Sunday, September 4, 2011

Yay - Back to School Time

Despite the fact that two of Toni's kids still aren't back at school, we're discussing it anyway:


Unlike many parents, I half dread back to school time. Well, not the getting-rid-of-the-kids part, but the school supply list. I'm not sure whether it's just our school but I have to supply everything—pens, pencils, lined paper, glue sticks, binders. I really don't remember having to obtain all this when I was at little school. What is the world coming to?

Being foreign, the school supply list poses quite a few problems for me. I remember some years back when "Trapper-keeper" appeared on the Queenager's list.

"Is that for your science lessons?" I asked, imagining something to, well, trap things in. Unfortunately she didn't know, so I had to resort to Plan B: go and stand in Office Depot (that's Deepo, BTW) and look for a big sign saying "Trapper Keepers This Way". And then Plan C: listen for other people saying "Where are the Trapper Keepers?" and fall in line behind them. Lady Luck wasn't smiling on me that day, so I put on my very best English accent and asked the assistant, who kindly led me to an aisle full of…binders, basically.

Here it is in all its glory: a binder with a zip and a handle. Talk about being underwhelmed, but at least we got it crossed off the list.

And the next item? "College ruled" note paper. Oh for Pete's sake, what's that when it's at home? I need a translator.


It’s always interesting when back to school time rolls around here, as I get to see what British parents have to do to prepare their offspring for the new semester.

The biggest rituals, as far as I can see, is the buying of the school uniforms followed closely by the trek to Clark’s for inexpensive, sensible shoes. Buying a school uniform is the ritual, of course, most foreign to me. Uniforms were unheard of in my world, unless you went to The Christian Brother’s Academy. Here, most children wear them, as because the blazers are expensive, they are generally bought with a “they will grow into them” thought in mind, leading to children starting their first year of school with their blazer sleeves hanging down to past their knees.

When we walk by the Clark’s shoe store this time of year, the scrum inside is reminiscent of the Next sales, only with mothers and young children instead of trendy women. They also institute a deli-style “pick a number and wait your turn” type of shopping in a valiant, though vain, attempt to maintain order.

One of the most interesting things I heard about British schools, came from my barber. He daughter is starting school this year, and is going to something called a Cashless School. She has an account to log into, top up with electronic cash as she sees fit, and her daughter can buy what she needs at the school lunch room. To pay, the young girl (she’s five years old) presses her thumb on a scanner. This means there is no lost lunch money, no extortion by older kids, no hold-up of the lunch queue while the dinner-ladies make change, etc.

It would have been nice to have had something like this when I went to school. Imagine being able to go through the lunch line, selecting what I wanted and then, when I reached the end of the line, being grabbed by the big kid in front of me and having my hand slammed down on the scanner so his lunch would be charged to my account.

Technology can only carry us so far.


  1. Thank Goodness I don't have to worry about these things now.
    Looking back, it was the cost of the uniforms that seemed so expensive.
    Yes, Mike those blazers!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  2. Ha ha. My school blazer lasted me about 5 years. I remember when we bought it and I thought it would never fit. By the time we finally retired it, I could barely move my arms it was so tight! And the badge on the pocket? Ugh!

  3. Our school shopping lists include things like paper towels, hand sanitizer, and printer paper. Along with the things the kids need for SCHOOL, that is.

  4. Now imagine that the entire list is in Spanish. That's what I go through every year.

    And not only do we have to buy the kid's supplies, we have to buy the teachers' supplies and cleaning supplies (bottles of bleach, bottles of pinesol, bottles of floor wax etc)

    After 7 years, I'm used to it, but I was stunned the first year.

  5. Oooh, supply lists in a foreign language? God knows what I would end up buying.

  6. Ugh, went to a private school for the first year of my secondary school education (as a scholarship kid not full paying one). The uniform list was horrendous. To get everything new would have cost close to a grand. Everything was school issue down to PE knickers and the kind of tights you wear :/

  7. Wow, I'd have hated it if my school had told me what sort of knickers and tights I could wear. ;)

  8. Mike. Clarks? Inexpensive? Only for people who've never bought shoes at Target.

    1. There is no Target in the UK. However, Brantano's is mildly cheaper than Clarks.

  9. Never seen a Target store over here.

  10. LOL! Toni, way to use that English charm.

    I helped a work mate of mine try to find an Engineer's Graphing notebook this week. Her child is only in 9th grade but an AP student. That was fun. The teacher gave no direction as to where to find such item. Why do they fail to that? Drives me nuts.

  11. Eclipse - oh yes. I'd forgotten about all that. I went to a convent school and we also had to have regulation bottle green underwear, beige or brown knee socks and only American tan tights. Ugh!

  12. Smitten - were it not for the fact that the kids are going into a new grade with a new teacher, I probably would have phoned/e-mailed the teacher for help. Unfortunately, when you don't know the teacher, you don't want to come off as a complete idiot too quickly!

  13. It was all so simple in my time and my mother was complaining about the cost then. Poor woman didn't have a clue.

  14. Toni-they sell college rule paper in the UK, so I'm surprised you didn't know what it was in the U.S? Not sure WHY it is called what it is called, mind. I just know what it is, if that makes sense :-D

    Mike-on what planet are Clarks inexpensive? The cost of their shoes used to cripple me when we lived back home (U.K). Nigh on 40 quid a pair-ouch! You are correct though, in that it is survival of the fittest in there during the run up to school!!
    (Incidentally, my son was often fitted so badly at Clarks, I started buying supermarket shoes and fitted him myself. End of problems. Methinks Clarks are vastly over-rated).

    I'm lucky in the respect that we now live in Sweden, where we were met with bemused looks when I asked what I needed to supply for my son starting school. "Why, nothing" was the answer. "We give them everything". Aah bliss.

    I thought the lack of uniform would annoy me, as I used to like not having to think about clothes for school in the UK. But now I find I am more happy, not having to waste tiem and money sourcing new school sweatshirts, polo shirts etc etc blah blah.
    My son sticks on a t-shirt and jeans, I stic a banana and water bottle in his bag, and he's good to go :-D

  15. It's funny how different stationery is over here - like how ring binders/file paper have three holes rather than two. And as for legal/letter paper instead of simple A4... It's all a pain when you're trying to make your academic notes, articles etc print out in the right format, which MS Word likes to make an enormous meal of despite claiming to be able to do it!

    I wouldn't have had any idea what college ruled paper or a trapper keeper was here. My feeling is that the stationery vocab is just a lot more sophisticated this side of the Atlantic. Every time I temp in a new office they look at me in amazement when I don't understand some term they use and have to double check about the exact kind of folder they want me to put things in, or reorder from Office World.

  16. Julie - I think my ignorance is probably due to the fact that I've only had a school supply list on this side of the Pond, although I can't ever remember coming across that term when I was at uni in England.

    Sceptical - I really miss using the term "bulldog clip". No one here seems to have a clue what they are until I pick one up and they go "Oh, that".

  17. I only wish we had dinner ladies here in our public schools (Oakland Ca) I wouldn't even worry about lost cash. And the supplies list: at the end of every year our mudroom is filled with unused complicated binders and strange pens...

  18. Yeah, bulldog clip is a good one!


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