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Why back-to-school lists are so long and specific. And what's up with the 3 dozen glue sticks?

I just need someone to tell me: Are they eating the glue sticks?!

Why back-to-school lists are so long and specific. And what's up with the 3 dozen glue sticks?
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
selective focal photo of crayons in yellow box

It's back-to-school time (yaaassss!), but that means it's also the time when you have to tackle those super-long, super-specific school supply lists (uggghhhh!).

You know what I'm talking about — the 15-plus-items-long list of things your kids need for school.

As a bonus, they're often brand-name specific. Seriously. Because Elmer's glue is apparently just that different from generic store brand glue.


Based on the venting ( "OMG, everyone is sold out of pre-sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils!") and cries for help I'm seeing from my fellow parents on social media ("Where did you find three wide-ruled draw-and-write composition books?" — OK, I admit that was my question), a lot of our public school kiddos are being given supply lists quite similar to this one:

woman in white and multicolored floral long-sleeved mini dress with green backpackPhoto by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

Sample school supply list created from actual lists I've collected. Some items have been switched between lists to protect the innocent.

While many public schools send these lists to parents, in certain states they're "requests" not "requirements" (even when not clearly presented that way) because some states cannot legally require students to provide their own school supplies.

Optional or required, however, these school supply lists are important.

I know, I know — lots of us parents have many feelings about them, like:

  • We didn't have to buy a specific list of supplies when we were kids (walking uphill both ways, two miles, in the snow).
  • This is public school, not private school! Can't the glue sticks come out of my taxes?
  • This list is so name-brand specific. Are Elmer's glue sticks reallllyyyy that superior to these cheaper, generic ones?
  • Seriously?? So many glue sticks?! Just ... what?

And we can all agree that it's not right that public school budgets are regularly slashed and aren't big enough to cover the basic necessities essential for our kids' success. (You know, like pencils.) And in some cases, budgets are misused, and that's not right, either.

black cordless headphones beside sport bottle and notebookPhoto by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

But as much as parents dread shopping for school supplies, our children's teachers probably dread having to ask.

Katie Sluiter, a mom of three and teacher of 13 years, shares in parents' frustrations about supplies — just from a different perspective. "I struggle every single August with having to ask for [supply] donations. I hate it," she says.

She'd love to stop asking parents to bring in a combined total of 800 pencils and 1,000 glue sticks and just buy them herself. But as a teacher, she simply cannot afford to do it.

"I hate that we have two full-time salaried workers in our house. ... I have an advanced degree, and we are still living paycheck to paycheck. It feels shameful to have to ask every. single. year. for donations. Teachers don't want to ask for handouts. We just want to teach."

"Teachers don't want to ask for handouts. We just want to teach." — Katie Sluiter

Nicole Johansen, a mom of two who was a teacher for 12 years, echoes Sluiter's sentiments. She cites never ending budget cuts as well as the need to stretch other funds, like PTO-raised money, further and further as the reasons supply lists exist and adds, "It is frustrating knowing that schools should be appropriately allotted funds for supplies — this said from the parent AND teacher standpoint."

So most of us are on the same page here. Class supply lists are the pits ... for everyone!

The most significant thing to remember, though, is that if your budget allows, it's important to purchase the items on the list.

If you're not purchasing the supplies, it's very likely your child's teacher will have to — with his or her own money.

Image by Thinkstock.

And we've already established that teacher salaries aren't cutting it when it comes to taking care of their families and their students.

And maybe it's not so much that teachers have to spend their own paychecks on classroom supplies, but they want to because an overwhelming majority of teachers genuinely care about their students.

"I wish all parents knew how much teachers love and sacrifice for their students," Johansen said. "Pretty much all teachers I know will be spending for their classroom despite having to cut back the grocery bill for their family."

"I wish all parents knew how much teachers love and sacrifice for their students." — Nicole Johansen

"No, we don't have to spend all that time and money on our classrooms, but it makes it a quality experience when your children have things like science experiments, books, art supplies, and a comfortable, cozy classroom environment."

woman wearing white sweaterPhoto by Yustinus Tjiuwanda on Unsplash

OK, but seriously, what do they do with all of those glue sticks?!

I know I'm not the only one who opened up that list when my daughter was in first grade, choked on my coffee, and exclaimed, "THREE DOZEN GLUE STICKS?! What, are the kids eating them? [Probably. Little kids eat all kinds of gross stuff.] Are the teachers selling them for profit? [I wouldn't blame them. See above about teachers' salaries]."

Image by Thinkstock.

"We glue kids' mouths shut," Sluiter told me when I asked.

"Totally kidding. They last like 12 seconds ... [and] no matter how vigilant we are in supervising the picking up and putting away of supplies, each time we get the tub of glue sticks out, there are about three to five dead soldiers and lone caps rolling in the bottom of the bin."

(I love teachers with senses of humor!)

But back to the actual issue.

My friend Shannon summed up the class supply list conundrum perfectly, if bluntly:

She wants parents who can budget in school supplies without experiencing a financial burden to "quit complaining about some of the items being communal. Vote for politicians who will quit cutting money from schools. I don't remember my parents having to buy 20 glue sticks, but I certainly don't think any more should come out of teachers' pockets."

Couldn't have said it better myself.


This story originally appeared on 08.11.15.

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Scientists tested 3 popular bottled water brands for nanoplastics using new tech, and yikes

The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

Suzy Hazelwood/Canva

Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

As opposed to microplastics, nanoplastics are too small to be seen by microscope. Their size is exactly why experts are concerned about them, as they are small enough to invade human cells and potentially disrupt cellular processes.

“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They’ve been found in human lung tissues. They’ve been found in human feces; they’ve been found in human blood,” study coauthor Phoebe Stapleton, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy told CNN Health,

We know that nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies. We just don't have enough research yet on what that means for our health, and we still have more questions than answers. How many nanoplastics does it take to do damage and/or cause disease? What kinds of damage or disease might they cause? Is whatever effect they might have cumulative? We simply don't have answers to these questions yet.

That's not to say there's no cause for concern. We do know that certain levels of microplastic exposure have been shown to adversely affect the viability of cells. Nanoplastics are even smaller—does that mean they are more likely to cause cellular damage? Science is still working that out.

According to Dr. Sara Benedé of the Spanish National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science Research, it's not just the plastics themselves that might cause damage, but what they may bring along with them. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms,” Dr. Benedé told Medical News Today.

Where is this plastic in water coming from? This study focused on bottled water, which is almost always packaged in plastic. The filters used to filter the water before bottling are also frequently made from plastic.

Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

The reality is, though, we simply don't know yet.

“Based on other studies we expected most of the microplastics in bottled water would come from leakage of the plastic bottle itself, which is typically made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” lead author Naixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University, told CNN Health. “However, we found there’s actually many diverse types of plastics in a bottle of water, and that different plastic types have different size distributions. The PET particles were larger, while others were down to 200 nanometers, which is much, much smaller.”

We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.

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Recently a groom named Eldridge Buchanan gave some special vows to his new seven-year-old-son Kayden during his wedding to Asia Green Buchanan.

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