Community supplies vs. individual supplies: what in the world is a teacher to do?

The debate with community supplies vs. individual supplies revolves around whether or not classroom supplies brought from home should be owned and used by individual students or if they should be combined and distributed equally among students, even to those kids whose families didn’t contribute.  

With 15 years working in elementary classrooms in various locations, I’ve tried and seen it all in regards to organizing classroom materials: group supplies, individual supplies, a hybrid approach, etc.

If you’re trying to figure out how to organize student supplies in the upper elementary classroom, this post is for you.

I break down the pros/cons of each situation plus offer practical solutions. In the end, however, I’m sure you’ll do what’s best for your unique classroom situation.

So let’s dig into it!

Community Supplies Pros and Cons

Community supplies are my least favorite way to organize classroom materials even though I’ve done it for most of my teaching career.


  • No hassle with labeling EVERY-SINGLE-LITTLE-ITEM with students’ names. I know you’re probably thinking that parents are supposed to do this beforehand, but some of them don’t. Send the materials back home for parents to label? If it’s a school-wide rule that the majority of teachers follow, I’ll do it. If not, I’m just not going to fight that battle.
  • The teacher has more control over the amount of supplies students are given. So no one student ends up with 5 glue sticks (by those parents who buy extra for their kid “just in case”) while another only has one.
  • Everyone has the same brand and type of thing! There’s minimal fighting over someone with a “special pencil” or “cool eraser”.
  • Materials can be strategically chosen and placed in caddies at the center of table groups during collaborative work. Students don’t have to waste work time digging around for individual supplies. Glue, scissors, extra pencils, and whatever else is needed for a particular lesson is in the caddy. It works so well!
  • Keeping a container of freshly-sharpened pencils is easy plus super practical. The teacher doesn’t have to worry about who brought pencils and who didn’t. If a student needs a pencil, they just grab one and go.
  • At the beginning of the school year, some students arrive to school without supplies for various reasons. Community supplies mask the have and have-nots.


  • You’ll have that student whose family doesn’t contribute supplies but the child goes through pencils like water. Or the kid who breaks crayons or damages markers for no reason at all. They take and take but haven’t contributed. It can be frustrating not just for you but for the other families as well.
  • Parent complaints! Oh gosh! There are parents who work their butts off to buy school supplies for their children.  I completely understand when they feel some type of way when supplies need replenishing, realizing that they’ve purchased more than enough materials for their child. They don’t mind buying for their child, but if they know the supplies are combined, their perspective changes a little. And in the teaching world, parent opinion holds a lot of weight, especially in the private school sector.

Individual Supplies Pros and Cons

The debate of community supplies vs. individual supplies isn’t complete without discussing the pros and cons of individual supplies.

For upper elementary students, I love doing individual supplies so much more!


  • What I love about individual supplies is that students are responsible for bringing and using their own things. This is an important lesson for upper elementary students~being accountable for personal belongings.
  • With individual supplies, I experienced fewer parent complaints. If I sent a note home asking guardians to replenish supplies, they usually did so with little question because it was for their kid.
  • Students get bring some unique items to their liking. For example, maybe someone wants a pink pencil instead of a yellow one. Maybe another student wants to have a special soccer eraser. For me as a teacher, it was okay if students did this. In my teaching days, as long as they had what they needed and didn’t get distracted with the “extraness” (I just made that word up ), I was totally fine with it.
  • As a teacher, I don’t have to keep up with who has what. When the student is out of supplies, they let me know, and I send a note home. Students are also in charge of storing their things and keeping up with the whereabouts of materials, not me.


  • As we all know, with individual supplies, there will be those students who don’t bring supplies. What do you do in this situation? This is when many teachers end up spending their own money to ensure learners have what they need. While that’s noble indeed (I did it a lot), as I look back, there were other options that I wish I had done instead. I share them below.

  • There are those parents who go crazy with school supplies (I don’t necessarily mean crazy in a bad way, okay? ). They buy an abundance of supplies or the most unique things for their child. These things usually end up being a distraction: artful notebooks, fancy pens/pencils, a HUGE assortment of crayons/colored pencils, etc. The child will want for nothing. At the other extreme, you have the students who arrive with just the basics (perfect), or nothing at all. Those with nothing may feel sad or embarrassed,

Solutions to the Community Supplies vs. Individual Supplies Dilemma

Solution 1

Here’s my first suggestion to the community supplies vs. individual supplies issue.

Investigate whether your school has funds that can be used to buy a few extra supplies.

When I taught in a Title I school, the principal permitted each teacher $100 a year to buy anything she/he needed for the classroom.

At that time, Title I schools in my district received extra funding.

Major teaching resources like reading books, math manipulatives, basic center materials, etc. were purchased through other budgets.

So with the $100, many teachers bought desk name tags, bulletin board borders, stamps, stickers, etc.

I instead used that money to buy a few boxes of pencils, glue, 3-prong folders, loose-leaf paper, some boxes of colored pencils, and a few one-subject notebooks or composition notebooks.

Solution 2

If you don’t work at at Title I school or a school that receives extra funding, during Open House, consider asking parents to donate money to contribute towards supplies.

Recommend a minimum of $10 or $20 but of course, take whatever they’re willing to give. I’ve heard from teachers who say this works well.

Solution 3

Once upon a time not so long ago, I taught at a private school that had this community supplies “problem” down to a science.

They simply tacked on a “classroom supplies fee” to the tuition, and all supplies were delivered to teachers’ classrooms before the first day of school.

If parents wanted their child to have something extra, the child brought those items to school themselves.

This system really worked like a charm!

Explaining Community Supplies to Parents

If you decide to do the community supplies method, it’s a good idea to communicate your intentions with parents upfront.

Before the school year begins, email parents and explain how the process will work.

It’s understandable if a few parents voice their concerns or don’t like the system, but sometimes it’s how you explain it to them that will create their buy-in.

Word your communication from the perspective of creating a more community-based classroom.

Some parents won’t buy it, but they may still go along with it out of respect.

People can disagree with something and still support it.

That would be a happy medium!

Organizing Student Supplies in the Classroom

Whichever method you choose, keeping those supplies well-organized will keep you sane!

For individual supplies, students simply store materials in their desks. Within their desks, they can put pencils, glue, and colored pencils in a pencil box.

I’ve also had students store their individual supplies in a pocket chart like the one below.

classroom organization ideas

Each student has a number and places pencils, erasers, crayons, and other light materials inside.  This pocket chart helps to keep their desks clutter-free.

Cubbies are another good option to store individual supplies. Even if you do community supplies, once you distribute each student’s portion, he or she can store materials in a personal cubby.

I store all the extra supplies in my teacher closet, out of student reach and distribute items as needed and keep an eye on what resources are getting low.

I’m pretty good at stretching supplies and very proud of that!

So parents didn’t need to replenish very often.

Wrapping Up

Community supplies vs individual supplies? At the end of the day, it’s a personal preference and depends on the needs of your class.

I personally love individual supplies for upper elementary students as it promotes responsibility and accountability.

However, I’ve mostly done community supplies and understand the rational behind doing so.

This community supplies vs. individual supplies debate isn’t over I’m sure, but I hope this article gave you some insight as to how to best handle this situation.

Happy teaching and learning!




community supplies vs individual supplies