The Sentimentalist’s Guide to Dealing with Children’s School Papers

published Sep 12, 2014
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

As every parent of school-age children knows, they come home with a lot of paper!! Whether it’s the tenuous-but-determined pencil scratches of the letter M or the (very detailed) drop-off and pick-up instructions, these papers will pile up — and very fast — without a plan for managing them. Here’s how I try to stay on top of all the papers that follow my preschooler and my kindergartener home.

Anything you know you don’t want to keep, recycle right away. Papers that present extraneous information (like a soccer sign-up sheet after you already signed the kids up) go straight into the recycling bin. Also be discerning about which assignments or art projects you hang on to at this initial stage and let go immediately of things that don’t tug at your heartstrings, so to speak.

File informational papers — digitally. I use Evernote to scan papers that contain information I may need to refer to down the road, such as the daily schedule or school volunteer guidelines. Do this as soon as you can after receiving the paper to avoid a pile, and use tags liberally so you can find what you need when you need it quickly.

Designate a place and time for “action” papers. Papers you need to sign, checks you need to write — make a special place for putting the papers you need to actually do something with. Try to fit taking care of these to-do items into your daily routine so things don’t get lost and deadlines aren’t missed. I look in my daughter’s folder every day and put back anything that needs to go back to school that night if at all possible. (Anything to stave off more things to do in the mad morning rush.)

Create an inbox system for papers that you go through regularly. Don’t stress about hanging on to too many special or sweet papers on a daily basis. Give yourself a space for keeping the papers you think you might want to keep — BUT, the space should be somewhat small (like an inbox a couple inches high) AND you should sort through it regularly (I do it every week). I like this plan of attack for two reasons: 1) you give yourself permission to keep things that might be important to you or your child; and 2) you gain some perspective so you don’t end up keeping every little thing. For instance, after a week of your child bringing home two math worksheets a day, you can pick your favorite one and say goodbye to the rest.

Have “levels” of keeping and storage. Here’s what I mean: after deciding which papers of the week you’ll hang on to for a bit longer (see previous point), date the ones you’re keeping and put them into a box or other container. I have one for each child, and I store papers in here for about a semester or so in order to sort through it a second time and get rid of even more. If a week gives you perspective about what’s worth keeping, think how much more perspective the semester gives you. This way I’m able to keep what really stands out without diluting it with so many repeats of the same type of thing; we’ll all enjoy looking back on that first-grade spelling test so much more when it’s alongside a math test and a painting than if it’s among twelve other spelling tests just like it.

Decide what to do with what you keep. I’m a big Becky Higgins and Project Life fan, and I love her advice to “begin with the end in mind” when it comes to memory keeping. For instance, if you know you’re going to keep your children’s work in an album or an accordion folder or a box, these decisions will inform how you store what you’re keeping. Personally, I plan to put most of my children’s school memorabilia in albums, so I want what we keep to be as culled as possible. Knowing that I’ll be using albums also gives me another sorting and space-saving possibility: I take photos of much of the kids’ papers and artwork and scale it down before printing. This also allows me to display bulkier pieces in a two-dimensional medium and “hang on” to them without actually hanging on to (all of) them.

Stay tuned for Part Two, where I’ll get further into depth about digitizing, what you decide to keep. In the meantime, please share your best tips for staying on top of school papers.