Ask Design Mom: Children’s School Work

January 5, 2007

Another great Ask-Design-Mom Question:

I would love to know what you and your readers do with the myriad of papers/schoolwork that comes home with your kids. As you well know with more than one in school, the amount of stuff coming home is a bit daunting. What is your criteria for saving/throwing it out? And how do you store what you save? Much love, Jenni Mouritsen

Design Mom Answer:

Great question, Jenni. This is a daily challenge and every family I know handles it differently. I’ll tell you how I do it and I’ll tell you how another family I admire does it. Then, hopefully, readers will chime in with their own excellent ideas.

This is my solution — please keep in mind I have a huge unsentimental streak in me and that my kids use a ream of paper in drawings and projects about every 2 weeks — basically 90% goes directly into the trash. We clean out backpacks after school each day. I examine homework and art projects. Give lots of positive feedback and then throw everything away. Exceptions to this are as follows:

1) If they’ve created something without any direction, meaning it wasn’t an assignment or a follow-these-steps art project, something really out of their own head, then it will stay around — at least for awhile. Large or 3D Artwork will usually end up on our huge kids-artwork bullitin board in the family room and eventually replaced by newer artwork. Anything in the 8.5×11 range will end up in a folder (a different folder for each child). Then, when the folder is full, I take it to Staples/Kinkos to get all the work bound into one book.

2) If they really love it and are proud of it and it required substantial work, then it can stay. It will end up in one of their desk drawers to eventually be thrown-away when they’re not feeling so attached to it.

The Brad and Karen Perkins family keeps a schoolwork dresser. As I understand it, they have a drawer for each child and the child can put any work in it that they want over the whole year. So they might put in bigger projects like artwork and book reports mixed with random math worksheets or even misc party invitations.

At the end of the school year, they each clean out their drawer and are allowed to keep 3 things, which go into a sort-of keepsake box that will eventually represent their whole childhood.

I love this solution. I especially love the idea of systematically editing the collection down to one childhood box full of photo albums and schoolwork and birthday cards and projects.

No matter what kind of management you implement, I recommend keeping this in mind: how much stuff-from-their-childhood are they going to want when they grow up and start their own family and home. If my mom or my mother-in-law had handed me 10 milk crates of albums and schoolwork as I entered adulthood, I don’t know that I would have been very pleased. Of course, when Olive ends up President of the United States, we’ll be glad we kept as much as we did, so her museum will be well stocked.

Pic via Getty Images.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 rebecca January 5, 2007 at 2:37 pm

Jenni, I just happened to be looking on this morning and came across some of her ideas. Link is I am way too sentimental and love to keep my kids’ artwork. I frame my favorites in inexpensive acrylic frames and hang them in the “kids art gallery” in the basement.


2 Jenny W January 5, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Here’s one idea: my mother would save everything/most things in a cardboard apple box in the garage throughout the year. Then, during summer vacation, we were each in charge of making a scrapbook for the year. We decided which projects, reports, etc. were important and pasted them into a large album (sometimes we folded them up to make them fit, although now I would just take a photo of the child displaying anyting too large to fit in the album and print it off as a large print).

The plus side of this was that we had an instant summer craft tradition. The older kids would “help” the younger ones put their together. The minus meant my mother giving up her dining room for a month every summer … As an adult I’ve been meaning to go through and edit down the collection into one or two scrapbooks (we did this all the way through high school) just so it’s more manageable—I’ve started a bit and it’s easier to do because everything’s already organized. Plus, my husband (a physicist) really enjoyed seeing my 2nd-grade report on electricity and magnets (I am anything but a scientist) :)


3 Anonymous January 6, 2007 at 2:02 am

I’ve liked looking through the momentos my mom saved from my childhood. We don’t have a ton, but a handful enough to get the idea of what it was like. Neat to see my handwriting change over the years and what seemed so important to me back then.


4 Bonny Brae January 6, 2007 at 12:37 pm

we also throw away most of the “directed” art projects. and we do the box per child for the important projects, book reports, etc. and sort through it throughout the year.

i also photograph most things. then, i don’t feel bad when their sculptures get broken (as they inevitably do), or a toddler rips a mobile book report or a something gets thrown away. and framing a few favored pieces is always fun.

we were lucky with my 2 older girls, their kindergarten teacher made a scrapbook for each child of the year’s field trips and projects.

hopefully my younger two will get the same teacher.


5 kristen January 6, 2007 at 3:43 pm

I have four kids. The last one is four. I have started taking pictures of some of her artwork using my cell phone. Then I store the picture to display as a background image on my phone’s screen. I love it. The more she creates the more screens I have to choose from.


6 Jenni January 6, 2007 at 4:57 pm

thank you, thank you gabby for posting my dilemma. i am of the sentimental sort and can’t seem to give some of it up, i love all the ideas posted so far…keep them coming…


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