Back-To-School: How To Organize School Papers

How to organize school papers from

School hasn’t even started, and parents are wondering how to organize school papers. Supply lists, class schedules, student handbooks… it’s only going to get worse, folks. Now is the perfect time to learn how to organize school papers so they don’t turn into unmanageable piles.

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How To Organize School Papers

Choose your spot wisely. The key to a good organizational system is finding one that works with how you’re already living your life. When it comes to paperwork, you need a storage spot that makes sense with your departure and arrival routines. For instance, keeping papers in the mudroom near the door to the garage won’t help if your child leaves through the front door to catch the bus. Likewise, using an upstairs home office will most likely lead to papers accumulating on the kitchen counter until you get around to filing.

What we do: Since I drive my son to and from school, I hung a magnetic white board near the door to our garage. Signed papers go there, along with money for field trips and other activities. I use the white board to make notes about other things we need to remember, like late pickups or crazy outfits for Spirit Week.

Move things if you must. If you’re working with a small space, you may need to rearrange things. Keep in mind the rule above about finding a system (and storage spot) that works with how you’re already living. If you’ll remember that the cupboard above the kitchen desk is now used solely for school stuff, but your kids and spouse will still use it for other storage, the system is doomed to fail. (I’m speaking from experience here.)

What we do: I bought a rolling file cart with a supply drawer that holds my son’s homework assignments and school supplies, along with paperwork that I need to hold onto (e.g., the student handbook, the flyer about a class trip six months from now, etc.) I stash it in the coat closet by the door we leave through every morning.

Have separate storage for each child. If Timmy’s teacher says he failed to turn in an assignment that you know you saw a grade on (and that’s happened more than once with my son), you don’t want to have to rummage through all of Janey’s papers trying to find it. An inexpensive way to keep papers separate is to make a paper holder out of a cereal box.

What we do: I’m down to one child living at home now, but in the past I used different colored file folders in the rolling file cart for my kids. Come to think of it, I still use that system: my Mom Files (the school papers I need to hang onto) are red, while my son’s files are blue.

Deal with paperwork daily, and enlist your child’s help. Yes, afternoons are busy with sports practice, music lessons, homework, and dinner drama. But two minutes spent per day spent going through papers will keep them under control, and keep them from piling up on your kitchen counter. You don’t have to be the one handling this, though: learning to file paperwork on a regular basis is an important life skill that kids should learn.

What we do: My oldest was wonderful about handing me papers as soon as we got home, but my youngest will forget about them if we don’t take care of them immediately. Since he likes an after school break before he starts homework, we agreed that he first needs to spend a few minutes going through his backpack, turning over all papers that need my attention, and then he can take a break.

Sort and keep homework properly. There are a number of ways to do this so, as above, find one that works for you. Some ideas include stapling each week’s homework together and filing it your own section of the homework sorter. Or, keep a binder of your own with dividers, just like your child does, and file papers in chronological order as each week passes. Then, as progress reports or notices of missing assignments come out compare them with the graded homework you have in your file. Teachers are only human and sometimes they overlook things. (This has happened to us more than once!) If you find an assignment was graded but not recorded, send it back to the school with a nice note.

What we do: We keep a different file folder for each class in my son’s rolling file cart where he stores that day’s assignments and info about longer-term projects. We also keep a folder for “Old–(Class name)” for each class. Graded assignments go into the “old” folder where he can grab them to review for quizzes or tests. Now that he’s in high schoolm where finals are cumulative, those “old” folders are particularly handy!

Keep a family calendar near your paper station. If you’re using a cupboard as your paper station, attach the calendar inside the cupboard door where it’s handy when you’re sorting papers. Write each child’s important dates and deadlines in a unique color so you can easily find what you’re looking for, and then immediately make a note of it on your smartphone’s or computer’s calendar app.

What we do: Since my rolling cart is stored in our coat closet just a few feet away from the kitchen refrigerator, I keep our family calendar on the side of the fridge. My daughter’s schedule is one color, my son’s schedule is in another, and family-wide dates are in a third. Meanwhile, I also keep a copy on my Google calendar which makes alerts pop up on both my phone and my laptop, so I can’t go anywhere without being reminded of where else I should be.

Be choosy about what you keep long-term. If your child is young, ask her to go through homework at the end of the quarter to select one or two items for her school memories box. Go through the papers yourself, too; sometimes you’ll find very sweet things your kids have said and you’ll want to have to get you through the teen years! Bulkier items, like dioramas, are best remembered with a photograph tucked into the school memory box.

What we do: Now that my kids are older, they go through their pile and rarely find something they want to hold onto. Later, when they’re in bed, I go through the pile and find all sorts of things that I want to keep — if not for myself, then to share with them one day. A find from ten years ago involved an English assignment asking my daughter what she’d change about herself. She wanted longer hair, fewer zits, and to be a cheerleader. When she got a cheerleading scholarship to college and had finished cheering at her first college football game, I showed her that paper. Her hair was long, her skin was clear, and she’d reached her dream. It was a wonderful parenting moment, and isn’t that what saving school papers is ultimately about?

Remember, you know your kids and your own organization skills best. Use these tips to help you find how to organize school papers in a system that works for your family then start using it now to keep school papers from taking over your house.

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  1. says

    I use an expanding folder for The Little Guy’s “passbacks” from school. I usually sign permission slips and put them right back in the backpack as soon as possible and write the field trip on the calendar. I then clip a copy of the permission slip to the calendar, It doesn’t come down until after the field trip. Our school district has a new website (and the Little Guy is transitioning to middle school) and I’ll be able to check the website for homework due and for grades. The Little Guy doesn’t go out after school until his homework is done.

    • says

      I try to get permission slips back right away, too, but have found that sticking them in my son’s backpack — rather than in his hand — just means they get lost. (He gets his sense of organization from his father.)

      That computerized site for homework is wonderful. Our school district’s been using Skyward for a couple of years, and it does help a lot with tracking assignments… assuming the teachers enter them. That was a BIG problem with one of his old teachers (the one who’d marked ‘missing’ several assignments that he’d actually turned in and received grades for).

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