Community Supplies vs. Individual Supplies: What’s a Teacher To Do?

Community supplies vs. individual supplies: what is an elementary teacher to do?

Should classroom supplies be owned and used by individual students or combined and distributed equally among everyone?  

We break down the pros/cons of each situation plus offer practical solutions.

Community Supplies


  • There’s no hassle labeling every item with individual names.
  • The teacher has more control over the distributed supplies. No one ends up with 5 glue sticks while another only has one.
  • Everyone has the same brand and type of thing. There’s minimal fighting over a “special pencil” or “cool eraser”.
  • Materials can be placed in caddies at the center of table groups during collaborative work. Learners don’t have to waste work time digging around for individual materials.
  • Maintaining a stash of sharpened pencils is easy plus practical. You don’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.


  • Some families don’t contribute. And then there are those kids who break or damage items frequently. It can be frustrating for others.
  • Parent complaints. There are families who save and sacrifice to purchase things for their children. It’s understandable that they feel some type of way when supplies need replenishing, realizing that they’ve purchased more than enough materials for their child.

Related: Check out these “make my teaching life easier” classroom management strategies.

Individual Supplies


  • A plus for individual supplies is that students are responsible for their own resources.
  • You’ll experience fewer parent complaints. If you send a note home asking guardians to replenish supplies, they usually do so with little question because it’s for their child.
  • As long as the materials aren’t a distraction, kids are allowed to have unique items such as special pencils or notebooks.


  • With individual supplies, there will be those students who don’t bring anything. What do you do in this situation? This is when many educators end up spending their own money to ensure learners have what they need.
  • There are those parents who go the extra mile when purchasing school supplies. They buy an abundance of supplies or unique items for their child. At the other extreme, you have kids who arrive with just the basics or nothing at all. Those with nothing may feel sad or embarrassed.

Solutions to the Community vs. Individual Supplies Dilemma

Seek Funding.

Investigate whether the school has extra funds. Educators sometimes receive a small stipend that they can use to purchase needed items.

Ask for Donations.

During Open House or Back-to-School night, consider asking parents to donate money or contribute supplies.

Also place your requests on a class wish list.

Explaining Community Supplies to Parents

If you decide to do the community supplies method, clearly communicate your intentions with parents.

Before the school year begins, email parents and explain how the process will work. It’s understandable if a few guardians voice strong concerns or don’t like the system.

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

Organizing Materials

Whichever method you choose, keeping items well-organized is a must.

For individual supplies, your little ones simply store materials in their desks. Cubbies are another good option.

For community stuff, once you distribute everyone’s portion, he/she can store materials in a personal cubby.

Store extra items, and distribute as needed.

How Would You Solve This Dilemma?

Community supplies vs individual supplies … it’s a personal preference and depends on the needs of your class.

As a professional, you’ll make the best decision for your little ones.