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Back to School with Pizzazz

The strangest, oldest, and most crucial supplies for your education

Write from the Start

What kind of supplies did kids bring to school in the good old days?

Sumer (In the Fertile Crescent), ancient times: In history’s first recorded schools, boys were taught the finest skill of the day: writing. Scribes were important people back then and learning the trade was serious business. With no paper or pens, these industrious students engraved their work on clay tablets. Luckily, modern archaeologists discovered some that could still be read and used to learn about ancient life, thousands of years later.

England, 1400s: It was called a hornbook, and with a handle attached to a wooden slab, it could be carried wherever a child ventured. The alphabet letters stood engraved on the front, protected by a transparent sheet made from a horn. This helped children memorize their letters.

America, 1800s: School supplies were precious and treated with great care. Walking to their one-room schoolhouses, children typically carried a couple of books, a slate, and some writing supplies (like chalk, a feather quill, or graphite pencils), all held tight in a belt or leather strap. Wealthier students often owned wooden pencil boxes; some super-fancy ones even came with their own little inkwell inside! These nice cases were known as scholar’s companions — and many came with lock and key to keep those valuable learning tools safe. Students didn’t have insulated lunch boxes or paper lunch bags; they carried their lunch in pails. Pretty different than what you’re used to, huh?

Early-mid 1900s: Hooray! Paper and pencils finally became the norm some years into the 20th century. What a relief… No more tablets or slates (though watch out, modern-day students… Soon enough, paper may be entirely replaced by computers)! The 1930’s saw Dick and Jane books make their debut, with simple-to-read (but kinda boring) sentences like, “See Dick run, see Jane sit.” These served as standard curriculum staples until the ’70s. By 1943, “Pee-Chee” folders, available only in the color peach and with pictures of kids playing sports on the front, enabled students to keep their papers more orderly. Finally, in the 1960’s, spiral notebooks full of lined paper made note-taking more doable as education continued to progress.

Late 1900s: Students of the ’70s enjoyed a newfangled school item: pocket calculators. What fun! (Now, though, those are used less, since even middle schoolers often require scientific calculators). Throughout the ’80s, while big hair and boom boxes were in style, Trapper Keeper binders became de rigueur, as students enjoyed the Velcro flap and dividers that organized their papers so well. During this time, backpacks also took their place on the must-have list. Onward toward a new era of learning and success!

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 775)

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