Raising Driftless Kids

Ainsley Anderson

Hello, August! The first two-thirds of our summer raced by with two week-long road trip vacations with our kiddos, one camp, and countless Lego creations. Here we are in August desperately clinging to the final month of break, preparing ourselves for school registration and, of course, back-to-school shopping!
Confession time: I love school supplies. The smell of a box of brand-new Crayolas is one of my favorite scents in the world (Play-Doh and paste are a close second and third). I love the feel of new pens and pencils, writing in a brand-new notebook for the first time, and writing names on folders and other such supplies with my trusty Sharpie. However, as I think about all of the stuff that is in our art cabinet at home, I wonder why buy a bunch of new supplies? Crayons that are 1/5 used still work as well as those that are brand new. That cabinet is full of freebie pencils that make their way into my home from various parties and events throughout the year. Why not sharpen those and send them to school?
Do my children really need a new pencil box, backpack and lunch bag each year? Unless they’re gross or seriously worn or the wrong size, they can probably be used for at least another year. I love back-to-school shopping. However, I also really like saving money and not being a slave to consumerism. I am also super mindful of the environmental impact of buying new over and over.
In considering all of this, I asked my children about reusing supplies. They were totally fine with it. Then, I took to Facebook and asked friends and teachers if used supplies mattered. The response was overwhelmingly supportive of reusing supplies. Why didn’t I consider this sooner? Has my own love of school supplies made me blind to the back-to-school consumerism that bombards us mid-July?
I’m thrilled to share that discussing what my kiddos need for the school year, they are really fine with the bare minimum. My daughter absolutely needs new tennis shoes as she destroyed hers last year. She needs a few fresh t-shirts. She outgrew her backpack so she needs a new one. On the other hand, my son is happy with the backpack that he’s used the past two years, happy with his lunch bag, and happy with his clothes.
As a bonus, as we discussed how we can reduce our waste this year, they both suggested that we stop buying juice boxes and they just use their water bottles and drink water at lunch. This mom’s mind was blown. I have realized that the kids are alright. I can trust them to know what they need and what they don’t. (OK – maybe I need to intervene and ensure my son has at least one pair of pants without a hole.) Imagine what might happen if we included kids in more of the discussion about waste and reusing. Imagine the impact they might have.

Ainsley Rowe Anderson is a mom of three whose roots run deep in the Driftless Area mineral districts of Wisconsin and Illinois. She is the co-owner of Driftless Kids in Mineral Point and shares her thoughts on raising children in the Driftless in this space on a rotating basis with other columnists focused on education and kids.