“WHO THE HECK TOOK MY STAPLER? YOU ALL ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE SUPPLIES FROM MY DESK! WHO USED IT AND WHERE IS IT?!?!?”
Depending on the accent, hairstyle, and cut of the jeans, the above could have been my mother, thirty years ago, or me, pretty much every single day since the schools closed. As a child I couldn’t understand Mum’s intense frustration; as a mother myself, I totally get it and give Mum kudos for her self-restraint.
Since we started homeschooling, we get a lot of this kind of exchange on a daily basis:
“My pencil is too dull. I need to sharpen it.”
“So sharpen it.”
“I can’t. I can’t find a sharpener.”
“But I just gave you one yesterday!”
“I don’t know where it is.”
“I HAVE BOUGHT AT LEAST HALF A DOZEN PENCIL SHARPENERS IN THE LAST EIGHT WEEKS. WHERE DID THEY GO? DID THEY GROW LEGS AND RUN AWAY?”
“I don’t know… so can I use yours, Eema?”
“No way. Every time you guys use my stuff, it either breaks or disappears. Go look for your own.”
Now, I don’t want to point any fingers, but it’s quite telling that just as one kid finds “their” sharpener, a cry arises from another part of the house:
“WHERE IS MY SHARPENER? WHO TOOK IT? WHO KEEPS TAKING MY STUFF?”
Clearly we have an issue with people putting things back where they belong. We waste all kinds of time looking for things that shouldn’t have been lost in the first place. In my experience, all the lecturing in the world won’t improve that behaviour, but changing the environment or materials might: it’s what Mr. December calls structural change.
As of today, gone is the notion that we can all use supplies from a common pool and just put them back when we’re done. Every child now has their own plastic pencil box containing the following:
- a pencil sharpener
- a good-quality eraser
- a ruler
- a protractor and two plastic triangle thingies (like a geometry kit, without the compass)
- a highlighter
- a glue stick
- a pad of post-it notes
- a digital timer/stopwatch (for timing math drills, or for setting an end time for a task)
Everything in the box, and the box itself, is labelled with the owner’s name. I had a lot of fun creating these boxes — after power tools, office supplies are some of my favourite things to shop for. I tried to colour-code the supplies, too, to make it a bit easier to identify whose kit it is from a distance.
The kids will be using only their own supplies from now on. If someone borrows (or “borrows”) from a sibling, we’ll know whose sharpener it really is. Maybe when they’re the ones inconvenienced by damaged or missing supplies they’ll take better care of them. Or maybe they’ll just be stuck scratching out their math work with a pencil they had to sharpen by rubbing it against a rock. Either way, it’s a them problem, not an everyone problem; and at least I’ll always be able to find my own stuff.