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© Gail Underwood Parker

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tame the Schol Paper Pile.... some refinements

In my last entry I gave the basics of my solution to staying dry in the deluge of papers and creations pouring out of backpacks each day  after school.  here are some little details that I have added along the way when I can.

1- Handprints: As each child gets a drawer I have them paint their hand and make a painted hand print on the front of the drawer.  As years pass the hands look smaller and smaller making it fun for them to see.  They also try fitting their hands into the prints of older siblings.  [They have asked if they could add a new print each year.  I decided that putting a hand print each year on paper and adding it to their file was the compromise.]

2. School pictures:  The inevitable leftover photos go in that year's folder.  I now try to put a photo of each child on [or near] the first day of school on the file folder for that grade. Sometimes I add another one on the last day of school as well. These are not necessarily the school pictures, more often snapshots I have taken, but school pictures could be used instead if that were simpler. [You could keep a separate folder just for the annual school pictures if you preferred.]

3. Special Education:  Since I have kids who are in special education [now called instructional support in my state] I have also added a folder for all the annual or triennial testing and another folder for the annual plans and reports. I find this is easier when I need to locate them rather than trying to remember which year's folder to search. 

4. Report Cards:  I keep the report cards in the grade level folder, but a friend who has adopted this system keeps the report cards all together in a separate folder from the papers. Whatever works is fine!

5. Testing/Assessment Reports: With so many states requiring standardized testing on a regular basis, the use of a separate folder for standardized assessments, similar to the folder I use for special education testing might be helpful.

6. Transitions: I use these folders to help the transition from year to year.  Part of the end of the school year tradition is emptying the current year folder. The only thing that stays in it over the summer is any "next year" paperwork [summer reading lists, supply lists for the following year etc.]. Part of getting ready in August is one last look through the previous year's papers, talking about the successes and progress of the last year and goals for the next year. [Sometimes the process even leads to more winnowing of the papers!] Depending on the age [and personality] of the child, school shopping may lead to a modeling of the "first day" outfit and a snapshot for the new grade start of school year photo. 

7. Independence:  At some point I start gradually turning over responsibility for the school file to the child. When varied greatly from child to child. Some ended up managing it almost by themselves, others needed my help straight through.  It is really fun if a year or so after graduation you can sit down with your 19 or 20 year old and go through their school years grade by grade, reminiscing. The end result can be a small file that is theirs to keep to perhaps show their children one day.  [Side note: For those of you with stacks of notes etc. from special education meetings or interventions over the years, it can be very healing to be able to pick just a few to show the challenges and the growth and then to let all the rest go.... maybe even have a small bonfire to celebrate!]
turn over at some point

I hope these ideas help some of you and spark more ideas you can share in return!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tame the school Paper Pile ! ... the basic system

As I sort and purge things that somehow never got organized in my room it seemed logical to take today's blog to talk an organizing success. I have a super successful system for taming the avalanche of papers that come home from school with children. As the mom of five at a time, the paper seemed to spew out of backpacks like the constantly threatening stream of lava in the movie "Volcano." Given the previous discussion about the advantages of hindsight with repeated parenting cycles, I have finally hit on a solution that works... at least for us.

I use a four-drawer file cabinet [since I am currently raising a sib group of four. ] If you are starting with a new kindergartener you could even start with a single file drawer. Each child has their own drawer. In each drawer there are a series of file folders.... one for each grade of school plus an expandable pocket bottom file marked CURRENT YEAR which stays in the front.

Since I have kids involved in special ed [or instructional support as my school system now calls it] I also have a folder marked "Testing" and a folder marked "IEPs" [Individual Educational Plan]. I'm sure each state has their own acronyms and alphabet soup so adapt it to fit your family.

Whenever papers come home they are celebrated with the requisite enthuiasm, oohed and ahhed over, and then go one of two places: the refrigerator [generally only one is chosen for this honor] or the "current year" folder in their file drawer. When the next refrigerator worthy page goes up, the old exhibit goes in the "current year" folder as well. When the "current year" folder begins to bulge the child and I sit down together and sort through the papers, choosing usually 5-10 to keep in the folder and tossing the rest. [OK, I confess, sometimes I do a presort myself.] This process repeats throughout the year as needed. [Younger children generally need more frequent sorts because they bring home far more "treasures" than middle or high schoolers.]

Part of the end of the school year celebration is the last sort through.... choosing some of the best work, some of the favorite work, and sometimes a silly piece or two. The final [much smaller!] collection is put in a regular folder, marked with the grade, the calendar years, the school and the teacher. The "Current Year" stands empty and waiting for the fall. [It will need occasional replacing as it tends to get worn and beaten.]

That's it. Nothing elaborate. Nothing complicated. Nothing high-maintenance. But it works. And it has continued to work for close to a decade now. [Boy do I wish I could say that for all my attempts at organizing the house!] The kids enjoy the sorting and selecting and seem perfectly fine tossing most papers of their own accord when they revisit the file through the year. Give the school file a try and let me know how it works. Next entry I will share some of the little extras I have found helpful with this file system.