Why are we so grumpy about buying school stationery?

school stationery

School stationery is one of those hot topics that come up once a year, usually accompanied by parental expressions of disbelief at how much money it costs to kit out a kid for the classroom. Last year the big controversy at one of my children’s schools was a stationery list that included a box of tissues on it. If each child was bringing a box of tissues to school, and there were 25 children in the class, that was 25 boxes of tissues, parents fumed. What on earth was the teacher going to do with 25 boxes of tissues? Not to mention the three whiteboard markers each pupil was expected to bring. 75 whiteboard markers! The mind boggles! And on and on went the complaints on my local community’s social media page.

Well, I’m going to stand up and tell you, without a smidgen of rancour, that I have absolutely zero problems with buying whatever is on my kids’ school stationery lists, and then some. You know why? Because my mother is a teacher, and I grew up seeing how much of her own hard-earned money was spent buying stuff like tissues (because when half the class has a head cold, you can go through two boxes a day) and whiteboard markers (because little hands don’t know how hard to press and tend to leave the caps off, meaning they get squashed beyond usefulness or dried out before their natural lifespan was up). I could go on.

I don’t in the least begrudge my children’s teachers the things they put on the stationery list. Why does my kid need 11 1F4 exercise books? I don’t know and I don’t care; they’ll be in her backpack ready for Day 1. And if the teacher sets a few bits of my kid’s stationery aside for another child who doesn’t have any for whatever reason, I’m perfectly fine with that, too. No child should be shamed or miss out on learning because his or her parent can’t afford to buy the school stationery.

Which brings me to the other reason I don’t mind buying my children’s school stationery. Yes, I know very well that stationery gets pooled at many schools. My son came home at the end of last school year with only half of his coloured pencils, and most of those had other children’s names on them. “All the coloured pencils go into a cup on our table,” he told me. That’s fine. If my child’s blue pencil gets used to a stub, there are several more blues in the cup which were brought by other children, so he won’t be left out of colouring skies and oceans and whatever else he deems blue (it’s his favourite colour right now).

I also know very well that school stationery can be expensive, particularly when it includes an electronic device, and that there are lots of parents who cannot afford to buy everything on the list. There are also children coming to school with inadequate or wholly absent lunches, missing shoes and jumpers, and the belly-wrenching knowledge that back at home, the fridge is empty and the cupboards are bare. So if some of my children’s stationery gets diverted to another child, as I said above, I’m fine with this. In fact, this is why I always pack extra food in my children’s lunch boxes, and send extra coins along on sausage-sizzle day. Because it’s important that every child starts school with all the supplies and equipment they need, because it sets them up for successful learning.

If you can afford it, have a discreet chat to your child’s teacher or principal and see if there are any supplies they need in their classroom which you could add to your child’s school stationery pile and send along. An extra pack of coloured pencils, or even a spare box of tissues, could make all the difference not only to a struggling student, but also to a teacher who may already be overextended and under-resourced.

If school stationery is a struggle for your family, for whatever reason, talk to your children’s school. You may be able to make automatic payments over time to help pay for the stationery, or there may other help you can access. You may also qualify for help from Work and Income.

Katherine Granich

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