Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are Your School Supplies a Waste of Time?

To finish up my thoughts on school supplies, I offer some general thoughts for pondering.


The items discussed before offer some specific challenges, but I would also like to speak to the challenge of cheapness. Like I said before, as a mom I am familiar with the need to budget, but as an art teacher I have discovered that cheap price usually goes along with cheap quality. Watching students try to make poor quality items work well for them, and growing frustrated in the process, makes me see the value in spending a bit mor (when I can) in order to facilitate my own children's learning experiences. Because once in the classroom, the real issues change. Can the student learn with the tools provided? Can the student do the work with the tools provided? Do the tools provided steal and waste student time? For example, one second grader complained that her pencil sharpener seemed to always be jammed because it never made her pencils any sharper. She brought it to me so I could clear it and we discovered that the reason it didn't sharpen was because there was no blade in it! It hadn't fallen out—there was no way it could have. It had never had a blade inside, ever. This particular sharpener still bore the logo of a large discount office supply store on the side and sells for quite cheap at the store. Sure, it's just a pencil sharpener, but the bigger problem is the amount of time wasted by the poor supplies. In this case, she had spent over half the year trying to sharpen pencils with something that NEVER would have done the job. After minutes spent fiddling with her sharpener, she would then ask another student to borrow one and now at least two students, but more likely three to five (because nothing ever happens that quietly), have now been disturbed by the problem sharpener. What seems like a bargain really isn't in the end.

I'm not trying to place an extra burden on parents or blame anyone for buying materials that turn out to be bad quality (I've done it too, and I'm not really sure how to recommend choosing something like a pencil sharpener!). I like to see good prices, just like everyone else. But until I started seeing these items in action I didn't realize the frustration some of them can cause. My goal is to educate, and in this letter I hope I have been able to give you some information to help you make choices. For younger students, who are more prone to losing things (most classrooms have a crayon/marker/pencil lost and found just for this reason!), the investment might not be wise, but they won't always be so young, either.

If you do decide to invest in better paints and colored pencils, etc., and want to re-use some of those supplies, remember to talk to your teacher and let it be known that you might want some of those items back at the end of the year. Some classrooms have community boxes for some supplies, but others keep individual items in their desks, so communication is important. Also, make sure to label anything you might want back. Finally, if you have extra supplies and you don't know what to do with them—ask me. Your art teacher can always use donations, or you can find a home for them elsewhere, such as VBS or summer camps. And if the items are still in good shape you can always use them again next year. Blessings to you for a great summer!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Glue and Watercolor Paints for Kids

Next we take a look at glue and watercolor paints.


Glue is another item that parents should be wary of buying cheaply. Store brands seem to be the worst offenders, making claims to dry clearly, but then leaving blue, sticky patches in the middle of artwork. Or worse, the glue just does not hold fast, so art falls apart (I could say that's an application problem on the part of the user, but I find that most grade schoolers have the opposite problem and use too much). Gel glues, in my experience, are also not the best option for younger students. The ability to squeeze out only the amount needed isn't really developed yet. Even my eighth grade art students take some time learning how to put out the right amount of paint from the tube, and young children are just fascinated with squeezing things out—especially if there's any glitter involved. I would recommend that you stick with the stick (no pun intended!) when it comes to glue, and save the bling for folders.

The final item I want to make some recommendations about is watercolor paints. With paints you need to decide what quality is most important to you: washability, rich color or lightfastness. If all you are concerned with is washability, then Crayola is a great brand and probably the most economical. For rich color Prang is hard to beat. If lightfastness (which means the art will not fade when exposed to light, such as in a frame), you need to buy Sargent; they are pricier, but they are lightfast, and as far as I can discover, they are the only ones that are. I do not recommend other brands because many of them contain so much glycerin (to make them washable) that when water is added they become gel-like and are very difficult to paint with, besides giving weak, pale, unpleasant colors.

Next time we'll talk about the bottom line with school supplies. Photos courtesy of and

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Some thoughts on colored pencils and crayons

To continue with my series on school supply tips, this time we look at colored pencils and crayons.


Colored pencils have the same issues with gluing, but they also share a common problem with crayons: wax content. Cheap versions of these supplies are typically loaded with extra wax, and contain smaller amounts of pigment. Consequently they give weak, pale colors and sometimes don't even look like the colors they are supposed to be, which is frustrating to many students. For crayons, I usually stick with Crayola. With colored pencils there are several options. Faber-Castell makes a nice colored pencil that is glued all the way down (which solves the breakage issue talked about above) and has nice color. It's a little more expensive, but I would recommend it for older, more responsible students. Crayola colored pencils have nice color, but are very prone to breaking. A couple years ago I bought my daughter a set of colored pencils at Michaels. I'm not even sure of the brand, but I found them in the art supply section, not the kid arts and crafts section. I paid about six dollars for 24 colors, but she has used them for two years now and will be able to use them again next year, so we're now down to $2 a year. Of course, this investment only works when the student is old enough to not lose the items. I have seen some colored pencils put out by Crayola that are twistable and encased in plastic; what I have heard about them has been favorable, but I'm not very familiar with them.

Thank you to for the crayon photo.