LARSON: Remembering when school supplies were free

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

I enjoyed reading Darrell Huckaby’s column this past Saturday about his childhood memories of going back to school, even though I didn’t relate to even one of them. I grew up in a school system that provided our supplies.

In first grade, all we had to bring were an empty Vicks jar for paste which we kept in the inkwell hole in our desk. We also had to bring a square of wax paper to wrap around the ball of clay we could play with when we finished our work. We received a box of Crayolas and a fat black crayon to use for writing. Mid-year, we graduated to unpainted pencils which were so much fun to sharpen every morning. We also had unlimited access to this really cool one-inch graph paper for making designs with our crayons. My parents really got their tax dollars’ worth out of all that paper I consumed!

In fourth grade, we did have to buy a faded blue cloth binder (I think that’s all they made back then) and some notebook paper. Our teacher still handed out those unpainted pencils, but this year added dip pens and, instead of Vicks jars, those holes were filled with ink.

In fifth grade, we graduated to fountain pens, but in early February we made history. While the rest of the nation was celebrating our first space satellite, our teacher informed us that we were the first class ever to be issued ball point pens.

Decades later, I was a little taken aback when I learned I had to buy school supplies for my kids, but I must admit it turned out to be fun. I made sure they had real Crayolas and Fiskar scissors which they kept in a little cigar box in their desks. The socialist system Huckaby mentioned didn’t come along until years later, but I experienced that firsthand while doing a long-term sub in kindergarten. Yes, the kids all brought in pencils and crayons and scissors, but they were mostly the dollar store variety. The leads in the pencils were not straight down the middle and were nearly impossible to sharpen. The cheap scissors would hardly cut and the cheap crayons were mostly wax with very little color rubbing off onto the paper.

And that wasn’t all that had changed since I was in school. Kids couldn’t use clay unsupervised because it might get ground into the carpet. If they finished their work early, they were just given more worksheets to keep them busy.

Since I had such fond memories of that big-squared graph paper in first grade, I created some for the kids thinking they would have fun with it. I was told to remove it because creating designs on graph paper was not part of the kindergarten AKS standards — and even if it were, it was more of an art activity and only art teachers were allowed to teach art.

Oh, well, it wouldn’t have been as much fun with those cheap crayons, anyway.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.


FranStewart 1 year, 11 months ago

You've brought back a lot of memories for me, Susan. When my children began school twenty-some-odd years ago, I wasn't "taken aback" as you were -- I was appalled.


Mack711 1 year, 11 months ago

Grew up in DeKalb County system and we paid a modest school supply fee at the start of the year. That was it! No sanitizer. no klenex or the like. If you wanted that it was your responsibility. There was no such thing as collecting things and having it put in the closet for all to use, like today. You know what we were a lot better off in those days. it made us realize that we had to take care of what we had, because no one else would. It was a much simpler time.


sarahldavis 1 year, 11 months ago

The clay sounds like a lot of fun. All the changes in education haven't been for the better.


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