I've learned a few things about managing elementary school supplies over the years, but the biggest lesson is this:
Most classroom supplies don't belong in student desks.
Allowing each child to keep a full set of markers, scissors, colored pencils, glue, etc. in their desk is like stocking a little toy chest for students to play with all day long. Toys are much more interesting than teachers! It's trouble...trouble you don't need when you are working to achieve great classroom management.
I use a note on the school supply list to advise parents up front to not put their child's name on any supplies they send to school. It's best to set the expectation right up front that supplies become community property.
By the way, I also don't ask parents to send very much. Personally, I think schools should be providing free classroom supplies, which are simply the tools for learning. But kids do love their back-to-school shopping, so plenty of elementary school supplies arrive every year regardless.
Of course, expectations are set for the use of these supplies. Expectation number one:
Expectation number two:
I always explain the difference between tools and toys. Markers, glue, etc., are tools and I let them know that if they become toys, I'll take them away because the school rules do not allow toys in the classroom.
One of the first-day-of-school stories I share is my tale of "Travis Rocket." That was his name for himself, and this personal nickname perfectly described his explosive and agitated tendencies. Travis Rocket made a weapon out of a ruler and a pair of scissors with which he threatened me one day.
That's when I learned the danger of allowing students to have distractions in their desks! This story is highly amusing to students, but it makes the right point.
By the way, it was easy enough to disarm Travis by simply saying, "Hey, that looks cool! Can I take a look at it?" He proudly handed it over; at which point, I confiscated it.
Sometimes a student will simply not be able to part with her special pencil box that she brings on the first day of school If it becomes obvious that this is causing her a lot of distress, I give her a deal. First, I have her share the markers and allow her to keep her colored pencils.
Then I let her know that we'll try it out, and if the box of classroom supplies distracts her from learning or comes out of her desk at the wrong time - even once - I'll take it away.
Children can simply be uncertain that they'll actually ever be able to use those beautiful supplies they brought with them on the first day. There is just something about fresh school supplies that make kids excited.
If they see that they actually do have access to the community supplies, they become much more willing to part with their own pencil box, especially when it starts taking up too much room in their desks.
TIP: It's a good idea to plan some small activity on the first day of school that allows students to use their new supplies.
I've got a video tour of two student desks on the next page. It's a visual tour of good and bad management of elementary school supplies.