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A No. 2 pencil can write approximately 45,000 words. That’s a lot of writing. Picking up a pencil is such a common task that you don’t think twice about how much you use it. But consider all the pencil marks you might make in a day:

•    telling your teacher what you know on a test
•    doing your math problems
•    making lists of things to do or remember
•    drawing
•    doodling
•    copying information
•    writing letters, messages, or stories

A Student in Africa

Odette is a fifth-grader who lives in Africa. Having a pencil or pen is very important in her work at school. Check out her routine for a typical day:

Odette rises at 6:30 a.m., brushes her teeth, washes her feet, and prepares a breakfast of tea with milk and red beans mixed with corn meal.

After breakfast she sweeps the dirt floor of the living area and the bedrooms in her house.

Then she walks 15 minutes to her school, which starts at 8 a.m. She carries three or four notebooks and a pen for writing down everything the teacher says. There are no books in her school. All learning must take place from the teacher speaking and the students copying the information into their notebooks. Odette’s classes include history, English, math, and geography. Her school day ends at 2 p.m. She doesn’t get an official lunch break, but sometimes vendors come to the school and sell fried dough, something like a doughnut.

After school Odette changes out of her school uniform and takes a 20-liter water jug down to the river to get water. She carries the full jug on her head. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to fill the jug and bring it home. Then she boils the water, washes the dishes, and bathes her younger sisters.

Odette’s next chore is to help her mother prepare supper. She says her favorite meal is boiled plantains (a food similar to bananas) served with magi (a beef-flavored seasoning), palm oil, salt, and bitter leaf (kind of like spinach). After dinner she does her homework and goes to bed at 9 p.m.

Fun Facts

The ancient Romans were the first to discover that lead (the metal) could make a mark.

Today the center of a pencil is still called lead, but it’s actually graphite.

Graphite makes a darker mark than lead and became popular just over 400 years ago.

In the late 1800’s China began supplying graphite to the world for making pencils.

At first pencils were made from high-quality wood that was stained and varnished. Later cheaper wood was used and needed to be painted. In honor of the Chinese who supplied the graphite, these wooden pencils were painted yellow. Yellow represented royalty and respect in China.

Nearly 75 percent of the pencils sold in North America are still painted yellow.

Before pencils came with erasers, some people used bits of bread for erasing.

At first teachers didn’t want erasers on the pencils. They were concerned that students would be careless if they could simply erase their mistakes.

A Student from Long Ago

Jerome was born in 347 A.D. That’s a long time ago—almost 1,660 years ago. However, he’s still remembered today as being a good example for all students.

Jerome studied grammar, law, and theology in Rome. Even though he learned these things, he wasted his energy on foolish things early in his life.

It wasn’t until he was sorry for his actions and gave his life to Jesus that Jerome began working seriously. His most important work was translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. At that time Latin was the language of the common people. Because of his work, people could read the Bible for themselves.

Jerome used ink on parchment (paper made from animal skins), but it was a common practice to mark ruling lines with lead.

One story about Jerome became famous. It was said he removed a thorn from a lion’s paw.

Working steadily on his goal to translate the entire Bible and showing kindness to an animal are two things that make him a good example for students today.

Pencil Points

How you use your pencil can tell something about you and your habits. Take this quiz to reveal what kind of worker you were with your pencil in school last week. Start with 100 points. You’ll need a sharp pencil to add up your points:    

  1. If you wrote a story or poem, ADD 20 points. _______
  2. If you did all your homework, ADD 12 points. _______
  3. If you couldn’t find a pencil when you needed it, SUBTRACT 12 points. _______
  4. If you wrote an encouraging note to someone, ADD 12 points. _______
  5. If your pencil point was always dull when it was time for math, SUBTRACT 15 points. _______
  6. If you spelled a new word correctly, ADD 12 points. _______
  7. If you thought of a new idea and wrote it down, ADD 10 points. _______
  8. If you did your writing work cheerfully, ADD 10 points. _______
  9. If you finished your writing work on time, ADD 12 points. _______
  10. If you always had a sharp pencil ready for working, ADD 20 points. _______
  11. If you did your math problems neatly, ADD 10 points. _______
  12. If you knew that your best work pleased God, ADD 10 points. _______

Add your total points. Do you have 150 points or more? _______

Congratulations, you are putting your pencil to work.

Carol Reinsma helped write and edit the Walk With Me church school curriculum published by Faith Alive Christian Resources. She belongs to Cragmor CRC, Colorado Springs, Colo.

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