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• by Rebecca Long Pyper •

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School supplies at home

Stock up on the ones that really matter


•   By Rebecca Long Pyper   •

If you’ve got school-aged kids, they’ve got homework — and so do you. To make homework a daily habit (and less of a drag for everyone), parents ought to stock a few essential supplies at home.


But not everyone has extra funds for providing these supplies. Evelyn Robinson, 26-year principal at Lewis and Clark Elementary, offers the following list of must-haves and a few tips for getting supplies for less — or for free:


For grades four and five, students need a calculator. “We still want (students) to know the basic facts — multiplication, addition, subtraction — but even on our new assessment, they have tools that are going to be provided for them on that computer. We need to expose kids to those tools, and what better way than at home?”


The state’s adoption of Common Core requires students to “show their work,” so since evidence is expected, the answer alone is not enough. Having a calculator at the ready allows students to see if they’ve got the right answer but will still require them to demonstrate how they got there, Robinson said. If you have questions about whether or not a student should be using a calculator for math homework, contact the teacher.


Load up on pens and pencils. For each assignment, consider which is best: If students are writing a draft they will need to go back and correct, pencil is easier. If they will rewrite the draft, either a pen or pencil will work. In that case, let them choose, even if you’ve got first or second graders, because they like the novelty of using a “sophisticated tool” when they can, Robinson said.


Paper is a must, and it’s probably best if it’s in a notebook, where it can’t get loose or lost as easily. Notebooks also are best for journal writing, something that can help a student’s writing improve.


For younger kids, provide the supplies for projects. “With primary kids, they need to have the opportunity to cut and paste because it develops fine-motor skills,” Robinson said. Opt for kid-sized scissors, which will be easier to manipulate but still strengthen little hands. And as for glue, it doesn’t matter if it’s a stick or a paste.


Coloring is a common component of schoolwork, so providing the right tools is a must. If you’ve only got cash (or space) for one kind, buy crayons because they cost less and last a long time. Markers would be next in line, and choose water-based because they’re safer for kids. Robinson said at her school, employees don’t make permanent markers or Sharpies available for student use because they have a level of toxicity that isn’t healthy for kids. Watercolor paints are also fun and encourage kids to dabble in another form of art, Robinson said.


One of the best ways for students to become fluent readers is by reading outside of school, and because of that, parents ought to have books at home. Sure, students can check out items at the library, but these have a “return” date that can put the brakes on even the most enthusiastic reading binge.


If books aren’t part of your budget, ask about programs available through the school. Lewis and Clark offers Baggy Books for kids, where students take home a bag of books to read at their leisure; when they’re done, they exchange the bag for another. “For a child to go home and not necessarily have it as an assignment, but there’s a book available for them to go and read — that increases their love of reading,” Robinson said.


Lewis and Clark also holds monthly Family Dinner and a Book Night. Every family that attends gets a free meal and takes home a free book; if students attend all year, they’ll end up with as many as nine books by year’s end.


While these programs are specific to Lewis and Clark, you might be surprised by options available in your own school. For instance, libraries often purge books to make room for new ones, and if you ask, those books might make their way to your own home library.


Buying school supplies can add up, especially if you have more than one school-aged child, and school employees know that. Robinson said that at her school, student circumstances and academics are tracked, making it easier for officials to pinpoint those who could benefit from assistance. And that’s where the Parent Coordinator/Community Resource Worker (CRW) comes in. This trained social worker, who has access to Health and Welfare funding, contacts parents in need and offers to lend support.


Also, community members will sometimes donate money that is then filtered through the CRW to parents, and that money can be used for things like backpacks or supplies to be kept at home.


If you need assistance providing school supplies for your kids, contact your school administrator and ask what is available — because help is out there.


“(Some students) don’t have these things in the home. Then when they go home and they want to write a story, they don’t have a notebook, they don’t have a pencil,” Robinson said. “We have to have some system in place to support our kids who live in poverty.”



Story and background photo by Rebecca Long Pyper.