Back to school: then and now

Combat boots.

I asked my 15-year-old daughter what she needed to head back to school and that was her reply. I wondered why on earth she needed combat boots when it’s been 89 degrees outside and she was returning to high school, not entering basic training!

I had been expecting a request more along the lines of binders and mechanical pencils, but my three daughters consider shoes and clothing a much bigger necessity for the first few days of school. This really isn’t a new thing, but it made me wonder…

Is it just us?

So I decided to ask several parents with school-age children about their back-to-school necessities; here are some of their responses:

•    My daughter says the most important purchases she would like to make are a curling rod and clothes—forget those school supplies!
•    Sneakers and that dang $100 graphing calculator.
•    I asked my oldest if he wanted any new clothes and he said no—he has enough!
•    The big thing is always a new pair of sneakers. Vans seem to be what all three of them really wanted.
•    New sneakers and pencils for both kids.

It seems as if school supplies are still important to some kids, but not nearly as important as new sneakers are to most. When I was a child in the seventies, that first-day-of-school outfit was very important, but I also recall the excitement over Strawberry Shortcake erasers that were scratch and sniff. I just had to have them.  But I can’t imagine my own kids being excited over an eraser, even if it smelled like fruit.

The good old days

My parents did not have to provide our pencils and binders, as schools today require. We made homemade book-covers out of brown paper shopping bags and the school provided our paste, rulers and protractors. Plus, we had no need of a $100 graphing calculator.

We asked some of our senior living residents and Facebook friends about what it was like when they sent their children to school and they also overwhelming reported that sneakers and clothes topped the list of what was purchased for back to school.

So have times really changed that much?  It appears the only big difference is in the quantity of items purchased. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, students got one or two new outfits or pairs of shoes. Today I know of kids who get an entire first week or more of new school outfits as part of the back-to-school shopping experience (yes, they were girls).

Our parents and grandparents also had their share of after-school activities such as Boy/Girl scouts, sports, band and clubs, but they just didn’t capture every moment to share on their Facebook pages! Kids primarily walked to and from school— several miles (uphill both ways and in the snow, by my Dad’s account). I still see a lot of students walking to and from school if they live within a reasonable distance so that hasn’t changed much either.

But unlike us as children, they carry cell phones now with tracking apps on them, so that they are a bit safer from stranger-danger when they walk through neighborhoods. In fact, trying to pry the mobile phones out of their hands can be difficult sometimes and a problem our grandparents didn’t have to deal with (see this post if you are experiencing issues with that).

After connecting with people of all ages on the subject, I realized “back-to-school” hasn’t changed significantly over the decades. Sure, my daughters have Vera Bradley lunch bags instead of a Holly Hobbie metal lunch box, but we all got excited over showing our friends our new back-to-school purchases. The actual items have changed over the years, but the joy of walking the halls that first week of school in a special outfit is something most of us can relate to.

In fact, I’ve been told that high-top Converse sneakers are back in fashion. I may have to dig out my own vintage pink pair from the basement to prove to my kids just how cool I really am.

And maybe I can give them to my 15-year-old so that she forgets about the combat boots….

By Melissa Kindall
Social Media and Special Communications Project Manager
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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