Organizing Back to School Supplies August 24 2009

It's the first day of school, and permeating your classroom is the sound of backpack zippers opening.  Bright, shining faces dig out markers, crayons and glue sticks from the cavernous bags. You sent home a supply list, that’s true; and for the most part, each child has brought in their share of that list.

But now what do you do with all these classroom supplies?

School supplies, if unchecked, can take over every available space in your room, from your desk to students’ desks, tabletops and counters and cubbies. Save yourself a year of shuffling school supplies around – use the first day of school to declutter your classroom!

Decide the “Yours” and “Mine”

I’ve seen basically three different ways to deal with school supply ownership. The first way is that the teacher collects everything for classroom use, distributing the supplies to tables of students. For example, each table gets a container with crayons, markers, scissors and glue to share. The second way, usually with older kids, is that the students manage the supplies they bring aside from the community supplies, like tissue or notebook paper. The third way is that the teacher takes some of the supplies for the inevitable pencil shortage in February, for example, and the students manage some of the supplies.

Whichever way you choose, you need to decide now before the mounds of supplies show up. Personally, I was a fan of the third option, so I collected a little bit of everything. But I also taught older kids, so they could read directions on the overhead in the chaos of that first morning. If you teach younger kids, it might be easier to collect everything except basics like crayons, a glue stick, three pencils, and scissors.

And these can easily be stored inside a student's desk or pencil box. But if you shudder at the thought of the black hole that can become of a student's desk - or you have tables without that space - consider an alternative like the seat sacks. For about $20, you could outfit a class of 24!

I do, however, suggest that you collect pencils no matter what – there will be a shortage.

Have an Answer Ready

One of my biggest pet peeves is “the repeated question,” and on this first day of school, that question is inevitably going to be, “Where do I put this?” (Other versions are “Where does this go?” and “Where do you want this?”) This is my surest and fastest road to insanity.

So have your decluttering answer ready! I am a big fan of totes of all sizes, and if you’ve been teaching for many years, you probably have a few spare ones around your classroom or home. Line the totes up near the front door of your classroom, clearly marked with signs telling your students what you want in each one.

Don’t have totes? Look around your school for empty cardboard boxes that haven’t yet been recycled. If you have supply rooms for art supplies, paper or cafeteria use, scope out what may be available. Another handy spot I’ve always found random cardboard boxes is the gym or PE closet, which usually has a stage area with empty space where people have shoved these boxes.

If your tote is too deep for just one type of supply and you want to avoid wasted space, use cardboard pieces to separate that wider space into smaller ones. Just make sure you have clear signs as to what student supplies go into each spot.

The supply signs you place on each tote will depend on what you’ve requested, but some common supplies collected are reams of paper, pencils, glue and glue sticks, tissue, watercolors (labeled), sticky notes and highlighters. These classroom supplies are usually shared by your community.

Organizing “Community Supplies”

These are the supplies that are used by everyone in the classroom throughout the year – pencils, notebook paper, tissue, and highlighters to name a selection. But where are you going to put them all? Tissue boxes, for example, tend to take up a lot of space.

There is, also, one unbreakable rule to decluttering classroom supplies:  Use the same spot every time for the same stuff. This is one way to help maintain your sanity, because you don’t need the stress of looking for highlighters right before the social studies lesson.

Once you set the unbreakable rule in your mind (see above), put the like stuff together. Here’s an example: All of the tissue boxes all together in one spot. Try to find some empty space that you won’t need for anything else and tends to get wasted anyway, like underneath tables. If you have tables against the wall to hold classroom computers, for example, line the back of them with a wall of tissue boxes.

What about drawers next to the sink that you can’t access easily? Put supplies there that you don’t need all that often, like bandaids. If you have cavernous closets that seem to eat supplies, use small baskets or totes to store all like stuff together in smaller portions. Label them to make everything easier to see and, consequently, to find.

Back to School week is the best time to declutter your classroom! Your sanity will thank you for it.