Back to School Across Two Generations

Pee-Chee folder, photo from Wikipedia

Pee-Chee folder, photo from Wikipedia

In recent weeks I’ve been following all my Facebook friends’ pictures of their children headed back to school—from the kindergarteners to the college-bound. I’m glad those days are behind me, though I have good memories both of my own back-to-school days and my children’s.

When I was young, school never started until after Labor Day. Labor Day weekend was the last chance to get sunburned, play in the swimming pool or lake, and relax without a care in the world beyond who got the biggest cookie for dessert.

But Labor Day was also tinged with excitement. Change was coming—a new teacher, maybe new classmates, and new books full of new information. I went to the same school from second through eighth grade, so I could predict much of the change that was coming, but not all of it.

Big Chief tablets are still sold today, by American Trademark Publishing

Big Chief tablets are still sold today, by American Trademark Publishing

Even before Labor Day weekend, change was in the air. When I was a child, my mother took my brother and me to the local drug store to buy school supplies. In the early grades, we didn’t need much more than a Big Chief tablet, crayons (Crayola brand, of course), pencils, and a Pee-Chee folder.

Later, Elmer’s glue and blue-ink pens (no other color was permitted) were added to the mix. And in high school, we included binders, protractors, compasses, and other more sophisticated tools. Even a hand-held calculator, once such things became available.

A generation later, my children had similar experiences. They went to the same school from preschool days through eighth grade. My daughter started in the baby room in the preschool, and had seniority over all but two teachers by the time she graduated.

Shopping for school supplies with my kids seemed far more complicated than when I was a child. Each grade had a list of what was needed, and many of the teachers specified the particular color of folders needed for each school subject. Trapper Keepers replaced Pee-Chee folders. Paper had to be wide-ruled, not college-ruled. And Kleenex and paper towels provided from home reduced the school’s budget.

Then there was college . . . But acquiring the necessities for a dorm room will take a whole post to itself.

What traditions did your family have to mark the beginning of a new school year?

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  1. My mother made all of my sister’s and my clothes. She made clothes towards the end of summer and Mary and I gave my dad and mom a fashion show a couple days before school started. We felt so special.

    • I should have mentioned back-to-school clothes! Another shopping experience each August. I didn’t make my clothes until high school, but getting new clothes was definitely part of the back-to-school experience.
      Thanks for the comment,

  2. Growing up in Virginia, we didn’t go back to school until after Labor Day. It’s odd to me when I hear of kids starting in mid-August…it’s still summertime!
    Back to school shopping for clothes was always a big deal in our house. Once my sister and I were old enough to babysit or hold other paying jobs, if we wanted the Jordache jeans, we were paying for those on our own. 🙂

    • I’ve always had a hard time with the back-to-school-in-August thing also. And as I just mentioned in another comment, I should have written about getting new clothes.
      Thanks for reading,

  3. Theresa even in Australia I have memories of the list of things we needed for school. I am happy to say, most of it is supplied by the schools these days. Love your reflection on a time gone by, it all goes by so quickly.

    • Time does go by so quickly. It feels just like yesterday that I was rushing to buy all the supplies, but my youngest has been out of high school for more than ten years now.
      Cheers. Theresa

  4. Remember one year, a long time ago, at K-mart located at Vivion and N. Oak shopping for school supplies. Ran into Jamie, Marcie
    and you. Our kids were running up and down the isles looking at all the supplies. The big surprise though was seeing how muck the kids had grown since spring. It seem like at least a foot. Nance’

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