Embrace Communal School Supplies with These 7 Tips - The Bossy House

Embrace Communal School Supplies with These 7 Tips

embrace communal school supplies


Every fall, communal school supplies are a source of complaint from parents. Here at The Bossy House, we're throwing our weight behind communal school supplies, so if you're a hater this post is for you.

Whether you support communal school supplies or are hate-reading this post, welcome. I'm here to provide some much-needed rationale for community supplies so you have all the information you need to create an angry comment just for me. AND to embrace the practice at your kids' school. 

Economic inequity at school

Each fall, parents get the school supply list from the front office or in the annual start-of-school mailing. That supply list includes things like tissues and notebook paper and pencils and crayons and glue sticks.  

Some kids go to schools where EVERYONE in the school buys their supplies and keeps them in their desk or backpack. Each child manages their own pencil case with pens, pencils, and fun sparkly erasers (just for fun!)

Other kids go to schools where 50% or more of the kids show up to the first day and don’t have school supplies.  

If you're at one of these schools, your kid goes to school with kids whose families can’t afford school supplies. 

If one school in your city has to spend thousands of dollars on basic supplies that another school down the street doesn’t have to spend because parents cover those expenses, you have a basic inequity right there.  

But all kids need pencils and glue sticks, so schools with more kids who are poor spend more of their limited budget on school supplies that other schools have their parents purchase. This is just one way that schools with mostly middle class kids have more resources that schools with economically disadvantaged kids.

If one school in your city has to spend thousands of dollars on basic supplies that another school down the street doesn’t have to spend because parents cover those expenses, you have a basic inequity right there.  

In these schools, teachers don’t call attention to who didn’t bring school supplies, and they don’t deny those kids supplies. So what do they do? 

The rationale for communal school supplies

In these schools, supplies are collected from all children and then distributed through the school year. On the first day of school, all the pencils and crayons and glue sticks are collected and put in the closet.

Instead of keeping their glue sticks in their fancy glitter pencil cases, kids communally share a caddy of supplies at the side of the room or with their table group. Teachers replenish the caddy throughout the year, and when the supplies run out the school buys more. (In some schools, the teacher buys more.) 

communal school supplies

Some parents send their supplies to school with their child’s name on them in permanent marker because they resent having to share their supplies communally.

I’ve had conversations with these parents and they inevitably say “Why should I spend money on supplies to have you give them to other kids?”

Well, the point is that ALL the kids are taken care of, not just your kid.

Teachers will make sure EVERYONE has a gluestick. By collecting the 3-packs of gluesticks, they’re making sure each person gets one now and stores the rest so everyone gets enough for the year. Your child isn’t missing out on gluesticks, you’re just not going to ensure she gets the exact gluestick you bought. 

And just in case you’re saying “Glue sticks cost $1. I shouldn’t have to provide glue sticks for someone who doesn’t bother to save up for back to school shopping," please check yourself.

Consider that poverty results in more than just a lack of money. Poverty means a lack of time and freedom about that time. It’s very likely that the mom of your child’s classmate works two jobs and has precious little time for school shopping. Or she doesn’t have transportation to get to the store. 

And just in case you’re saying “She could take a cab to go school shopping,” double check yourself.

Just think back to that time when your husband took the car with the car seat so you couldn’t bring your child with you to the Target, and there were no babysitters so you decided to go another day but then the next day your cousin needed you to pick up the girls from soccer and you ran out of time. 

Think about the last time logistics were challenging and you opted out. I rest my case. 

Communal school supplies make us better

So this year, spend the $50 on your supplies knowing they might be shared communally. And know that communal school supplies can teach us a lot about how we live in the world.

Think about summer camp and when your cabin of 12 girls split the slices of the last three oranges equally. Remember when you road tripped with friends and everyone pooled their snacks. Consider how many times you’ve leant a pen to a friend in a meeting. 

And help out. 

communal school supplies

You might say it's not fair that you "have" to pay for supplies while some parents just opt out. Fair enough. But if you sent your child to a mostly middle class school you'd still be paying for supplies. It would just FEEL more fair because everyone was paying. 

But really, what is the value of fairness around school supplies when there is a huge variety in economic status to start with?

Some families EASILY can afford the supplies. If that's your family, wonderful. And for other families, this is a huge hardship. So the circumstances start out unfair, and you're most likely not the victim here. 

In addition, the consequences of you not purchasing school supplies hurts the school.

You might pay $50 for supplies and another mom might pay $0. Just consider it your tax for living that sometimes we help other folks out when we have enough. 

Face it: Schools are Communal

Schools are places where things are shared communally because classrooms are communities. It’s one of the best things that kids are learning at school, and one of the true benefits of a public education. (For more specifics, this teacher talks about the benefits of communal school supplies.) 

Teachers are constantly looking out for the whole group of kids, from ensuring that all kids are learning and growing to making sure no one is being teased or left out. They care so much about each child that, in some districts, if the parent-supplied glue sticks run out, teachers raid their own tiny salary to make up the difference. 

If you decide that you're not spending the $50 this year, that money has to come from somewhere. Depending on the school, it's either coming from the school budget or your child's teacher. 

$50 multiplied by 30 kids a class doesn't seem like a lot of money, but I'm sure you have minor complaints about little things at your school, like why the basketballs are so old or the furniture in the office so worn, or the multiple fundraisers your kid has to participate in, to the expensive activity fee. All of those things are related to the budget. If you are pulling your weight with school supplies, the school can afford more. 

If you don't buy those supplies, teachers will

And I don't have to tell you that it's not fair for teachers to pay for school supplies for kids whose parents can afford them. It's an injustice all the way around, and second only to the kids whose families can't afford supplies are the teachers who suffer the most here.

Nurses don't have to buy syringes for their patients, and police aren't helping needy families make bail. But for some reason, teachers' workplaces are so underfunded and their compassion is so great that they donate their tiny salary to help children.

Please don't make their life even fucking harder than it already is by selfishly hoarding your pennies because of a perception of unfairness.

You know what teachers know? Life isn't fair. Some kids are poor and some kids have more than enough. That is the foundation of inequity, and your self-declared victimhood doesn't compare. Buy the supplies. 

If you’re a family that can afford school supplies and you go to a school where some kids can’t and the supplies are redistributed, please buy supplies. Even though you don’t have to, please do it. 

teacher teaching a class of kids

Tips for buying school supplies:

  • If you can afford to buy 5 packs of crayons and not just one, do it. The teacher will know you are thinking of the whole class, not just your child.
  • Don’t put your child’s name on anything.
  • Put all the communal supplies in a paper grocery bag with your child’s name on the bag. That way, the teacher knows you brought your supplies and can collect them easily. 
  • Any supplies you buy that are SPECIAL for your child: sparkly erasers and awesome markers, etc. those you should put in a special place that will not be collected. There’s nothing wrong with a sparkly pencil (if your child’s school allows them) but make sure they’re not mixed in. 
  • It’s a great idea to call the office and ask if supplies are collected communally or if your child will use only their own supplies. You might ask where the special sparkly pencil should be stored so it doesn’t get collected but your child can still get it out during the day. 

  • If it seems right, talk to your child about how some kids won’t bring school supplies and others will. Let them know that it’s expected by you that they are open to having their supplies shared. We all go to school together and all of us share supplies. 
  • Teachers don’t hate encouraging awesome notes at the beginning of the year. Let them know how special they can be to you and your child!
shopping cart in store

Talk to your child about economic inequality

If you’re in a school where supplies are collected communally, know that you’re in a special place, most likely a school with economic diversity. That kind of a school gives your child a picture of the variety that exists in the world, and helps them grow up with an understanding of diversity. 

Yes, you’ll have to talk to your child about how some families have more money than other families, and you might have to get into issues of justice and fairness. Here are some tips about how to talk to kids about rich people

No, it’s not fair that some of their friends don’t have enough money to buy supplies. Your child may also admire a toy or clothing that your family can’t afford. These conversations help your child be sensitive to others and the wide variety of experiences kids have.

Some people have enough money for what they need, some don’t have enough, and some have more than they need. Kids can understand it.

This school year, embrace communal school supplies! It makes all of us better. 

Get this five-page set of Kindergarten Readiness Checklists to find out if your child is school-ready!

Kindergarten readiness checklist