Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Green: School supplies

Every once in a while, Trillian and I find ourselves at a loss as to the fact that Scooter will be headed to kindergarten soon. As in, real school. With a supply list and everything. Supplies I really should get around to buying.

We've had to buy school supplies for Scooter before, usually here and there, as things come up. His stint in the public preschool required a very specific list; several items--Purell, foaming handwash, a plastic folder--made me cringe, but I dutifully bought them. We were just so glad he'd be able to start back in a care setting that I didn't want to rock the boat.

I've had longer to digest this coming school year's list and to at other grades'. And there are a few items for which I've been trying to brainstorm alternatives. Again, I won't be rocking the boat too much this year--we're still essentially new to this town. But I think that I'll bring some of this up next spring when the new lists are being formulated.

One of the shortcomings of school-supply lists in general, as I see it, is that they are created so that everyone brings in the same things. Some of the solutions I can think of would require some coordination of different items or collecting some money for one-time purchases (though my school system already includes a check for each grade level for a variety of different things--kindergarten has a crafts fee).

Some throw-away items will probably never go away. Tissues being the big one. And I can see the point of those from the hygiene angle--plus, I haven't even gone as far as carrying handkerchiefs yet.

But I wonder about the Clorox wipes. Many grade levels have kids bringing at least one container. The kindergarten list is even specific about the brand. (Which makes me want to bring another brand on purpose. I'd bring some of the Method's, but they don't have their ingredients listed and they frequently use parabens.) Something I've been meaning to try at home, something that might work in a school setting, is homemade cleaning wipes. If students brought in one role of paper towels (preferably recycled), that would create the equivalent of 2 containers of Clorox wipes per kid. Or, if resources could be pooled, a multi-pack could be purchased, cutting down on the amount of packaging.

For foaming handwash (which is not on the list for this year), if each teacher could hold on to one or two containers from previous years, almost any liquid soap could be substituted. In our house, we use mint soap from Trader Joe's (cheaper than Dr. Bronner's and none of the kooky religious writings on the container) and cut it about half-and-half with water. Works great, smells wonderful, mint is slightly antiseptic, and one bottle of soap lasts many, many months.

I am currently reserving judgment on the plastic bags requested, although I will be interested to see what they do with the 50 sandwich bags and additional gallon bags. I will be watching, however, because I want to know why these can't be reused.

For folders, and there are two specific types requested, I will be drawing from my personal stores as much as possible. I've got one type covered. I thought I had the other type around (with brads), but it may be that I gave those away to colleagues before leaving my teaching job. There's one part of me that sees the allure of buying new supplies each year--a clean slate for each new grade--but I got over that pretty quickly. Scooter is already using a backpack we happen to have around and has never complained.

The item that has me most flummoxed is glue. Not the concept of glue in general, but the fact that we have to bring in 20 glue sticks. TWENTY! All those plastic tubes. Not to mention all of the packaging. I'm hoping to find packages of 10, or at least 5, but have only seen 2-packs advertised so far. I wish there was a way to buy just refills, but I haven't seen that. (Can I also say that I was unaware gluing plays such a large role in kindergarten? Scooter had better come out of the year a champion gluer!)

Looking at lists to come, I can tell I'll have plenty of other things to obsess over. Most grades that require pencils specifically ban recycled-wood pencils. But they still want 24-48 of the good old number 2s. What about mechanical pencils and lead refills?

I also can't help but notice that different years ask for wildly different things in terms of folders and notebooks. I recognize that a lot of this is dependent on teachers' personal preferences, but given that the lists are at least school-wide (and possibly district-wide), there's already been a fair amount of compromise. Maybe they could think about some consistency between years so that supplies can be used from one year to the next until they wear out?

Just for the record, I love school supplies and consider office supply ads to be a bit of nerd porn. I know that some supplies are absolutely necessary to maximize learning, and I would never deprive my son of that. I just wish that it were a bit easier to balance the consumption needs with environmental issues, maybe turn it into a class lesson or project. You know, throw in a little education?


Pork with Bones said...

I've got to wonder: why are recycled-wood pencils specifically banned? Any idea?

Team Serrins Springfield said...

20 Glue sticks? Holy crap. Are they going to be eating them for snacks. Seriously. The school year is what, 160 days long? So they have to use a glue stick every 4 days. That's a lot of gluing. I can't understand the ban on recycled pencils either. The only thing I can imagine is that old theory that if everyone has all the exact same things, there is no reason to steal from someone else. Yes, exactly the motivation you want to be thinking about for kindergardners!

Mouse said...

I get the sense that most of the school supplies go into a common pot, as only a couple items on the list say to put the kid's name on them. It doesn't give me much incentive to buy the nice version of things, if it isn't specifically for my son.

Apparently some teachers find that the recycled wood pencils break too easily. But I seem to remember it being more brand, or even lot, specific.

Lisa b said...

nerd pork. frig you crack me up
I'm getting crosseyed reading all these regs
I am so not ready for kindergarten
I get very annoyed when asked to bring stuff, never mind brand name wipes. what is up with that?

Lisa b said...

am I hungry?

Mouse said...

The Levenger catalog is my favorite nerd porn. The only thing that stops me from spending a lot of money with them is that I generally avoid leather. And I already have a handful of nice fountain pens. Trillian exhibited how well she knows me when she bought me binder clips with butterflies and flowers on them at Christmas. It's an illness, really.

Aliki2006 said...

L. would love to sit down and talk office supply catalogs with you! Do you know he has his own "office chair" in his office waiting room in his bedroom?

WE just finished our school supplies shopping--whew. It gets worse every year, so brace yourself!

Team Serrins Springfield said...

I saw a post on another site that made me remember your post: http://www.naturemoms.com/blog/2008/08/12/green-school-supplies-letter-to-teacher/

Mouse said...

I decided that this year, since we're new and will also be dealing with the whole lesbian-family and please-don't-feed-my-kid-wheat things, to start out by buying pretty much what she asked for. I do plan, however, on letting her know that I am interested in environmental issues and would love to help out her and the class on related lessons. I may also go to some PTA meetings and see if there's any place for having this discussion at a school-wide level.