Homeschool conventions always have great workshops on how to get started, how to teach, and how to select better curricula.  I’ve yet to see a most useful topic: Surviving the Pencil Wars.

A pencil is more than just a tool with which to write, at least in our home – uhh school.  It can be an instrument of torture for siblings.  When my back is turned, I suspect it is used as a weapon.  When kids get angry and write too hard on their papers, they can make pencil dents in tables.  If you ever plan a Pencil War Workshop, be sure to mention that if you school at the kitchen table, you had better use a table pad and vinyl tablecloths.  

Then there could be a workshop segue on making the most of those pencils.  One writer wrote that pencils make great math manipulatives.  They can be grouped in sets of ten and easily help teach skip counting by tens, etc.  So years ago, I bought a whole box of yellow number two pencils.  If there were an achievement test torture chamber where prisoners spend their time completing bubbles on test blanks, my children would be ready.

The problem with having all matching pencils – the industrial yellow – is that my kids didn’t want the yellow pencils that all looked the same.  They wanted the blue pencil.  Or the novelty pencil.  Or most often, the pencil currently in use by another sibling.  Over 10 years, we used up that box of yellow pencils.  My children are German like their father which means they breathe frugality.  A side battle in Pencil Wars is getting a child overly attached to that two-inch pencil to finally, finally throw it away.  “Just one more page, Mom.”  If a child gets attached to that one special pencil, you can schedule an extra hour into your week which will be spent looking for the pencil, dropping the pencil, accidentally tossing the pencil across the room, picking up the pencil, and then using it.

That does not include the hours spent sharpening pencils.  The pencil Pythagorean theorem should be that the complexity of the math formula to be solved is directly proportional to the time required to sharpen it to just the perfect tip.  For our first five years as a homeschool family, we had a hand crank sharpener.  I thought I had the Pencil Wars licked years ago when I asked for – and received – an electric pencil sharpener for Mother’s Day.  No longer would it take a child 5-15 minutes to sharpen a single pencil.

The electric pencil sharpener poses a new challenge.  It is so easy to use that the same pencil can be sharpened between every single subject.  That alone can add half an hour to your school day.  Then you can count that when it needs to emptied, that will kill at least another hour.

I have schooled my children ten years, and I will not concede defeat in the Pencil Wars.  Our local drugstore was selling 6 Christmas-themed pencils for $1 this weekend, so I bought 6.  They were put into our pencil jar. 

Last night, when the kids were asleep, I got one up on them.  I sharpened every single one of those new pencils and left them in a line on the counter.  My weapons of choice were sharpened, ready to do the battle of Schooling in December.  They were my surprise pre-dawn attack, ready to hit the troops at breakfast.

Update from the battlefront - December 1, 2008, may go down in history as a day of infamy.  It is the first time a morning of our school has passed without a single pencil skirmish.

If this battle is ever won, I will tackle erasers.  Then I’ll write a mystery novel on the case of the mysteriously vanishing textbook.

Published on January 19, 2009

Copyright 2008 by Mary Biever.  All rights reserved.  Permission to forward in its entirety.