“Here, Mom! Here’s my paper!”
“Mommy, Mommy, keep this!”
How many times have you heard that? I know that I’ve heard it so many times that I have lost count! So what do you do with all the papers? How do you keep them together but not taking over your schoolroom or your house?
It’s a tricky thing, to be sure! Drawings, art projects, worksheets…sometimes it can feel like you’re drowning in papers!
So, how do you create a system to keep all the school papers in one spot and not all over the place? How do you keep all the papers organized? More than that, how do you create a way to make it quick to put the papers away? How do you make it so you can find what you need when you need it? And then how do you organize the papers when it comes time to move them to long-term storage?
Big, complicated questions, right? Now, before we dive into the details of how this quick and simple organizing system works, I want you to remember something: Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be! As hard as storing papers may seem, it’s only as complicated as you make it. The big goal here is to keep it simple!
The Story Behind the System
Over the years, I’ve tried a few different ways to keep all of our school papers contained. As my children have moved up in grades it’s become easier in one way (4th graders don’t go through as many worksheets as Kindergarteners do!) but it’s become more complicated in others. When I first started homeschooling, it was fairly easy because I only had one child’s schoolwork to store for that year. Then I had 2 children in school, then 3…and now that number has grown to all 5 of my children being in school! On top of that, I had to figure out a way to store all these papers long-term in a place where they wouldn’t be in the way or taking over my house!
Throughout the years (and a fair amount of trial and error), I’ve developed a system that works really well for our family. And this system we use is exactly what I’m going to share with you.
But before we dive any further in, I want you to remember something: Just because this system works fantastically well for us, it doesn’t mean this will be the perfect system for you. I hope our system inspires you to fine-tune your current system or to begin creating your first system for helping to contain the chaos of your school papers. But again, just because this organizing system works for me and my family doesn’t mean it’s the perfect system for you and your family. Take the elements you like from our system and adjust them to create your own perfect system.
Are you ready to dive into organizing those homeschool papers? Let’s do it!
Stage One :: Immediate Storage
Once your child finishes a worksheet and you’ve checked their work, you need a place to keep that worksheet. An immediate storage place, if you will. Someplace you can set the paper down out of the way and know that it will remain exactly where you put it until you come back for it. This immediate storage place is the first step in your homeschool paper filing system.
When you have one child, it’s pretty easy to find a spot to hold all their papers until you’re ready to move them to stage two. You could even use a cardboard box sitting on a bookshelf. However, when you have more than one child, it’s much easier to create a place where each child’s papers are stored together and yet kept separate from their sibling’s papers.
Now, there are many different ideas that could work as your initial holding place. You could use plastic paper trays (the ones where you can stack them as high as you want) and give one tray to each child. You could use a plastic box with a lid for each child. You could find a set of drawers and give one drawer to each child. The big idea here is to come up with a storage place that is easy to get to and will keep all the papers in one spot while still having a specific place for each child’s papers. To keep it simple, throughout the rest of this post, I’ll refer to the immediate storage place as a drawer.
Not Always the Same
For example, when I first started creating this system, I used plastic paper trays. At that point in time, I only needed 2 trays because only 2 of our children were old enough to be in school. The more I used these trays, the more I realized I didn’t like how the papers could fall out of the trays or be blown around by the ceiling fan. Also, the trays we were using weren’t very tall so they weren’t able to hold as many papers as I wanted or needed them to.
So, I found a set of drawers that worked for a while. As more of our children started homeschooling, we found we needed to upgrade from a 3-drawer system to a 5-drawer system (one drawer for each child). The drawers we currently use are about 9 inches deep and at least 12.5 inches wide, so they hold not only the standard 8.5”x11” papers, but they’ll also hold the 9”x12” pieces of construction paper, which is a big bonus! Especially with preschoolers and children who love creating art projects with said construction paper!
Once papers or worksheets (or art projects!) are completed and checked, the papers get placed in that child’s drawer. This creates a simple system where the oldest worksheets are on the bottom and the newest ones are on the top. There’s no need to put a date on every single paper because the drawer keeps them in order. There’s also no need to put names on every single paper because each child has their own drawer. These two elements make my life super simple when it comes to the next stage!
The papers will live in these drawers for anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months, depending on when I have time to sort and file them into their yearly storage spots. Usually the thing that motivates me to do the next stage in this process is when the drawer gets so full that opening and closing it without ruining papers becomes a challenge!
Stage Two :: Yearly Storage
When the drawers start to get full, it’s time to move all the papers out of the drawers and into the next stage of their storage. For this part, the yearly storage, I use one of my all time favorite organizing tools: 3-ring binders! I find the 3” view binders are the best. This way, you can create a cover page to slide in the front as well as a spine label you can slide in. Plus, you’ll be able to reuse these binders year after year. (I’ll explain more about how this works in stage three.)
To personalize these binders even more, each year, I type up a page for each one of my children with their name, the school year, and the grade they are in that year. From there, they can draw whatever picture they want or decorate their page however they want to show their personality. My only requirement is that I have to be able to read the words printed on the page when they’re done!
Once the outside cover page and spine label are completed and placed in the view pockets of the binder, it’s time to add some organization to the inside. Simply put, place divider tabs labeled with the different subjects each child is working through that year inside the binder. These subjects will be specific to your homeschool, but might include subjects like geography, history, science, math, phonics, spelling, you get the picture.
Filling the Binder
Here’s where the organizing and filing comes into play. Take the 3-ring binder for one child and the correct drawer for that child. Start with the papers on top of the drawer and sort all the worksheets into piles for each subject (math, spelling, science, etc.). Make sure the piles you create are the same ones on the divider tabs you already put inside your 3-ring binder.
As you continue to sort the papers from the drawer into piles on your table, you’ll see that the papers stay in order. In the drawer, the newest papers were on the top and the oldest papers were on the bottom. As you sort through them, placing them in piles by subject, you’ll create piles of papers with the newest papers on the bottom and the oldest papers on top. The absolute beauty in this system is that there’s no need for re-sorting or shuffling papers to file them by date, you simply need to keep the piles in order.
Once you have your piles created on the table, file them in your binder behind the correct divider tab. For example, the math worksheets go behind the math tab, the science worksheets go behind the science tab, and so on. You might want to have a 3-hole punch handy for those papers that need it!
Start with the Old or the New?
Now, I know this could start a debate: Should the oldest worksheets, the ones completed at the beginning of the school year, be at the front or should the newest worksheets, the ones completed at the end of the year, be at the front? Honestly, when it comes to filing school papers it’s all up to you and your preference. Personally, I like our school portfolios (our yearly storage binders) to read like a book, starting at the beginning of the year and moving to the end of the year as you flip the pages. If you prefer to have the newest worksheets at the front and the oldest worksheets at the back, then set your binders up that way. The big idea is not to get hung up on which way is the right way to do it, but to choose one way and stay consistent while you’re filing the entire school year’s worth of papers.
If you wanted to, you could create a binder with no dividers that simply starts at the beginning of the year and moves through to the end of your school year with no subject division in it. I choose to use divider tabs for each subject so our binders read like a collection of books. Behind the math tab, the worksheets tell the story of the math work that my child has done from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. When you flip to the spelling tab, the story starts back at the beginning of the year and goes through the end of the year in spelling…you get the picture.
After you take the papers from the drawer (immediate storage) and file them into the binder (yearly storage) for one child, be sure to put the filled binder and empty drawer back where they belong. When you have multiple children, repeat this process for each child until all your drawers are empty and ready to hold more worksheets as you continue with your school year.
Stage Three :: Long Term Storage
Let’s face it, as amazing as binders are, they’re bulky to store long-term! Not to mention they can get expensive to purchase year after year! So, once you have all of these worksheets neatly filed into binders, how do you take them from the yearly storage phase to the long-term storage phase? Wanna know my secret weapons? Rubber bands and plastic file storage boxes!
One quick note: If your state requires you to keep a portfolio of your child’s school work or if you use the worksheets your child has completed throughout the school year as part of their yearly homeschool evaluation, don’t move your child’s school papers from stage two (yearly storage) to stage three (long-term storage) until their evaluation is finished. You see, as you’ve been storing these papers throughout the year, you’ve actually been creating a very simple and thorough portfolio of your child’s schooling which will make collecting the information for their evaluation very easy. In fact, most of the information you need will most likely be in that binder. Isn’t it great when you find out you saved yourself time and effort with a little organization earlier in the year? If you need to double check your state’s requirements (because every state is different), be sure to check out HSLDA.org/legal for all the details.
Unloading the Binders
Once you’re ready to put your child’s school papers into long-term storage, it’s time to unload the binders. I like to start by removing the cover page that has my child’s name, grade, and the school year on it and placing it upside-down on the table. Next, start at the beginning of the binder. Remove the divider tab and set it aside to reuse in next year’s school binders. Then, remove all the worksheets in that section and place them upside-down (or oldest closest to the table, newest highest in the air) on top of the cover page.
Repeat this process, working your way through each section until you have a large stack of papers on the table and an empty binder. When your stack of papers is complete, take a rubber band and wrap it around the whole stack. (Depending on the size of your paper stack and the size of your rubber bands, you might need to divide the stack in half and use two rubber bands.)
Next, take your plastic file box and place it on its side with the short side resting on the table or on the floor. Take your rubber banded pile of worksheets and place it inside. Now, if you have any spiral notebooks or any extra papers from that school year that you want to save with your child’s work, place those items on top of the rubber banded stack of worksheets.
Repeat this process with your next child’s binder, unloading the binder and rubber banding the papers together. Then this child’s schoolwork gets placed on top of their sibling’s schoolwork for that year. Continue this process until all the schoolwork from all your children for that year is neatly placed in the file box.
Storing the Box
Before placing your full file box in the attic or the basement or wherever you choose to keep it, make sure to label it with the school year. This way if you need to find something, you know where to start looking! You can get fancy with your labels if you want to, but I’ve found that duct tape and a sharpie work fabulously well for labeling things that go in the attic.
There’s one last thing I want to mention about the file boxes. At this point, the amount of school papers that all 5 of my children create in a given school year pretty much fills one whole file box. So, I don’t struggle with getting papers to stand up straight inside the box. But it didn’t always used to be like this! You may start by laying your child’s work flat in your file box until there are enough papers in storage that you can stand them up in the box without creating the crazy paper-curl situation. Then again, you may choose a different method for your long-term paper storage. You may choose to keep the papers in a filing cabinet or in cardboard bankers boxes. It’s completely up to you where you store these papers. And that is the beauty of creating your own system!
So there you have it, my Friend. A simple and easy system you can create to not only keep all your homeschool papers in one spot, but to have a quick way to keep them organized and put them away right away. Plus, you save yourself work in creating your child’s school portfolio at the end of the year and you’re able to find the papers you need when you need them because you know where to look.
Best of all? This system is incredibly low-maintenance and has minimal upkeep on a day to day basis!
Keep in mind, the system you create will be your system. Make it work for you. Make it fit in the space you have to work with. And always remember, the organizational system (or homeschool paper storage system) that’s best for you is one that you help create and one that you can keep going!
Are you looking for a way to not only organize the school papers and worksheets that your child completes, but a way to organize your thoughts and plans for your homeschool year? You won’t want to miss out on this free printable pack that walks you through how to plan out your school year without the overwhelm. Claim your free printables in the form below:
- The One-Room Schoolhouse Approach
- How To Set Up Your Homeschooling Space for Success
- Difficult Decisions: Homeschooling is not for the Faint of Heart
- Dispelling the Myth that You have to Do It All
- How to Intentionally Create a Pattern for Your Day
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.