Celebrating the evolution of school supplies

Lunchbox? Check. New colouring pencils, exercise books, and backpack? Double-check! 

The end of the school holidays is bittersweet but heading back to school means seeing friends and working towards new milestones, for educators and learners alike. It’s an exciting time chock full of small joys, like awesome new stationery. And how these tools have changed! From ink pots and carrying books by hand to dull colour palettes – here are some of the ways school supplies have levelled up over the centuries.

Making your mark

For much of human history, school notes were temporary and learners had to memorise a lot of new material to progress in their lessons. Chalk writing on slate tablets could be wiped clean by accident or a spilt inkpot could destroy a heap of jotted notes in one clumsy moment.

The mass introduction of paper exercise books in the 1800s changed the game. They allowed educators to oversee learner growth, while also giving learners concrete evidence of their daily improvements. In many ways, the exercise book is a space for meditating on the process of learning. They’ve even become valuable sources of history to researchers who study the evolution of modern education. Do you remember when you mastered the fundamentals of handwriting and could graduate from pencil to pen? Each small step is worth celebrating along the path of learning. 

Carry on

It is easy to forget that backpacks only became essential school supplies in the 1980s. Before that, learners would carry their books by hand, or strapped together with strips of cloth or leather belts. The humble backpack allowed learners to carry more books home for independent or assigned reading, opening their worlds in ways that the internet also allows for today. Modern backpacks have become super slick and customised to suit a range of needs, with designated pocket sections, comfy designs, and funky patterns. 

A spectrum of colours

When crayons were first introduced, there weren’t enough variations to draw a rainbow. In the early 1900s, a typical box of wax crayons only held eight colours and now we have hundreds of variations to choose from. The wax crayon helps young learners develop their fine motor skills, coordination, and spatial awareness, as well as encouraging creativity and self-confidence. And after mastering crayons, there are colouring pencils, fibre tipped pens, and so many more delightful art supplies to explore!

Working it out

Among the many classroom tools that have changed, classic Maths stationery has stayed constant. The typical Maths instrument set (ruler, protractor, and compass) was launched in 1912 in the UK and remains a global classroom staple. Similarly, while we now benefit from digital calculators, the abacus was invented in China in the 1200s and continues to help new generations get to grips with Mathematics fundamentals.

Stationery is still relevant

While the education sector gallops forward to prepare South African learners for the next industrial revolution, it’s important to remember that tactile learning still has a place in our schools. Blended learning is often framed as a step up to draw in digital tools but the significance of putting pen to paper cannot be understated. Scribbling away by hand to solve a problem or jotting down notes has many benefits, from stimulating brain activity to supporting new information recall. Besides, who doesn’t love the glide of a new pen across an empty page? These are the enjoyable and familiar rituals we carry with us from childhood well into adulthood.

Getting exactly what you need with YourSchoolBox

YourSchoolBox is committed to supporting every type of classroom with quality tools to guide learners towards success. Once educators have selected their back-to-school stationery requirements for the year, YourSchoolBox adds the lists to their online platform, removing all admin for schools. Parents simply go online, select their school grade list/s, pay, and YourSchoolBox handles the rest! With thousands of great products to choose from, you’ll be moving on to lesson planning in no time, knowing that your learners will arrive on the first day of school with everything that they need.

With small enhancements along the way, the school stationery classics remain as relevant today as when they were first introduced. The next time you reach for a fresh notebook, spare a thought for the journey these innovations have taken to meet you at that moment. 

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