Okay, that seems dramatic. But let me tell you in five years of teaching I have purchased pencils for students to use daily only the first year. I will say I have bought each student a pencil for their birthday and first day each year. This is because for the past five years I have had a system that has yet to fail me and teaches students to be responsible for their supplies. Its also worked for me as young as first grade all the way to fourth. So please don’t think it is impossible!
You know when students go back to school, and they get their supplies and they are SO proud of it? Were you that kid? I certainly was. Supplies is beautiful looking for a few weeks and then…well it goes downhill. Supplies starts getting lost, mistreated, or uncared for. Well, that’s the time you usually start using your own money to pay for supplies and I don’t know about you, but this teacher is balling on a budget so that’s a no go for me.
If you know me you know I am a bit wordy, so bear with me. I am going to try to break it down as simply as I can but bear with me!
On the first or second day of school I have students get out all their supplies and very carefully go over what they will need to put in their desk right now. I make this a time to level out the playing field too. If a kid doesn’t have materials, I provide them to them. Yes, this includes pencils…I’ll get to that later. I should mention I typically know by this point who has no supplies (I do this in the afternoon) so any student that doesn’t have supplies has supplies from me before we even start. This way no one feels like they don’t have anything (this is more common than you’d think).
Next, I explain to students that in our class we restock our supplies once a month. So, we will add what we need to our desks and we will put the rest in a plastic bag. I have recently replaced my plastic bags with rezip reusable gallon bags so that I am helping the environment and they hold up to repeat use year after year. Plus, I can put them right in the dishwasher to clean! (The real MVP)
So, we go through the supplies, I let kids be responsible for their materials, they are THEIRS after all. However, I make suggestions. I usually suggest four pencils, two pencil top erasers, a glue stick, scissors, art materials, one dry erase marker, a sharpener if they have one. The rest goes in their bag. I’ve labeled each reusable bag with their number (number so I don’t have to redo it year to year).
Now, the next part of this all requires some will power and strength. YOU can’t cave. Explain to your students that you will ONLY do supplies on the first day of the month and that they will need to be responsible for their materials. I make a point to really talk kids through this, “Take your pencil and put it in your pencil case, not just in your desk.” Or “I notice a pencil on the ground let’s pick that up so that you don’t lose it.”. I also have kids clean the room at the end of the day anything found goes into the lost and found bin. Students can grab materials from there if they are missing something.
COVID Update. I am thinking I will number all the supplies they take out and keep wipes by the lost and found to sanitize. I also may have students clean just the floor of their area and only touch what has their number.
Back to the beginning of the year. These are the days where supplies are still new and shiny. I have found consistently that this is when supplies are best kept. So, your students will likely work extra hard not to lose their materials. That’s not to say that some students will not. They are kids after all. When they do you have to stay strong, tell them that they need check the lost and found, look deep in their desks, etc. The idea is they MUST be responsible for their materials. If you are really dying sneak a pencil in the back of their desk while they are at specials! Over time they get better at this, and the more you remind them, the more you teach them to be responsible for their belongings.
Now you don’t have to torture yourself in this forever. At the beginning of each month, I pull out the bags, hand them out to the kids and they can decide what they need. I also encourage them to look through their supplies. If they need anything, they can get it from home, or ask me. We talk about how much is appropriate and although I again give them guidance, ultimately, they are in charge. Usually after the first couple months they are pretty good at balancing it all after a month or two. For example, they might think “well I still have three pencils so maybe I will only take two, not four.”. I do watch their supplies bags as they come back, if I notice they need something I can easily replace, I do. Usually its just a couple pencils, a whiteboard marker, or a glue stick.
Finally, there is some supplies getting exceptions. If students lose all their supplies or want more than what is in their bag, they can bring supplies in at anytime and add what they want to their desk right away. They also can add anything to their bag. I do give out a pencil or eraser during testing times and small groups as I am not willing to waste time or add stress during key learning times.
So how does this stop me from buying pencils? Well let me jump ahead to the end of the year. On the last days of school, I gather my students and mention how in our class we are a family. However, they weren’t the first family in our classroom and won’t be the last. I explain how all the extra supplies I gifted them throughout the year came from past students, who wanted to make sure they had all the supplies they needed. I explain that on this day, they will have the chance to do the same.
Not every student will donate and that’s okay. Some students know the financial burden school shopping places on their family and choose to save their supplies for the next school year. Some are attached to their supplies and not ready to let go, and that’s OKAY. I still end up with pencils galore donated, markers, erasers, you name it. The kids are proud of themselves for helping other students and helping continue this family legacy long after they have moved to the next grade. Once the supplies have been donated, I refill my bins and save it for the next year.
So, some tips and hints…because who doesn’t need them. One district I worked in schools supplied the school supplies. I still did this method of only refilling once a month. It just came from communal supplies. So, if you are a communal supplies person, this works for you. I’m not heartless and I’m human, I let some things slide. Think about the new kid starting in January, you probably aren’t reminding them about supplies then, so be flexible. Finally, I suggest making sure this works for you for a year and then investing in some good bags. The first year I did plastic bags, the next year I bought dollar binder pencil pouches and they were too cheap and fell apart. I tried to make them last the next year but by the end of the year I had switched back to plastic bags. The plastic bags are tossed in a crate while they wait each month and have had it by the end of the year which is why I reached out to Rezip to help me out! This is by far the best quality, and they were all about helping teachers!
Finally, if you want your bags to look like mine or match your theme! I used Rezip bags, and then cut out anchors and numbers on my Cricut machine (I use Siser vinyl it is the most cost effective and lasts the longest for me) and just stuck them right on! Plus they can go through the dishwasher to clean for the next class!
I linked the bags I am using below if you’d like to use them. What do you do to stay on top of your supplies? Tell me below!