t's back to school time. That means it's time to stock up on school supplies. No, not pencils and crayons, although you'll need those, too. I mean the unofficial list of items needed for special theme days. Theme Days, like Farm Day, Arkansas Day, and Halloween are designed to make learning fun and interactive. Unfortunately, they put the bulk of the work on the grownups, and all the students have to do is dress up and show up. There's not an official school schedule that tells you which theme days are coming or what you as a parent will be required to contribute. (A cake? Money? Blood?) You'll have to rely on other parents for this information, or just wait for the official announcement that comes a few days before the event. Depending on the event, that might not be enough time to prepare, so this year, I'm preparing in advance with the following items.
Pajamas/Robe - No, not for a good night sleep, but for a school day pajama party. My daughter's school calls it Camp Cuddle Up. It usually happens in the winter, after Christmas but before Easter, when there is nothing else to celebrate. The news comes a week or two in advance of the event, but I like to have something nice on stand-by if my daughter is going to be parading in public in her PJs. The first year she wore dressy pajamas that my husband refers to as "silks." Not really the racing silks, but a pajama ensemble with a plain knit top and bright satiny bottoms. She was the best dressed kid in the class. Still, she was reluctant to get out of the car when I stopped at a restaurant for carryout. Even a toddler knows pajamas are not to be worn in public.
Sleeping Bag - This goes with Camp Cuddle Up. I noticed several kids carrying sleeping bags and wondered why? Why would a well-off kindergartener riding to school in a luxury SUV need a sleeping bag? In my day, the sleeping bag was for utilitarian purposes. Boy Scouts and hunters had them. No one else needed them. Call it a lack of imagination, but I couldn't figure out why a kid would need a sleeping bag, especially a polyester sleeping bag that wouldn't stand up to a backyard sprinkler. I asked several mothers why their kids had sleeping bags and they answered, "They all have them." No other reason was given. I was assured by one of the moms at school that a decorative sleeping bag is a good investment since Camp Cuddle-up extends through fourth grade, so I bought a Hello Kitty sleeping bag. However, a few days before the event, the school announced that sleeping bags would no longer be allowed at Camp Cuddle-up. ...Not all supplies purchased will be used.
Halloween Costume - Halloween is a huge deal at my daughter's school. Beginning at 8:30 on Halloween morning, preschool through fourth-grade students conduct an elaborate Halloween parade for parents (who snap away furiously with cell phones and cameras) and older students (who cheer wildly as if for a championship game.) Teachers, administrators, and staff dress in elaborate Halloween costumes. I mean elaborate, and to a man! The stage is decorated with trees, jack-o-lanterns, and fairy lights in an Alice in Wonderland motif. An administrator dressed as the Queen of Hearts makes ominous noises as she announces each class, which marches onto the stage, pauses for a picture, and marches off. The first year, my daughter dressed as a ladybug in a costume she had worn from the time she was 2-years-old (when it was too big) to the time she was four (when it was too small). In subsequent years, our joint costume planning began as early as July, with her announcing the character she planned to portray, and me declaring we weren't going to spend money on an expensive costume. Still, I made sure she looked appropriate for the occasions. She has been a black cat (black knit dress, tights, face paint, and ears) and a leopard (animal print top, leggings, and a mask). This year she wants to be the bird "Blu" from the movie "Rio." I just have to figure out where to find that costume?
Jeans - These are ubiquitous in most kids' closets, but not in my daughter's. She thinks jeans are "hard and squeezy" and prefers to wear leggings and bike shorts. But sometimes jeans are required for field trips. For example, you wouldn't want to go on a hayride in the pumpkin patch without jeans. That hay pokes right through leggings. Ouch! Other times, jeans are needed for theme days: Winter Break Party (a.k.a. the Christmas Party) calls for a red shirt with jeans. Ditto for Valentines Day Party. So every Fall, I stock the closet with one pair of jeans.
Farm Clothes - It's Farm Day and the shopping is not easy. Not sure where the other moms find Conestoga skirts and denim jackets at the last minute (or maybe they always had them) but I start the hunt early. I managed to find a used denim jacket, which my daughter hates and refuses to wear with the squeezy jeans. As a backup, I found a cute little overall dress, which she loves to wear with a farm hat.
Traditional Arkansas Outfit - Every year I get an alert that there will be an Arkansas Day celebration and the kids can dress in traditional Arkansas attire. I have lived in Arkansas my whole life and I have no idea what "Arkansas attire" entails. Farm Clothes spring to mind. Luckily, the school also allows University of Arkansas Razorback paraphernalia for this event. Go Hogs Go!
Pink Shirt - This will be for the Breast Cancer Awareness event. For the price of a donation to the cause, students will be allowed to wear a pink shirt in lieu of a uniform shirt on the specified day. Showing up without a pink shirt not only implies a wardrobe deficiency, but it also implies stinginess. To avoid this misunderstanding, I send a donation and have a pink shirt on standby.
Red Shirt - Just as the pink shirt is tied to a donation to breast cancer awareness, the red shirt is tied to a donation to the American Heart Association. Send a few bucks, wear a red shirt. Everyone is proud, assuming you have a red shirt. Red shirts are surprisingly hard to come by the day before Christmas break and the day before Valentines Day. So to avoid having my daughter feel left out, I have enough redshirts to last through fourth grade.
Golf Shirt - This is for a spring fund-raiser known as The Golf Ball. But wait! Isn't the uniform shirt a crested golf shirt? Never mind.
Now that I've gone through a few years of these events, I've come to the conclusion that education requires more than pencils and paper. Apparently one needs to dress the part as well. Pink shirts to learn about breast cancer awareness and raise money for the cause, red shirts to learn about heart health and raise money for the cause, blue jeans to learn about farming and to avoid getting ones bum poked in the pumpkin patch, and Halloween costumes just for fun. And pajamas? I still don't get that one, but as long as it's a required assignment, we'll turn in the work.
Hal Hutchison, M.Ed.
Hal Wofford Hutchison, M.Ed., is a former columnist, writer and editor for the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette newspapers. She has also been a secondary educator, and a university counselor and administrator. She lives in Little Rock, Ark., with her husband of 23 years and their daughter.