Back to School

My kids are all starting school tomorrow and I again attacked Staples and Office Depot like an extreme-couponer on acid. Interestingly, I had written about what that was like last year and sadly, it has not changed a bit. To those of you who are about to embark on a similar experience, or to those who already have, I salute you. Here is that original post:

School starts this week, and so, like many other parents, I have taken the requisite “school-supply-shopping-trip.”  For those who have never had the experience, I envy you. Armed with lists provided by my children’s school, I scoured the internet for the cheapest prices, best sales, most available downloadable coupons, and store most likely to not throw us out when boxes of paper clips and tacks are inadvertently spilled out by my 4-year-old.

Since I have five children, I first pillaged the supplies from last year thinking that somewhere in the scores of folders and binders that still resided in their old backpacks, I would be able to recycle something.

But, this year, the teachers must have pooled their ideas and decided to get a bit more precise. Instead of 5 folders, now my son needed five specific folders. No paper, just plastic. Exact colors. None of the 26 folders I spread onto the living room floor were usable.

The search for supplies became even more daunting at the store. My eighth grader became convinced that while 5 subject notebooks came in many colors, purple (the color required for her science class) was not one of them. My third and fourth graders had to open each folder on the shelf to find the right ones:  some with pockets and prongs, some with only pockets, some with only prongs. My seventh grader, loaded down with four binders, rattled off the subjects they were for as she dropped each one onto our ever-growing pile: Math, English, Social Studies, Computers. Before I could question it, the binders were followed by a flurry of dividers, reinforcements, reams of paper, and a pencil-case.

Four binders? I remember when school supply shopping consisted of begging my mom for the “Trapper Keeper” with the cool plastic sliding latch. That with a pack of dividers, pencils, erasers, and a case, and I was done.

“What five subjects could you possibly need in Math?” I asked.

To remain cutting-edge, teachers are hell-bent on providing their kids with so much enrichment that the students’ abilities to manage and organize their supplies become a lesson in small business administration. Each subject requires its own unique set of supplies beyond a simple section in a notebook. And while I drew the line at the two USB drives required per child, as I crossed off each item that was thrown in our cart, I found myself rethinking my mortgage and embracing homeschooling.

When we finally checked out, I assessed the damage and revisited everyone’s lists. My 8th grader settled on a blue five subject notebook that she will convince her teacher is really an off-shade of purple, the 7th grader practiced carrying all the binders and notebooks and decided that she would need a larger backpack to carry everything from class to class, and the supplies for the two in 3rd and 4th grades , the rainbow of colorful folders and notebooks, fit perfectly in the 5 inch binder and two 3 inch binders that they needed.

I didn’t even know they made 5 inch binders.

As for the child going into pre-k, we escaped from the store with only one box of erasers and paperclips spilled out in aisle 12.

I realize that the teachers who created these supply lists have the best intentions, and I am eager to discover what the different colors will represent for the year. However, perhaps it is time for teachers to remember that a complex organizational strategy is an oxymoron. The old adage “Less is More”, particularly in the current economic climate, is probably something they should consider when making supply lists that double as doorstoppers.

My son was excited about our shopping trip, though. Taking the receipt that easily could wrap around all five of my kids, he exclaimed, “Look! It’s a jump rope!”

But alas, it was too long.

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