pencilTHIS POST IS FROM 2011. Still I feel the same. Still I find pencils on campus all the time. Still I want us to consume less and reuse more. Yes, I’ve told the pencil story to endless classes of children. And now I tell it to you…

Last year I went into my daughter’s second grade classroom to talk about a pencil. I thought about pencils often when I was on the school campus because everytime I walked across campus I picked up AT LEAST one brand new pencil. Often never sharpened, almost always full length with an intact eraser. I had actually started to make it a point – to always pick up a pencil on campus. There were times when I walked across that 20 yards of grass and picked up 3 or 4. It started to seem like people were planting them there because they knew of my obsession. But alas, no, it’s just the way it was.
So when my daughter’s teacher said there was a shortage of pencils in their classroom last year I was confused. We had all bought a lot of them before school started. And surely so had the teacher. And yet there were no pencils. Anywhere. Not even crummy pencils – which I should add here I kind of hate – or rather I should say, I like a good pencil. A Ticonderoga black for example. One of my faves.

When I got the request, I volunteered for storytime, with full disclosure to the teacher who was with me all the way. Even in regards to good pencils vs. crappy ones. And I told them all the story that my mom  told so many times from her own youth. How in 1930s, depression era New York City, a kid would have one pencil. That was it. Just one. They would have it at all times and use it until it was a nub and then some. They kept track of their pencil and if they did lose it they tried to keep it secret so nobody would get mad or so their parents wouldn’t have to buy a pencil with money they didn’t have. On your birthday you most often got a pencil for a present. Or maybe win a spelling bee in school and get a pencil for a prize. Sometimes perfect attendance would give them the coveted new pencil. Or maybe they would FIND one. Actually find one that someone had dropped. “Then,” my mom would say and always with a delightful sigh, “then you would feel so lucky!”

So I think of pencils when I walk across the campus and I think how lucky my mom would have felt if she were a kid walking across these grounds. One a day. 150 or so a school year. That’s pencils for a lifetime. Or for a whole school.

I challenged the kids in the classroom that day to try to keep their pencil as long as they could and use it well and keep track of it and don’t just think of it as a simply disposable tool which was easily replaced by another. I think a challenge like this is definitely made easier by having access to a good pencil – one that really feels good in your hand and writes smoothly on the paper and looks good when you’ve put on the paper what you want to put there. The kind of pencil that kind of makes you feel like drawing even when you’re writing.

For the rest of the school year some of them would tell me they still had their pencil. They were loving it and they were proud too! To be so resourceful. And to feel a sense of ownership to this tool rather than just feeling like it was yet another disposable item at their ready disposal.

Last week, when everyone was purchasing their school supplies there was a lot of discussion about pencils and crayons and other school supplies. And everyone kind of felt like we were buying too much. And I wondered why we always needed new stuff each year. New crayons. New scissors. New pencils. Where were all the packs from last year? And why does everyone need their own box of crayons vs. the giant bin of multi-colored crayons all mixed together in a shoe box? Why buy lots of the crappy supplies vs. less of the good supplies. What if we actually gave the kids less so that there was a sense of ownership in each item and less of a feeling of disposability?

We bought a pack of black Ticonderogas this year. I gave each of my school kids 4 to put in their pencil case. Really 2 probably would have sufficed. We etched a little mark in each one so they could keep track because they’re challenging themselves to keep them all year. It’s fun for them. And interesting too to see their sense of responsibility around this simple item.

I think I’m going to go in the classroom again and tell that story. Maybe I’ll challenge the class again. Maybe I’ll be the crazy mom who gets the reputation for telling the same pencil story year after year. And with one that hasn’t even started there yet, I’ve got a few years ahead of me!