Back to School with 100 Pencils. Or Maybe Just 50.

100 pencils. That is the number my 5th grader’s school supply list dictates he bring into his classroom when school starts. Is he supplying the whole class? Have they adopted a school in Haiti to which they are sending extra supplies?

I question my son about the need for so very many pencils. He tells me the number sounds right to him because he goes through a pencil a week (through loss or theft. Theft?). Um, Mr. Advanced Math Student, there are 52 weeks in a calendar year and about 36 or so during typical school year.

Everyone to whom I mentioned this number has had the same reaction: 100 pencils?!


This year I am determined to use as many leftover school supplies as I can before purchasing new ones. Given that my boys have been attending elementary school for years, we have a huge glut of old, half-used supplies.

But few of my stock items match this year’s supply list. I used to regard The List as one might the very tablets on which the 10 Commandments were forged. One year I ran to three or four stores looking for the specific line of watercolors the art teacher asked the parents to supply.

Never again.

Now The List may indicate Crayola, but I’ll buy the RoseArt if it’s cheaper. Whatever damn brand of glue stick comes packaged in the correct quantity is the one that winds up in my shopping cart. And I’m sure that my mega box of 300 tissues is just as good (it’s better, really) than two boxes of 100 tissues each. I just hope the teacher looks at the number of tissues rather than the number of boxes my child brings in.

Speaking of the right quantities. I have just enough 3×5 note cards for the 5th grader. Woot! But my 7th grader is supposed to have 4×6 note cards. Does it really matter if they are 4×6 or 3×5? I convince myself that it just might, so now 4×6 cards on are my shopping list.

Did I say shopping list? My husband insists that I needn’t make any purchases due to the many supplies alrready around the house. True, I’m bundling up gently used pencils instead of buying a new ones, I’m gathering items, like pens, that have been scattered about the house and I’ve got the above-mentioned note cards, but I still need a few more things.

“Hogwash!” the husband says.

“No,” I counter. “I need to buy. See we have a perfectly good box of fine point markers, but the 5th grader needs broad stroke markers. And I have a decent old pack of 12 colored pencils, but they each need a packet of 24.” (Damn, I guess despite my small rebellions, I continue to regard The List as the word of God.)

“I’ll take care of the school supplies,” he volunteers.

I look at him quizzically.

He announces that he is going to pack up the supplies he thinks the boys need without regard to what their teacher thinks they need. He has no regard for The List.

I roll my eyes at him. “That’s crazy talk,” I insist even as he convinces the 5th grader to fill an old pencil box with a rainbow full of markers from my overflowing craft bin rather than have me buy him a new box.

How do you handle this? Does a new school year dictate new…everything? Or do you try to be thrifty or green by re-using what you can? Do you follow the list down to its tiniest detail or do you fudge here and there?

And how many pencils should I send to school with my 5th grader?

This post was inspired by the Yahoo Motherboard members who are talking about about going back to school this month.
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