School’s Out for Summer: How to Organize and Preserve Your Child’s Art and School Work

By Maureen Taylor

It's the end of the school year and my dining room table is groaning under the load of school papers deposited there in recent weeks. If you're a parent with school age children (pre-school included), then you know what I mean.

Starting in September, your kids begin bringing home artwork, homework assignments, tests, and assorted memos from school. It adds up to a lot of paper. Sure, you want to save their important childhood memories, but what do you keep and how do you keep it? I'm often asked the following questions--what's worth keeping and what should I throw out?

Keeping on Top of the Mess

You may want to save everything, but after twelve years of school work, not including pre-school and kindergarten, you might need to add a storage closet or two for each child's contribution. Follow these two tips and eliminate clutter.

  • Label unnamed papers with your child's name, the date (with year), grade, and teacher. If you do this as the work trickles in, you'll save time later. Try organizing a pile a papers a year later (or more), and you risk forgetting who did it and when. Use a soft lead pencil or a marker safe for scrapbooks, i.e., one that uses ink that is light-fast, water-resistant, fade-proof, quick-drying and acid-free such as a Zig marker (EK Success).
  • • Sort the papers into piles arranged by subject on a regular schedule such as once a week, a term or a school year. For example, keep different colored hanging files (for various subjects) in a plastic milk crate, and have the child add their assignments to each as they come home. While I don't suggest long term storage in plastic and acid paper, this pre-sort helps you get organized. Purchase acid and lignin free materials or non-PVC plastic for long term storage.

What's Important?

What's important differs in every family. For children that struggle in school, keeping key papers that show improvement are a great way to positively reinforce their academic progress. You'll have the proof.

Saving these papers in acid and lignin free folders allows your child to reflect on their growth as a student during the school year, and reassures them about the next year before school starts again. These documents are great review material for the children who tend to forget during summer vacation what they learned in the previous year. Looking at their old work triggers their memory.

Save vs. Toss

The amount of school work you save may vary from year to year. While every scribble is precious to a preschooler's family, by the time your child is in 6th grade you might not want to save every item. Let go of the guilt. Remember: You can throw some things away. My mother kept a carton of material and presented it to me when we bought our first house. She thought it was time for me to take over storing my childhood. I couldn't believe all the stuff she kept.

Let Your Child Help

What's important to kids and parents may differ. My children and I have different ideas about what should be retained. My daughter wants to toss everything except her drawings. I let her store some of the art work, while we display other less valuable pieces in our kitchen. She has fun putting her work in our “gallery.”

Given a chance, my son would throw out all school reminders. I circumvent this by putting aside material and then asking him for an opinion. Occasionally he'll surprise me by wanting to save something. Asking children to help enables them to share memories of the last school year and helps you tidy up. It also means that storage boxes are full of things that remind them of their school years and they include what I felt was worth keeping.


Whether you scrapbook, make a notebook of papers, or file everything in a storage box, just follow the basic rules of safe keeping: Use acid-and lignin-free paper or boxes and non-PVC plastics.

Each box, page or notebook acts as a time capsule, so in addition to school papers, save school-play programs, report cards, school photos, writing samples and for children that like to write--ask them to jot down a list of their ten favorite and (not so favorite) things about the last school year. While you've saved the paperwork, you've also retained their memories.

Another question I'm often asked is: Will my children's school papers last? Well, that depends. It depends on what they used to create them. For instance, poor quality newsprint drawing paper is probably acidic and will deteriorate over time. You slow that process down by using acid and lignin free storage materials. If you're concerned about the longevity of the pieces you've saved, you can photocopy them on acid and lignin free paper or photograph them for posterity.

I'm always surprised by how quickly the school year passes. One minute it's September, and then it's summer vacation. It's time for me to practice what I preach and tackle the piles on the dining room table before the new year begins.

This article originally appeared on

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