It's the mum's rite of passage I knew nothing about until my eldest started school: Plastic contacting the school books.
It came as a shock. I didn't even know this was a 'thing'. Yet, in the very first week (as I was still navigating school runs, lunchboxes and missing school hats), I was tasked with covering 15 exercise books in assorted sizes by the following Monday - with no instructions.
I was unaware that the natural inclination of self-adhesive plastic is to morph, suck up air and form wrinkles that can never be undone. I started googling for help after my first five A4-sized disasters, shortly before the massacre of the scrapbooks and my first tears. I equipped myself with ruler and cloth to smooth out air bubbles and imperfections - even tried bursting the plastic blisters with a pin (this was not a good idea). Yet my fifteenth attempt proved little better than my first. Horrified with the results, I spent the following week anticipating a letter of complaint and disappointment from my child's teacher. It never arrived.
Why? Why? Why?
When parents are asked to back their children's work books, it is not a test of creative skill or manual dexterity. The plastic wrapping is to ensure the longevity of the books - to protect against rips, tears and moisture.
If you are an incompetent plastic-contacter, like me, you may well flinch at the sight of your handiwork ... but I'll let you into a secret: It doesn't really matter.
Teachers (at least, most teachers) don't give two hoots about the number of puckers and air pockets disfiguring your child's books, so long as the plastic backing repels liquid and reinforces book edges.
Of course, your child might not be so forgiving. Luckily for me, my boys aren't too precious about that sort of thing. In fact, my eldest shows off my dodgy plastic backing with a disturbing degree of pride - his peers practically compete to be the owners of the wrinkliest work book.
How long should this take?
There are some parents who find the whole ritual of covering books a therapeutic, satisfying and enjoyable experience. And then there are the rest of us.
Inexplicable Facebook post by friend of mine
Some parents can zip through their annual book-backing in an hour or two. For me it will consume a whole evening - and I only have two children. It can be difficult to find the time to devote to this onerous task. Before school starts I diarise an evening or afternoon at the end of school week one to get the books done, otherwise I struggle to fit it in.
On the plus side, the number of books I need to back per child appears to be diminishing each year. My youngest had 15 books in Prep, 12 in Year 1 and only six in Year 2. By the time both kids are in High School I should be off the hook.
Sharing the love
My Year 5 child has not yet received his books for backing. Little does he realise that this is the year I've decided he will back his own books (in the name of developing his independence and self-sufficiency, of course). It will be painful. There may be tears. But boy, will he appreciate what I have done for him the last four years!
There is another way
Many stationery supply shops, like Officeworks, sell reusable PVC slip-on covers to save you the bother (and humiliation, in my case) of plastic-backing books yourself.
So I did the maths.
My youngest has six books to cover this year: Four x A4 size and two x scrapbook size.
|Self-adhesive plastic contact||Slip-on PVC covers|
|Roll: 2m x 450mm @ $0.99||4 x A4 covers @ $0.99 each =||$3.96|
|2 x Scrapbook covers @ $1.99 each =||$3.98|
|Source: Officeworks, January 2023|
A two metre roll of 450mm wide self-adhesive plastic contact at Officeworks would cost me $0.99
If I bought plastic covers for those books from the same shop, it would cost me $7.94 - nearly eight times the cost of backing the books myself. BUT I could re-use the slip-on covers in subsequent years and never have to plastic-contact again!
Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
Except ... After five years of doing this, it's become something of ritual - a time-honoured way of preparing for the year. I've already bought myself the roll of contact and scheduled myself an evening of Netflix and book-backing ... and I hate to renege on a date.
Happy sticking, everyone!
How to Cover a Book with Self-adhesive Vinyl
Credit: Heidi Babin