Elie Gardner for CRS

5 Tips to Bring Sanity to Your Back to School Season

Simone Blanchard

Thirty-seven erasers, 15 barely used notebooks, 105 pencils, 4 holey backpacks and 2 smelly lunch boxes. That is our inventory of perfectly usable school supplies. And I only have one child! Even so, I just received the dreaded list of required school supplies from my daughter’s new teacher, and the pressure is on.

Every year, I try to rationally discuss the situation with my overly zealous, follow-the-rules daughter, and the conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Honey, we already have lots of school supplies we can use from last year. It will save us time and money, and help the environment.”

Sophia: “Mom, I really want to go shopping to pick out new stuff. My pencil case zips on the wrong side, I want sparkly notebooks instead of plain, and my pencil-top erasers are like socks—always disappearing.”

Children at the Notre Dame de Lamerci de Robillard school
At the Notre Dame de Lamerci de Robillard school, in Nord Department, Haiti, teacher Joseph Andrise believes “education is the foundation of everything.”

If this is a familiar conversation in your house, here are a few tips to bring back the sanity:

1. Ask your children to collect their existing school supplies, categorize them and count them up. Then sort them into recycle, reuse and donate piles. It’s amazing how perspectives can change once everything is piled.

2. Recycle what is no longer useable or needed. Office Depot and OfficeMax will take your old binders and issue a $2 credit towards a new one. Terracycle has a program for recycling pens, pencils and markers. Crayola has a nifty marker recycling program called ColorCycle. Ask your school to get a bin and throw in those worn-out markers.

3. Get a well-made backpack that will last a couple of years. There are now several socially conscious businesses producing backpacks that support workers and the environment. We love CAUSEGEAR, especially for teens and college students.

4. Reuse what you can, and only buy supplies you don’t already have. Ask your child to check off any supplies that are still usable, and estimate how much money you will save.

5. Use your savings to purchase school supplies for a child in need. Many churches partner with social service agencies for back to school backpack drives. You can also check if your child’s school accepts new backpacks and supplies for students in need.

Young student Kumba comes to reading club “because I want to get better at reading. I want to become a nurse when I am older so that I can help my people.”

Even with all the stress of starting a new school year, back to school shopping is a perfect teachable moment. Help this become a time for children to reflect on what they have, exercise self-control and practice giving back.

Simone Blanchard is the Manager of the Ethical Trade Program at Catholic Relief Services.