Keeping It Straight, A Way To Organize Those School Papers

Several years ago I was completely overwhelmed by the piles and piles of school papers building up in my house. I was also concerned about how to manage the guilt of deciding what was important enough to keep and what wasn’t. As a mom everything that the kids brought home from school was special and important, but as a practical person with a desire for cleanliness and organization, I knew tough decisions had to be made.

It took some time and a lot of thought before I decided just how I wanted to manage all of this stuff, adorable, sentimental, STUFF. I’ve seen some cute ideas with little boxes for each kid and files for the school years but I knew that I wanted to keep more than one little file’s worth of stuff for each grade and that I wanted the items I kept to be organized.

I also knew that I wanted to be able to store whatever I came up with easily and have it be accessible and neat and orderly looking. I wanted to make sure it was cost effective since I have multiple children and each one of them will be in school for many years. I ultimately resorted to my long time friend the 3 ring binder.

Now the question was how do I set up each binder and what criteria will I use to decide what stays and what has to go?


This is a personal and unique decision since it involves your children and their works of art and educational progress. For me I looked at it as a matter of what am I wanted to accomplish with this system. So I asked myself that question. My answer was I wanted organization, cleanliness, memories, and a record of what my kids accomplished throughout their educational careers.

In order to accomplish my objectives above I made a checklist of what I wanted each binder to have in it if it was applicable to that child. You can get a copy of that checklist HERE. Following the checklist I began sorting through all of the stuff to find all of the papers and crafts and put them in piles for the school year that they came from.

Once I had this pile, I went through and grouped the items into the following categories: report card, testing scores and results, awards, certificates, play or musical performance programs or other memorabilia, language arts, math, science, social studies, electives, arts and crafts, other.

Now that I had everything grouped into the categories that I wanted to file them under I just had to decide what to keep and what to let go of. This wasn’t always an easy decision but I tried to be objective and think about the best way to keep memories that serve a purpose. In the end I wanted something I could give to my kids as adults to show them how much they grew and learned over the years. I needed a sampling of work that would help me paint that memory picture. I ended up looking for items that were complete, still in tact (since I have boys a lot of papers came home crumpled and ripped to the point they were almost unrecognizable), and that came home at different points throughout the school year so that I could see growth and progress. The arts and crafts part was the most challenging because it was often times too big and bulking to fit in a binder or super small and had a lot of pieces or the dreaded glitter project that leaves a sparkly reminder of its existence for months to come. My solution for this was to use clear paper protectors as a pseudo folder for the little things and larger but flat items I would fold down to fit into the binder. For the bulky items that aren’t going to fit down into binder size I decided to take pictures of them and keep the pictures rather than the items themselves.

I personally keep everything with handprint on them or that tell me something about the child at that point in their life like favorite item or a project that includes their answers to questions like what their favorite family tradition is or why they like a certain bug and so on.

Set Up

Again keeping my objective in mind, I decided on the categories mentioned before and also wanted a place to keep all the school pictures and sports photos of the kids over the years. In the end I want each binder to be the story of that school year for each kid so this would include the pictures of them at that grade level and their extracurricular activities.

I decided to start each binder with the class photo (once they reach middle school they don’t have one anymore), the individual school picture, then the sports or other extracurricular activity photos including team pictures if they have them.

Following the pictures come the report cards, testing results, awards and certificates, and any performance programs. Once all of that is in the binder I added a set of 5 tab dividers to cover the language arts, math, science, social studies, and electives items. Behind the electives tab is where I put the clear page protector(s) to hold the arts and crafts items that couldn’t be hole punched and put in on their own. This is also where pictures of any items that wouldn’t fit in the binder would go. On the checklist I have a space for other because some years the kids had a school provided planner that was 3 hole punched so I would add that to their binder or other memory items that didn’t fall into the other categories but were worth keeping.

Finished Product

Once it was complete I taped a label on the front and the side binding with the child’s name, grade, and calendar years that grade covered. I stick the checklist inside the front cover of the binder. The finished binder goes on a shelf of a bookcase.

Added Note – Preschool and kindergarten and even some of the early years of elementary school won’t have paperwork that fall into all the categories or it may overlap so in some ways those years are easier because you can just pick and choose and put things in the binder however you want. I don’t even use the tab dividers for those. There are some school years where my kids don’t even bring home anything that I feel falls under science or social studies but they have a lot of spelling tests that warrant their own tab. It’s a flexible and personalizable system which it has to be due to the nature of what it is.

There are some years that don’t fill up a whole binder so I will combine school years to save space and supplies. I attempt to keep each school year to what fits in a 1 in 3 ring binder but for preschool I usually have to go up to 1.5 in or even 2 in binders because of how poofy the craft section makes the whole binder. Since crafts are most of their work at that age I am happy to made the accommodation.

If you’re like me those years may frustrate you because you want everything to fit into its category but these are situations where we have to breath and let our compulsive desires take a break.

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