above My Head, or is the School Just Happy To See Me?

Is That an Office Depot Sign Above My Head, or is the School Just Happy To See Me?

267 pre-sharpened pencils from our family alone.

Approximately 2,200 sheets of “facial tissue”—enough to sop up the runny noses and tears of the local chapter of the Jonas Brother’s Fan Club for a year.

Baby wipes, zip-top baggies, paper plates, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and oh yeah. Some crayons. It’s nice to see crayons mixed in the list of odd requests. How did I manage to stumble through 13 years of public school education without a disposable camera?

When I look at my children’s school supply list, I begin to wonder if I am arming them with educational supplies or opening my own office supply store.

We will have four kids in school this year. I don’t mind buying their supplies when the items on the list are logical. Notebook paper makes sense. Glue? Sure! It would be strange to not supply pencils, pens, markers, folders, and scissors. But when I see that I must send a roll of paper towels with my first-grader, I suspect I am not arming him to master the finer points addition and subtraction.

I am stocking the janitor’s closet.

Every year, we are asked to provide more and more items that do not stay with our children. We are warned not to label anything with our child’s name because all 75 pencils my third-grader must take are thrown into the communal pot. If he has 20 kids in his class, and each brings in their requisite 75 pencils, there will be 1,500 pencils on hand for just his class that first day of school. Frankly, I have a hard time believing my eight-year-old is going to wear his share of 75 pencils down to a collection of nubbins this upcoming year. That works out to be an entirely new pencil about every other day. Maybe they don’t make pencils like they used to? I remember having the same dreamy Hello Kitty pencil for most of fourth grade.

Defenders of the over-blown and audacious lists claim schools have no choice but to require parents to supply the items the school district cannot. The budget is always blamed. But I am hard-pressed to believe the school district can’t provide disinfectants to janitors and teachers. My parents didn’t have to supply my teachers their chalk, yet we have to send in about 30 dry erase markers for the white boards in the classrooms. Chalkboards are obsolete, apparently. Who wants to use ridiculously cheap and abundant chalk when you can have a rainbow of brilliant colors explaining the mysterious dance of nouns and verbs?

Me. Bring back the chalk. Question the need for paper plates and baby wipes.

Give parents a break.

The solid majority of moms and dads are happy and excited to arm their kids for serious education, including me. I’ll happily buy 10,000 sheets of notebook paper because I feel it is directly contributing to my kids’ education. I want to see every sheet filled with stories, math problems, and what happened in 1867. I take school seriously and always have. But more and more I find myself resenting the lists which grow increasingly elaborate, baffling, and financially demanding.

My hope for next year is that schools, teachers, and parents can create lists together after thoroughly scrutinizing the need and use of every last item. Is it something critically important? Is there a less expensive substitute? In the case of things like paper plates and paper towels, is there something washable and more environmentally friendly?

What can we do to ease the burden on everyone involved?

Blast from the past. This post was originally published in 2008 but it still rings true today!

Author: gretchen

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  1. Oh goodness- I agree. Someday I will have 4 in school but right now it’s just 2 and the cost is unbearable. Two packs of dry erase markers for 1st grade?? That was our most expensive item on the list at almost $4 each. And I still haven’t found the Twistables crayons in an 8 pack of NORMAL colors yet. Whatever happened to using just regular crayons??


  2. I love this peice. It’s so true! I found it just in time to add the link to my post on back-to-school shopping at

    I’ve got all the pencils and such my kids need, but still need to buy the hand wipes, the sanitizing wipes, the plastic baggies, etc. Ugh.

  3. Please understand that the funding is not available and by providing what the teachers ask for is DIRECTLY helping your student. No, there is not money to have the janitor wipe the chairs and tables on a daily basis, but the clorox wipes that you supply will allow kids to learn how to clean their own space. The dry erase markers are a highlight of writing on the board for kids-I am sure you will learn this! Kids and teachers need our support and schools need to change. How will you make schools better? How can YOU make schools use their funds to accelerate education? Complaining won’t do it.

  4. We homeschool, so we haven’t had to deal with the long list of supplies, but I’ve seen the list that our school district puts out. It’s insane. And our school district is not broke (although they do their fair share of whining about needing more money). One of the high schools in the district has a football stadium all its own — off campus.

    75 pencils for one student? That sounds like an awful lot to me, too. My son used the same pencil for all of 1st grade, so the pack of 12 we bought should carry us through 4th or 5th at least (even though the amount of writing he does will pick up.)

    Give the parents a break is right. Aren’t the taxes enough?

  5. My god daughter just started kindergarten and when her Mom read me both (not just one) school supply list we both were left speechless at the items on the list that we both thought were pointless. Also, it is crazy that we have to supply supplies for the teachers. I totally agree with you on the need for parents to come together and have a voice in the matter. My daughter will be in school in just three years and if things keep going to the way they are I can’t imagine what it will be like. Maybe they might ask the kids to bring their own desks and chairs?! Well, another thing I was confused about was the fact that on the school list it listed all name brand crayola markers and sharpees. Those were the expected items to be bought, but what if it isn’t in a parents budget to buy name brand art supplies?
    Thanks for speaking your opinion on the matter I know a lot of poeple feel the same way.

  6. On the last day of school, I noticed the shelf in my 3rd grade daughter’s classroom crammed with dozens of Kleenex boxes, wipes, and hand sanitizer. I asked her teacher, “What are you going to do with all that stuff?!” She replied that the school is considering revisiting the list and possibly paring it down (hasn’t happened yet). That same daughter brought home half her pencils, unused. So they were rolled over into this year’s pencils. Saved me a buck or two, I suppose.

    I think seriously half this year’s list is non-school supply related stuff. I am considering, for next year, just not buying all the peripherals. What are they gonna do? Even if the teacher did confront me, I’d just say that with three kids, my family needs the money more than the school does.

    And don’t even get me started on PTO fundraisers.

    People like “LE” are just super-annoying, and a BIG reason so many people are defecting to private or home school.

  7. Wow. This is news to me! With one about to start pre-school I had no idea that parents are asked to supply so much nowadays (ok, I don’t think I’ve ever sounded so old-fashioned – “nowadays?”) Anyway, you’ve got me a bit scared. It all seems pretty excessive and not to mention, not a great lesson in consumerism for our kids.

  8. I think it depends on the district, to a large extent. My daughter begins kindergarten this year and our list was extremely reasonable–only 3 items were for “community use,” and these were minimal–4 glue sticks (came in one package for $1.99 at Staples), a box of Kleenex (to be brought in January), and a roll of masking tape. The other items were also really reasonable–two bottles of glue, both for my daughter’s use; six pencils; one box of crayons; one box of 8 markers; 50 counters (small, non-rolling objects for her to count); scissors; a folder; a box of watercolors; and a pillow for reading time. All of these items are for my daughter only and the school asked that they each be labeled with her name. Our district is fairly well-off, but not fabulously so; the economic status of the area is pretty mixed. It seems that if some schools can be moderate in their demands, others should be able to be so, too. Seventy-five pencils from each student in a class of 20 is ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind purchasing one or two items like paper towels or hand sanitizer for my child’s class, but some of these supply lists seem pretty extravagant–particularly if they’re having a surplus at the end of every year.

  9. Hear hear.

    My kids went back to school in July, which was, of course, BEFORE all the school supplies go on sale (gotta love the track system). And then to have to supply some of the strange things that you’ve also mentioned? Breaks my budget and has NOTHING to do with my kiddos’ education. Sigh.

  10. Soudns like you should consider homeschooling or private school if you are so unhappy with public school.

  11. Are you KIDDING? My kids have to bring in… let me check… a pencil case, a pencil, an eraser and a notebook and some gym shoes. The end. Other things are suggested, but not necessary. They wanted to keep the supply list economically within reach of parents, whcih I think is a GOOD goal.

  12. My kids go to school in a very small district in a rural area with a fairly low average income (so, the boonies), so I understand why they ask for things that don’t normally fit the school supply list. But I am happy to report that our school only asks for what they truly need and will use – say, a single dry erase marker on the girls’ list and one small package of Ziploc bags for the boys, so it’s not extravagant. Probably because they know 90% of the population around here couldn’t afford it anyway. Plus, they send home the supply lists at the end of each school year so I can buy a little here and there over the summer instead of buying it all at once. I’m not sure what I’d do if we moved and the new school’s list was ridiculous. Honestly, though, I’d probably buy what my kids needed, maybe a little extra, and omit the silly requests, provided I knew the school didn’t absolutely have to have it. What are they going to do… ask my child not to come back because we didn’t bring a full dozen dry erase markers or eight boxes of Kleenex?

  13. Here in California, I know schools do need money. I don’t know what the supplies list entails, but I know the PTA at our local elementary school raises $250,000 a year and that while some of that money is used to pay for art and music teachers, some of it goes to pay for trash cans, because those aren’t in covered by the budget. So, I won’t be suprised to see wipes on the list, and while dry erase pens seem unnecessary, I know that when I was in elementary school janitors cleaned our chalk boards every night in some magic way that made them look incredibly good and perhaps school districts aren’t paying people to do that anymore? In any event, I’ll be happy to pony up for the needed supplies, and glad that I have the money to do so. The communal pencil thing is a little odd, do they do that with crayons too? I remember being very proprietary with my crayons as a kid. Even so, I don’t think everything I buy needs to be for my child, and I’m ok with it if some goes to children who can’t afford the supplies, or whose parents don’t pay attention to the list.

  14. Hi,
    I live in Massachusetts and my sister lives in Florida. One year we compared lists and receipts and discovered that what she spends in school supplies was almost exactly the difference in our property taxes.

    My first graders list is this…
    8 pencils
    2 erasers
    1 pkg. dry erase markers(the school supplies individual white boards)
    10 glue sticks
    1 box of tissues

    That’s it. She’s kind of bummed that she doesn’t get to pick out folders and pencil boxes.

    My (public)preschooler needs a folder. That’s it.

    Your’s seems really excessive. Personally, I think I would send in less and 1/2 way through the year replenish it. Our teacher’s don’t hesitate to send home notes during the year if they really need something. Someone is always willing to donate.

  15. If my kids’ school didn’t send home an insanely long, detailed list that costs at least $55 PER KID to fill, including completely ridiculous things like hand-sanitizer (what’s wrong with soap and water?!) and 300 sticky notes PER KID, I’d be a lot more supportive of their real needs. It reminds me of the Aesops Fables story of the boy who cried wolf.

  16. School districts are providing less and less for the classrooms. Who do you suppose foots the bill when there aren’t enough tissues or crayons—the teacher. Some districts go as far as to lock the general, school-wide supply closet, and teachers, as professionals, have to ask permission for acess. Yes – the lists are long. Yes- some of the supplies seem silly. But, the majority of the items are necessary. I say if those supplies will let the teacher do his/her job better, my child will have a better learning experience. Send in a note if you aren’t able to afford the supplies. The teacher will understand. But, if you have the means, do what the teacher asks.

  17. School districts are providing less and less for the classrooms. Whom do you suppose foots the bill when there aren’t enough tissues or crayons—the teacher. Some districts go as far as to lock the general, school-wide supply closet, and teachers, as professionals, have to ask permission for access. Yes – the lists are long. Yes- some of the supplies seem silly. But, the majority of the items are necessary. I say if those supplies will let the teacher do his/her job better, my child will have a better learning experience. Send in a note if you aren’t able to afford the supplies. The teacher will understand. But, if you have the means, do what the teacher asks.

  18. I agree that some of the lists seem excessive. However, Erin is right. When teachers need more items, they most likely have to foot the bill themselves (I know, because I was one). Also, soap and water are great if you have a sink in your classroom, but very unpractical if you have to send 25 kids to the bathroom all at once (or even in waves) to wash their hands before lunch. Perhaps if we calmly discuss these lists with our child’s teacher or the school principal, we can understand better why they are asking for such things.

  19. Melissa – For the sake of argument, I’ll give you the hand sanitizer. However, one of my children is required to hand-in 80 sharpened pencils. Assuming his class has 25 students, what project does the teacher have designed which requires 2000 pencils?

  20. My 2nd grader has to bring in a blank cassette tape. I didn’t even know they still made those! And 75 pencils. Holy moly. I thought his 24 was a lot. I even told my husband, “there is no way he is going to go thru 24 pencils in one year”. Don’t I feel silly now.

  21. I’m a mom, and I serve on my local school board. I agree with you that the lists are insane. Our district does not have such a crazy list. However, there are a few products on the list that are communal. The reason? We have some students who cannot afford supplies. On the lists, it lets parents know that- if they cannot afford the supplies- they do not have to buy them. And we’ve planned it so that parents can drop off the supplies in such a way that it wouldn’t be obvious who did and didn’t bring supplies. We felt this was the most sensitive way of handling the issue, and we developed this policy after have multiple meetings with the PTA. However, there are still some expensive supplies needed for certain classes. For example, graphing calculators cost over $100. The District simply can’t give them out to everyone taking geography or calculus. It wouldn’t fit in the budget, and property taxes are already high. So we have a separate educational charity that raises money to buy some extra supplies, which the guidance counselors confidentially provide to students who are in need. If you don’t like the way things are run in your school district, find out when the school board meets and go to the meeting to complain. Hardly anyone goes to those meetings, so your voice would be heard. Even better…run for the school board and change the policy.

  22. I am not a mom – but I am a taxpaying citizen – and I was also once a child who went to school.

    Yes, I know that schools are underfunded and that many teachers (including my friends) end up buying a lot of supplies on their own.

    But… 75 pencils per student? That’s a recipe for waste! No one should even be considering that they might USE 75 pencils in 9 months!
    Even worse… now they are communal pencils… and communal crayons ,(which began with the assumption that some kids get 64 packs of crayons and the kids who get an 8 pack feel bad. – Wah!)
    Here’s the thing. As a kid, when you have your own crayons – you take pride in them. I know I did. My little 18 or 24 pack Crayola box wasn’t even tattered at the end of the year – I’m sure I brought it back to school year after year.
    I felt bad for the kid in the next row whose desk was so messy that his crayon box didn’t even resemble a box any more.

    In reality… when they gather the communal crayons – and dump them into a coffee can … there is no pride the tools. No ownership. They break… kids break them … and send them back to the coffee can. Suddenly there’s not a single whole crayon in the can.
    Now… you have the communal crayon can, so Timmy’s runny nose is now mingling with Susie’s chicken pox. GREAT! No wonder they need hand santizer!

    I went to a small Catholic school… where in addition to the taxes my parents paid to send YOU to school, they paid tuition for me.
    I had my own crayons as did everyone else in class. Each kid was to supply kleenex for their own desk. And no one supplied paper towels.
    We did, however rotate duties in the classroom. We didn’t pay janitors… students took turns, supervised by the teacher, sweeping the classroom and wiping down desks once a week with a wash cloth and a bucket of soap and water.

    All those paper towels and plastic bottles of santizer are waste – of money and of resources.
    Who uses paper towels anymore? No one’s heard of napkins and wash clothes?

    Off my soapbox. I found it the janitior’s closet, and Sister Faith reminded me to put it back!

  23. I was kinda floored by the list, as well. Our schools list was very long – much longer then some for the same grade. But, I am in the process of buying everything, but I know what the district can’t afford, the teachers end up buying.
    I don’t know about Colorado pay scales, but in California, teachers didn’t earn much. Yet, when I worked with them, they’d always be buying basic supplies like chalk for their classrooms because the district ran out of money for supplies. So, I’ll suck it up and do what’s needed for the kids sake.

  24. Here is my list from MN.

    First Grade
    School bag or backpack without wheels
    (5) #2 pencils, (no Rose Art) sharpened
    Scissors – children’s Fiskars
    CRAYOLA Crayons – 24 count regular colors
    (1) box 3-oz paper cups
    School box (5�x8� plastic)
    (2) Pink Pearl Erasers (separate from pencil)
    (5) pencil top erasers
    (3) folders, bottom pocket
    (1) wide-lined spiral notebook (no wireless or perforated pages)
    Kleenex, large box
    (2) 4-oz Elmer’s Glue-All (no school glue, gel paste or glue sticks)
    (3) BLACK dry-erase markers
    Dry-erase eraser
    (1) container Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
    Crayola watercolor paints (basic colors – no Rose Art)
    $8 voluntary donation for miscellaneous supplies,
    Tennis shoes**(for Phy Ed days)
    NO Rose Art products

  25. I am soo with you on this! I agree, i’m happy to supply any items directly related to actual learning!!! I had a little hissy fit in Wal-mart this week as I discovered first grade needed to supply 2 boxes of 40 count gallon size ziploc bags and 2 boxes of 100 count snack size ziploc bags. The snack size one threw me! I honestly did the math outloud on the snack size.. 200 x 25 kids! 5000 snack size bags? A man just stopped and stared at me as he listened to my tirade. What on earth do they need that for? and what a huge environmental faux pas! GRRR- we also are supply 17 pocket folders – each color specified… and 2 4packs of dry erase markers.. again the math boggles me! All for first grade, all communal!
    In the end, i only purchased one box of snack size bags, in protest!

    5th grade supplies are more reasonable. 7th was even better! 🙂 so it gets better, hang in there!

  26. This is absurd! I hadn’t heard about this before and it certainly did not used to be this way. I’m glad the burden isn’t falling on the teacher, but I’m not happy about this “solution” either.

    Taxes are constantly rising and teachers are still underpaid and yet parents re being asked to contribute supplies not for the personal use of their child?

    And yet we spend so much money on consultants and unnecessary speakers at training meetings (I’m speaking as a former teacher here)?

    My daughter is only 2, but I’ll be checking into this in my school district.

    Kids used to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic just fine when all they had was a teacher, a classroom, and a chalk board. I’ll allow a little increase for some new technology, though I strongly suspect that kids pick most of that up at home, anyway.

    Cut the junk from the budget, give more to the teachers, and pass the rest back to the tax payers.

  27. OMG! What are all the ziploc baggies for?!!

    If I were a parent faced with lists like these, I would ask for an accounting of what the supplies are intended to be used for.

    5000 snack baggies? Ri-freaking-diculous.
    If they use all them I’d be just as disappointed as if they didn’t!

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