We are on week 3 of the Back to School Preparation Series. This week is all about getting ready for the influx of school paperwork. I was never good at managing my daughter’s school paperwork. There were no paper management systems in place and I was in survival mode most of the time. I took care of the action items to stay out of trouble with the school but everything else fell on the sidelines. My go-to method was to collect everything in bags. We moved a few times in between so I threw the bags into a cardboard box. The contents grew and grew over the years. I told myself I would get to it some day and then my daughter turned 19! I still had not organized the contents of the dreaded box.
With the help of my daughter we went through the contents of said box last summer. We laughed, we cried, she found $10, we reminisced and it felt really good to finally get it over with. We kept a few mementos but we recycled the majority of the contents. I wish I would’ve invested the time to setup a better system years ago when my daughter was in elementary. Instead of dwelling on regret I can impart some wisdom to other moms with school aged kids.
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How to set up a paper management system
First create a set of guidelines to decide what to keep and what to toss. It isn’t necessary to hold on to every single piece of paper. Having a set of guidelines up front will make it easy to decide what to keep. When we were going through the box of paperwork we kept certificates of achievement, programs of school or dance events, some assignments that showed her interests during that school year, photos and some report cards.
Most paperwork falls into 4 distinct categories:
Let’s take a look at how we can manage the paperwork within each category.
These include teacher requests, PTA announcements, permission slips and activities or events to add to the family calendar. Keep them in a file folder clearly labeled. During the school year aim to complete all the actions within the folder every day. Record events on the calendar, sign permission slips and put into your child’s backpack and recycle the papers when you are done with them. Get into the habit of emptying this folder out on a daily basis to make room for the paperwork coming in the next day.
There are action items that will also have reference information attached to them. The most obvious I can think of is paperwork related to a field trip. You usually get a permission slip (action) and a flyer with details you’ll need to look at on a later date (i.e. departure and arrival times, location and special lunch arrangements). Create a separate file folder to keep this type of document easy to find when needed.
When my daughter was in school I worked a bit far from home so she was enrolled in after school care. Every day she came home with some new piece of art. It was a bit overwhelming but setting guidelines helped determine what to keep and what to toss. Anything made with food falls on my list of things to toss (think macaroni, rice, beans, etc.). Most 3-D art also falls on my list to toss. Their odd shapes and sizes make them much harder to store. Once in a while there was a nicer piece that we displayed for a period of time.
Set up guidelines for how you will determine what stays and what goes. Give yourself permission to keep only the pieces that reflect your child’s creativity, talent and interests. Choose one of the artwork storage systems below and set it up. As artwork comes in during the school year it will be much easier to manage.
A great way to preserve artwork is to snap a picture of your child holding it. You may be able to scan it too. Save the digital photo in a file folder clearly labeled to make it easy to access when you want to go down memory lane. Make sure to save a copy to your backup drive too.
You can also turn the digitized artwork into a photo book that you and your family can easily flip through.
To speed things up you can also take advantage of the Artkive App. The app allows you to save and organize pictures by child and age. You can order a photo book from the app. Artkive also offers a concierge service. It’s like a fairy godmother that waves her wand and takes care of it for you. All you have to do is collect the art and then ship it.
If you prefer going old school and holding on to the artwork then purchase an art storage box. Designate a box for each child. When the artwork starts coming in you’ll have a designated place to store it in. At the end of the school year review one more time with your child to see if there is opportunity to reduce your collection. Review with your child to make sure you’re not tossing a piece that is important to him or her.
Most parents love displaying their children’s artwork. It encourages children and boosts their confidence too when you display their artwork. Think outside the fridge door for this one. Instead place the artwork in a frame and incorporate it into your home decor. If you’re worried about rotating use a frame like this one that can hold up to 50 pieces of paper. You can display and store artwork at the same time.
Throughout the school year other paperwork will come along that will fall into this category. They may be certificates of achievement, a special program of a school play your child participated in, report cards, assignments that showed their interests during that school year, etc. There are several ways to keep these documents organized.
My mom gave me this memories album before my daughter started school. It’s a great way to store keepsakes. It has a section for each school grade. Each page has a designated spot to add a school picture and some prompts to record interests during that year. Each page is also a folder where you can drop in class pictures, report cards and certificates for that school year.
I like that it stores easily with other books. It also gives the opportunity to engage your children in the process of recording memories because there are sections where they can draw themselves and write about themselves.
2. Portable filing box
A portable filing box is another great way to organize your children’s keepsakes. I like that you can customize the system to include additional sections for activities your children may be involved in that are not part of school like dance and music. You can set one up for each child and color code them. When they’re all grown up you can give them each their memory box to take with them.
I got this filing box when my daughter started college a couple of years ago. It’s water tight and has a storage compartment on the lid to keep supplies. When we are filing something we have all the supplies we need at our fingertips.
To set up this system buy enough hanging folders for each school year and any extracurricular activities. Label each file tab. Place the file tabs in a straight line instead of zig-zag. It’s easier on the eyes.
Another way to organize keepsakes is to use a binder. Create sections for each grade and extracurricular activities. When documents start coming in you can hole punch them and add to the appropriate section. If there are documents you would prefer not to hole punch then purchase acid free sleeve protectors with the secure top (it prevents paper from falling out if binder is tipped upside down and acid free protects photos from damage over time).
Keepsakes can be digitized too. You can scan certificates, programs and awards and save them to the cloud or to a hard drive. If you choose to go the paperless route just make sure you are doing so in an organized manner. Take the time to create separate folders for each school year and label each document correctly. It’s really easy to end up with a jumble of digital documents and pictures on different devices if you don’t take the time up front to set up your filing system.
Once you set up your paper management systems take the time to catch up on filing school paperwork from previous years. It will be one less household project to worry about and you’ll start the school year with a clean slate. Around this time next year you’ll have one less thing to do before the school year starts again. I hope you stick around. Next week we’ll discuss daily routines.