How I organized my kids’ school work

schoolwork 6 noah family drawingMy boys are six years apart, so for many years, I only had one school kid. And every year after conferences and when school was done, I dutifully saved his work — by dropping the whole lot of it in some random plastic bin in the basement or basket in the office. Out of sight, out of mind, out of my way.

That first kid has now finished elementary school and his brother is almost a first-grader. I had to face facts: six more years of artistic treasures like the one above, Mount Rushmores made of cardboard and paper, paper-towel-tube steam engines, and log cabin dioramas were ahead of me. I would actually run out of places to stash the stuff. And when the oldest graduated high school, did I really want to wade through 28 years of papers to find some gems for his party?

So I tackled a task long on my “nagging projects list” — organize my kids’ school work.

Inspired by the many others who have done this before me, I started with plastic hanging file boxes. I bought them at least two months before I actually started the project and they sat, wordlessly judging, on my dining room buffet:

schoolwork 5 file box suppliesWhen my mom came to visit I summoned the courage to dig out all the papers I’d stashed. (My mom is a great organizer and she kept me on task. If she hadn’t been here, I’m not sure I would have even started.)

schoolwork 8 the pileThere is actually more than this, on the table behind me. Sigh.

schoolwork 9 sortingWe started sorting by boy and by grade. Then Noah got involved. To him, every scribble and every worksheet was “very important.” His keep pile was very large. We compromised by putting my favorites in the file box and his favorites in a different box, which he can keep in his room until he forgets about it and I can throw it out.

schoolwork 3 noahOwen was far less sentimental. In fact, I had to rescue some things from his toss pile, like this sign:

animal lookatWhen he was about six, Owen decided to open an Animal Lookat in our yard.
Not a zoo, not an aquarium, a lookat. This sign was for the front fence so passersby would come in to his lookat. Lookat. I want to just keep saying it.

schoolwork 10 owen sortingSixth grade work is much easier to part with.

schoolwork 4 filesAs we finished culling the work by year, the keep pile went right into the file. I kept work that was original, actually good, and I saw real effort put into it; school and class photos; programs and DVDs from school productions or concerts; and at least one of their self-portraits from each year. (In a burst of organizational foresight I photographed the self-portraits that I can use them some way in the future; I see embarrassing graduation montages in their futures.) Then there are the mementos I was keeping in the same tubs: birthday party stuff, sports team photos, piano recital programs, photos from their daycare, photos and letters from summer camp. Each of those got its own file too.

schoolwork 7 second grade owenThen I added a wild card file — “from Mom.” There were just some things I couldn’t part with, like Mother’s Day notes in their sweet kindergarten handwriting, a Valentine I made them each one year that listed the 10 things I loved most about them. I have this sentimental vision that someday, when I hand over this box for them to store at their own houses, that they will go through that file and smile. (Bonus, no guilt for me. I didn’t toss it!)

I know the thing to do with large artwork is to photograph it and throw out the original but I didn’t for two reasons — 1) I was sick of this project and 2) no photo can do this kindergarten Mount Rushmore justice.

Mount RushmoreI bought a large flat bin from Ikea and stashed all the big stuff inside. There’s about 5-6 more years of work like this to come from Noah but it will fit. Then I’ll pull some of the best out for graduation parties and toss it after that. Or better yet, make the boys take it with them and they can toss it!

It took about two days of concentrated effort and a few hours of follow up work (like hounding Owen to finish sorting). But the school year is done and so are their boxes! When the big bag of kindergarten goodies came home it was less than a five-minute job to put the best big art in the large bin, the DVD of photo memories in the file, and toss the rest.

And, as my mom pointed out, even if I don’t keep this up and go back to shoving bags of work in bins again, at least I’ll only have 18 years’ worth to sort out when — or if — I’m ever so inspired again.

schoolwork 1P.S. Noah loves his box. He spent a long time looking through his files (only three: daycare, Pre-K, and kindergarten), and said, breathlessly, to his grandma: My WHOLE LIFE is in this box!

schoolwork 11 noah with box

schoolwork organizing for pinterest

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  1. Val Broste says:

    You are amazing, Jen! I would love to have one of those organizational genes.

  2. This looks great and a lot more room that just a regular hanging file box. Who makes the boxes you used? Thanks!

  3. I need to do this! And that’s so adorable–his “whole life” is in that box. 🙂


  1. […] kids schools stuff (here’s my version of that project […]

  2. […] can save all of their work as keepsakes without having a box stuffed full of random papers. (Pinned from Borealis […]