Papers, Papers, Papers … Organizing strategies for school projects, papers and artwork

paper main

Aww, that hand-print painting your 3-year-old preschooler brought home is SO cute!  Seriously, the construction paper turkey, the one with the googly eyes, is a-dorable. And the first time she wrote her name, the handmade Mother’s Day card, and the red paper lantern she brought home after the pint-sized celebration of Chinese New Year … keepers. Add those preschool creations to all the super cute, amazingly smart and obligatory keepers your child will bring home from school over the next 12 years, and you’ll be swimming in piles of paper.

Piles of paper make me anxious. So, soon after my twins started preschool (they are now fourth graders), I started experimenting with ways to save the good stuff and discard the rest guilt free.

General School-Paper Management

Regardless of whether your child is in preschool or high school, you need to devise a way of managing all the paper that makes its way from your child’s backpack to your kitchen counter. Here’s my strategy:

Every School Day

Take care of anything needing a signature, money, etc. right away. If I don’t do it the day I see it, it risks getting lost or thrown in the trash (really). So I sign permission slips, seal field-trip money in envelopes, and place them safely back in the backpack ASAP for their return trip to school.

Add any important dates/times to the family calendar. After reading any newsletters, bulletins, etc., I add important dates and times to my Google calendar so I won’t drop the ball on any commitments (while it’s not a fool proof method, it sure increases my follow-through rate!) . Sometimes I hang the flyer on the fridge for an extra visual reminder, or I toss it in the recycling.

Sort papers, project and art into two piles: Toss and Keep. Immediately after unloading their backpacks, I sort the kids’ take-home assignments into ones that get recycled (and proceed to put them in the recycle bin)  and ones I’ll probably keep. I say probably because I allow myself the opportunity to trash it later if my “keep” pile gets too big (read on for those details).

I write the month and year on each “keeper” and stash my keep pile in a folder in an upper cabinet in my kitchen. This is convenient for me because it’s near where the kids unload their bags, and it’s easy for me to access. Where ever you keep yours, make sure its super easy to get to — otherwise those papers will just sit on your counter when you are in a hurry (and really, when aren’t we?).

Every Friday

Each Friday, go through your keep pile quickly and decide if there are any papers that no longer make the cut. Maybe a very similar assignment came home later in the week, so you decide to recycle Monday’s look-alike. I find that preschool and early elementary students bring home enough paper that doing a once over again on Fridays makes sense. However, as they’ve gotten older, my boys bring home less work, so I look through my keepers again when my folder starts getting thick — about every 2 or 3 weeks.

Every Quarter

If you’ve been diligent in reassessing your keep pile every few weeks, by the end of the quarter, you have a small stack of assignments that you plan to keep forever, or at least until your lil’ student gets married and you demand that all her bins full of keepsakes leave your attic and accompany her to her new abode.

Now’s the time to transfer the contents of your keep folder to their permanent home. There are lots of options when it comes to storing kids’ artwork, super-cute poems and clever creative writing assignments … here are some of my favorites.

School Keepsake Storage Solutions: Options for construction paper to loose leaf

I found that the method that worked best to store all these treasures changed as my boys transitioned from preschool into elementary school. While most of these solutions store school-related stuff, I also use them for swimming lesson certificates, violin awards and other extra-curricular keepsakes.

Preschool & Kindergarten

12x12 scrapbooking files hold large preschool masterpieces.

12×12 scrapbooking files hold large preschool masterpieces.

The youngest scholars bring home super-cute, and often awkwardly sized projects. My guys made 11×17 bound booklets of the seven continents, puffy Thanksgiving turkeys and framed pictures of their classmates. I needed a storage solution that would, well, organize these masterpieces (vs. a box where I stashed them in a big lump), while accommodating their size and shape.

Oversized Expanding File. A 12×12 expandable pocket file did the trick. I bought both of mine at Target, but this one on Amazon looks very similar. I fit everything I wanted to keep for six school-years worth of my twins’ little masterpieces. Wooden pilgrims to snowman thermometers – it’s all stuffed in these. I continued to use them for 1st and 2nd grade simply because I still had empty pockets. However, the binder method I describe next would have worked just as well for those early elementary years.

Older Grades

When the kids started bringing home fewer huge construction-paper art projects and cotton-ball themed crafts, I found that I no longer needed the large accordion file.

Sturdy binders smartly store big-kid work.

Sturdy binders smartly store big-kid work.

3-Ring Binder. A 3-inch 3-ring binder and a box of top-loading page protectors fits the bill for storing older kids’ school projects. Most of what my boys brought home from 1st grade and beyond was on standard 8.5×11 sheets of paper. I simply slip the project into a page protector that is secured in the binder. If I do get an over-sized sheet every now and then, I simply fold it, and into the page protector it goes. When I want to remember something in particular about an assignment, I write a note on a post-it, stick it on the paper, and secure it inside the page protector.

The first page of each grade displays a first-day-school-picture, and the last page holds their report cards, standardized test scores, and related items. While you can choose to use one page for each report card, etc., I simply use the page protector like a pocket and slip them in all together.

I love that the binder is sturdier and easier to store than the expandable file. I have a binder for each boy. At this point, our binders hold only 3rd grade mementos. If they continue to bring home similar amounts of “keepers,”  these binders should hold their papers through middle school, and maybe beyond.

Really Big Projects

Okay, so what do we do with the science fair projects and other monster-sized Nobel Peace Prize worthy achievements? If you have the space and want to store the actual project in your basement, garage or attic — more power to you. I don’t.

I take pictures of large projects and add them to our family's annual photobooks.

I take pictures of large projects and add them to our family’s annual photobooks.

Take a Picture. Literally. Take a picture of the diorama, life-sized paper-mache tiger, or whatever, then put the picture in your 3-ring binder with a description of the project. Or include the picture in your family photo album. If you’re super-techy,  use an app like Artkive. Take a picture, tag and organize it, and create a book or other keepsake right from the app — pretty cool.  Either way, the essence of the project is captured for eternity without taking up valuable real estate in your attic.

Experiment with these options and see what works best for you, your kids and your home. But whatever you do — control the paper, Momma! Having some sort of organizational strategy helps keep the chaos at bay while preserving keepsakes you and your kiddos will appreciate years down the road.

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6 thoughts on “Papers, Papers, Papers … Organizing strategies for school projects, papers and artwork

  1. Thanks for every other informative site. The place else could I get that type of information written
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