Organizing & Storing Children’s Art and Schoolwork

During the past few weeks I have started the daunting process of sorting, organizing and storing my children’s homeschool work. It has been a meditation of sorts – I am very much overcome by grief right now – and this task of tidying up, evaluating the past, and ultimately putting it away in some reasonable place provides a sense of order and forward movement that, although trivial, comforts me.

The first challenge of organizing anything homeschool related is determining what type of system works for you personally. No amount of pinterest searching will get you there – the best place to start is with asking yourself some questions. The first and biggest question is:

  1. How much paperwork are you comfortable storing? For instance, if you choose to use one binder per child per year (which is actually the method I’ve decided upon), and you have three children, are you okay storing 36 binders of schoolwork indefinitely? Do you have space for that?
  2. What types of things do you want to store and preserve? Do you want to store generic worksheets as well as creative art pieces?
  3. How accessible do you want your children’s schoolwork to be? Would you like to refer back to your eldest child’s assignments when it is time to teach your youngest child that same topic? Would you like your children to be able to look at their previous work without wreaking havoc on your system? (i.e. Do you really want them taking things out of your filing cabinet or rummaging through storage boxes?)
  4. Are you a digitally savvy person who would prefer to have everything scanned and filed away on your computer? If so, will you realistically access your children’s schoolwork ever again, or will it be lost in a digital ether along with nearly a decade of backlogged photographs that are also hanging out in there, waiting for their turn to be sorted? (Keep tuned – I plan to address photo organization in an upcoming post).

I honestly ask myself these questions every few weeks as I look around our homeschool room and see baskets of completed schoolwork waiting for my attention and the bins full of previous schoolwork shoved under my desk. My children are aged 9, 5 and 1. So far I have skimmed by with a minimal amount of storage organization, but clearly my “free” time is running out.

This is what I’ve decided to do.

(Actually, I’ve implemented this in a relaxed way for two years … but now I am really doing it).

I have a stack of Costco binders in our office. I also have multiple boxes of Costco’s plastic binder sleeves. For each of my two older children, I have started a binder full of empty plastic sleeves (I just use as many sleeves as I can fit in … I am not precise about how many) for each grade. They are stored on shelves above my children’s desks for easy access.

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I label the spine with the child’s name, the school year (we school from Jan-Dec, so a school year for us lines up with the calendar year … for instance, this school year for us is 2017, rather than 2017-18), and the child’s grade. As the year progresses and as I find time to sort through the work basket and overflow bins from under my desk, I fill these binders with their original artwork.

To make my sorting/filing job easier, I encourage them to sign and date everything they create. About once a month I thoroughly clean up the school room and date any artwork I find laying around (they work on projects independently ALL of the time … I am always amazed at the masterpieces I find hidden beneath schoolbooks, marker baskets, puzzles and math manipulatives). When I date artwork, I prefer to simply write my child’s name and age for easy reference. It doesn’t have to be too specific, so long as I know who created it and how old they were when they did.

Before I shove every last paper they’ve drawn on into a binder, I decide what is worthy of being preserved in non-biodegradable plastic for all eternity (this is the one thing I dislike about my system – the consumption of plastic. If I someday come up with a more environmentally friendly system, I will let you all know). I have to be picky – as I’m sure you can relate to – because otherwise we’d have binders lining every wall of our house.

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I am strict about only keeping original artwork. It doesn’t matter much to me that they can complete color-by-number pages, or trace drawings out of books, or copy someone else’s drawing. I just want to preserve the images and writings that their minds came up with completely on their own based on their personal interests and ideas.

For non-original artwork, I do have a separate binder full of elaborately colored coloring pages for my son. He has hundreds of these that he loves to flip through and tell me stories about, but I don’t include them in his actual Kindergarten Artwork binder. They are not pictures that I plan on keeping in the long run, but he very much loves to have them around for the time being.

Also, I store larger paintings and drawings in a portfolio type folder for each child. If possible, I display their best paintings in frames on the walls before placing them in these storage folders. I have a number of my daughter’s oil and watercolor paintings on the walls “permanently”, and I tape or pin up more temporary artwork in our schoolroom. (For some reason, our refrigerator is not magnetic … I am still working on a way to display artwork in the kitchen that doesn’t include hammering holes in the walls or damaging the paint with tape! I am on a constant search for a large chalkboard).

For artwork that is three dimensional – such as paper structures, sewing projects, clay creations, etc. – I have multiple places in our schoolroom where I keep these things on display. There is a glass shelf for painted figurines or baked clay pieces, and two baskets full of my daughters intricate paper projects. She also has two baskets devoted to sewing projects, and each child has a shelf above their desks to display anything they are particularly attached to, such as toys made from things they’ve scavenged out of the recycling bin, or paper airplanes that fly really well (or so they’ve assured me).

I haven’t come up with a long-term storage solution for these things yet, but I do ask my daughter to sort through her baskets and purge things about once a year. I’ve debated doing this purging for her, but ultimately she will need to have the ability to let go of what isn’t regularly accessed or needed in her own life. I feel that childhood is a great time to start learning the art of de-cluttering. I also feel that my son is a little too young (and too attached to his artwork) to do much purging, so with him I just focus on the emotional task of moving larger projects back into the recycling bin when they have a fair amount of dust on them.

Ultimately I will need to come up with a better system for storing three dimensional projects, and I feel that one box per child (that covers all grades, K-12) will be the only realistic long-term option. I am not quite at the point where the overflow is so bad that I have had to figure this piece out … but I will let you know when I get there!

Now we come to worksheets and actual “school” work. I only keep the absolute best of these, and the ones that I want to be reminded of a few years down the line when I am schooling my youngest daughter and trying to remember what cool stuff I did with my older kids. Although I haven’t done it yet, I plan to store these things in file folders. I will start with an accordion file folder for each child and separate papers by subject. Since we date all of our work, it should be relatively easy to open the “Geography” file and figure out what my son did in kindergarten. If we end up with too much paperwork in the long run, I’ll expand this system to a filing cabinet.

For now, completed worksheets that I am leaning towards saving are put in my overflow bins (again, one for each child) under my desk. Anything unworthy of saving is immediately recycled. I also have a scrap paper basket where I put any papers that can be re-used for drawing or cutting-pasting projects (such as one-sided worksheets).

Extra special schoolwork (such as carefully written book reports, unit study folders, etc.) are filed in a School Memory Book under the grade level in which they were completed. These books have little sections that we fill out at the beginning of the year with information about each child (favorite foods, toys, sports, school subjects, names of best friends, etc.) and their school year photo. There are large pockets for storing schoolwork for each grade level, and together we carefully choose what samples of schoolwork to save in these books. They are a lot like memory books for a baby’s first five years … only much easier to stay on top of 😉

So far, this is my system. I am not the best at choosing and sticking to organizational systems unless they require a minimal time commitment … so everything I’ve mentioned here is pretty simple to do. I think a big key to staying organized is doing a little bit each day – make sure to recycle anything you find in your schoolroom that you don’t need to see again. And once the binders are set up on a shelf, it is super easy to immediately put finished artwork into them. For times (like the past six months for me) when life is in upheaval and there is just not time to give a damn about organizing, shoving everything into a temporary storage bin can at least keep the space de-cluttered until life calms down again.

I would genuinely love to know how you all approach the process of schoolwork storage (by genuine I mean that I don’t need or want a lot of blog hits, but I do want to know how other people handle the chaos of piles of school projects!). Please comment below if you are so inclined.

~ Lindsey

 

 

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