How do you handle school supplies? Do you have community supplies for everyone? Do you pass out supplies as needed? When I first started teaching, I tried all the above. I was frustrated at how irresponsible fifth graders were with their supplies. Some students expected me to give them new supplies because they lost things constantly. I became frustrated because I was spending hundreds of dollars on basic supplies for my students.
Then, in my second year of teaching, I worked with a teacher who had a system that taught responsibility and respect for school supplies. I immediately adopted her procedures and policies.
The main point is to teach responsibility. If students have ownership, they will take care of their things and their classroom.
I began each year laying out the supply requirements to parents and students. I put the responsibility on them. I let all the students know that if they lost or broke supplies, it was their responsibility to replace them.
Now, many students cannot afford supplies, and teachers are hesitant to ask. I taught at a school that was over 90% free and reduced lunch. MOST of my students brought most of what they needed after I outlined the expectations. Of course, some students did not bring supplies due to financial needs. I stocked the pencil boxes and desks of these students with no questions asked.
Hold Students Accountable
To hold students accountable for their supplies, I did regular supply checks. Students knew these supply checks could be at any time. It was quick, easy, and helped my students learn how important it is to be prepared and ready. I would simply announce it was time for a supply check so that students could take out their pencil boxes, and then I would announce a supply I was looking for. I would say: “Hold up your three sharpened pencils… one, two, three, up!” and by three, all students should have their three sharpened pencils. I would only check about two supplies per check. This also helped students stay organized because they knew how important it was to be able to access what they needed quickly.
If students did not have a particular supply, I would mark it on my clipboard with my class list. This would help me notice any patterns with students who were perpetually unprepared. I had individual conversations with students who were always unprepared. They were never in trouble or reprimanded, but it was important they understood why they needed to be prepared and ready to learn. This is a vital skill they use in the remainder of their schooling and beyond! I would give students any supplies they were missing, with the understanding they would take care of them.
I always encouraged classmates to “help” their friends who were in need of something. If they saw one of their friends was missing a sharp pencil, many kids who had extras would scamper to give their friend one. I always encouraged friends helping. This promoted our classroom community. They learned to help others when they needed it. It also put a bit of peer pressure on students who were perpetually unprepared to be more responsible.
Most students learned to take care of their supplies. They knew they were accountable! While many students resupplied their own boxes, I would always replenish basic supply needs throughout the year. The child would just let me know their glue was empty, their pencil was worn down, or the ink ran out on their marker. Some days I would surprise the entire class with a new set of fun pencils or erasers. They would get so excited about these little gifts. Supplies were never taken advantage of. Students knew to keep track of and care for their things.
At the beginning of the year, I did supply checks daily. Once students understood the importance of being responsible for their supplies, I did them less frequently; about once-per-week, or whenever I saw students needed reminders.
This system worked very well with my fourth and fifth graders. When I taught second grade, I used the same system but was a bit more flexible (especially at the beginning of the year). While many teachers are working in schools with students who are in poverty, teachers should not use this as an excuse. We need to instill responsibility in all of our students. While supplies seem like a little thing, it is in these little routines children learn life skills.
Comment below with your school supply routines. What works for you?
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