Tag: reduce reuse remake

Back to School Supplies

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!


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Working Together

I had a workshop last week at one of Austin’s many amazing library branches, Old Quarry. I’m really loving these library gigs because it feels like collaboration and community, both of which fills me to no end. We started the evening with some guided writing and ended the evening composing and creating postcards to mail to ourselves and to those who inspire us along the way.

While discussing collaboration and the impact of community, one of the attendees shared a bit he’d heard about Draft Horses and how their strength increases exponentially when they work in teams. And even more so when they work with a known and trusted co-horse. I searched it and found this…

chalk peopleRecently, I was reading about draft horses which are very large, muscular animals that, throughout history, have been used for pulling great loads and moving very heavy objects.  A single draft horse can pull a load up to 8,000 pounds.  The strength involved in this is hard to imagine.  So then we can speculate what would happen if we hooked up two draft horses to a load.  If you instantly thought two draft horses could pull 16,000 pounds if one draft horse can pull 8,000 pounds, you would be wrong.  Two draft horses pulling together cannot pull twice as much as one.  They can actually pull three times as much.  The two draft horses that can each pull 8,000 pounds alone can pull 24,000 pounds working together.

The horses are teaching us a very clear lesson in teamwork, but they still have more to teach us.  If the two horses that are pulling together have trained with one another and have worked together before, they can’t just pull three times as much working together as they can by themselves.  The two trained horses in tandem can actually pull 32,000 pounds, which is a load four times as heavy as either of the horses could pull by themselves.

I feel this when I’m working with others – whether they are family or friends or random people I meet along the way, together we are greater. When we work with other trusted humans, whether we are brainstorming ideas or moving 4000 pounds, together we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. That is the power of community!


If you are in Austin and would like to stay informed of my various events or workshops, follow Slow Family Living on FB! 

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