It’s that time of year again.
I went through all my in-boxes (under the bed, in the central part of the kitchen table that we can’t ever eat off because it’s where overdue bills and old school newsletters fester, on the bedside table, in a pile of old kids’ artwork and unopened mail down the back of the homework desk) and found all three stationery lists.
After I had a lie down, I made a spreadsheet. I’ve only ever made a spreadsheet once before and it was at the same time last year when I realised that with three lists, a whole lot of unused things from the year before and three stationery shops all competing on price, desperate measures were in order. Asking Josh to show me how to do things on the computer is always a desperate measure because he insists on trying to teach me to do it myself and this is never, ever straight-forward. He’s known me for twenty years but still hasn’t got his head around how wide the gulf between his knowledge and mine really is. Recently I’ve adopted the tactic of nodding and smiling then getting the kids to do it for me when he’s out, which works just fine.
So anyhoo, using the magic of the internet (and the ‘open in a new tab’ button which took a good five years of patient instruction on his part and is wonderful, just wonderful) I filled in my spreadsheet with all the things they need and the prices from the the different shops. When the start of the school year costs over a thousand dollars it’s worth the time, believe me. And this is where the rant begins.
Why do little kids need so many things? And why do they need so many of these so many things? The five-year-old is, apparently, going to write his way through no less than SIX black ball-point pens this year, as well as two green ones. He can’t achieve literacy without, also, six whiteboard pens, two pencils, colouring pencils AND felt pens and two highlighters, one of which must be pink and the other yellow. I had a spare green one but I bought the pink one anyway just in case the teacher knows something I don’t.
Mr Nine only needs two black pens (and two red and two green) but requires ten pencils. TEN. Perhaps it’s just paranoia brought on by the stress of engaging with a spreadsheet but I’m beginning to suspect that the teachers have some sort of sideline business going on in black-market writing implements. Or they have worked with little boys for long enough to understand the high misuse-related attrition rate. I will certainly be suggesting to the teacher that she looks after nine of the pencils herself. To get through year 5 he also needs a fine-tip Sharpie (because giving nine-year-old boys permanent markers can’t possibly go wrong), four whiteboard pens, coloured pencils and felts, and yellow and green highlighters. Do you see what they’ve done there? I can’t buy the cheaper four-pack of highlighters and give the boys two each, oh no. Because the four-packs only have one yellow and yellow is very significant. For some reason.
Now the irony of having to buy so many pens and pencils is that they don’t ever write anything. No. They glue photocopied bits of paper in their exercise books, which means that out of the 15 books I bought for the boys, 12 of them had to be A4 size, 1B8 (or whatever) rather than 1B5. How much do the smaller 5 size books cost? On average, 45 cents. How much do the 8 size books cost? Anywhere between $2.20 and $2.50. Do schools get a percentage of the stationery money spent at the big stationery shops? Yes, yes they do. Just sayin’.
Every year every child at this particular primary school has to have their own pair of scissors. I make sure I get them all back at the end of the year and re-use them. Whatever happened to the idea of a class set? Amy has to pay a ‘classroom fee’ that covers, among other things, compasses and protractors (both of which she owns already but I doubt that pointing this out is going to get the fee reduced). Barring the small-boy-misuse factor compasses and protractors, like scissors, are not consumables so why do we have to pay for them annually? Apart from that, Amy’s list is refreshingly uncomplicated after the boys’ ones but manages to have several unnecessarily expensive items on it anyway. A 2E5 maths book costs $8.95. I get that the hardcover books last longer but the softcover version costs 27 cents. For the price of the hardcover I could buy her ten softcover ones and lunch at the bakery. She also needs a dictionary/thesaurus (class set! class set!) and a scientific calculator. The calculator, I will say, has already provided hours of entertainment for the little kids, who love anything with buttons and a screen, and Josh who got all nostalgic. I tried writing ‘boobs’ upside-down, which didn’t work because calculators now have 8s that look like 8s, and decided I had done my dash.
I made my two orders and had a stiff drink. On the plus side, I do love the whole online ordering thing. The box from Warehouse Stationery arrived two days later, which I’m always impressed by, especially for a free delivery service. Unpacking the lovely new stuff is fun too, and everything was there that should have been. The other shop that had good enough prices to be worth making a separate order was the www.ezcover.co.nz. Their book covers last year after year, as advertised, and their range of exercise books, though small, tends to be way cheaper than anywhere else, especially for those pesky A4-sized ones.
Seeing as I went to all the effort of doing a spreadsheet, you might as well benefit from my wisdom. For basic exercise books go to ezcover (although they do sell out so go quickly). For almost everything else, Warehouse Stationery is your man, the exceptions being whiteboard pens, bookbags and Sharpies, for which you want to visit PaperPlus. The Whitcoulls website is an absolute bear so don’t even bother. Now don’t say I never do anything for you.