The last bell of the school year – is there a sweeter sound for any child? Thoughts of staying up late, swimming, adventures with friends, ice cream cones and cleaning out the school backpack beckon. Well, maybe cleaning out the backpack is not high on the list of fun things to do during the summer. But it is important and done with the right attitude it can be fun for both you and you child.
The first step is to pick a time that both you and your child can focus on the task of going through his backpack and schoolwork. I recommend setting aside 30 to 60 minutes within a week of school ending. Your child may need a day or two to relax after school ends, but if you wait too long the task will become more burdensome than necessary.
The second step is to grab your child’s backpack, anything else he brought home from school, and any other school papers that he has in the house. Also gather the recycling bin, a trashcan, and something to store your child’s archived schoolwork in.- more on that later. The easy part is done.
The hard part is turning off the critical parent voice. As soon as your child detects a hint of criticism or negativity, he will become disinterested. Remember that this is a collaborative process. How would you want to be spoken to if you were your child? Strive to be genuinely positive and supportive.
The third step is to sort the papers with your child. The easiest way to sort them is by subject. Take papers out of folders and binders. Tear papers out of spiral notebooks. Once all the papers are sorted you are ready for the fourth step, which is to review each subject.
At the end of the review process you will have a stack of papers that you want to keep and a much bigger stack of paper to recycle. Ideally, you want to keep the work that showcases your child’s creativity and talent. In twenty years a multiple-choice test or a worksheet -regardless of the stellar grade- may not seem special, but an essay might offer an enjoyable glimpse into your child’s thinking. Ask your child to pick out the work he is most proud of, and ask him what about each piece of work makes him proud. Then listen. If your child has a hard time picking out something, then you can pick out something. Explain to your child why you like it. My secret tool to get a reticent child to talk is the request “Tell me about this.” These conversations are valuable in helping you better understand your child.
The fifth step is to store the items that you have chosen for keeping. I love 13-pocket accordion files for this purpose. There is a pocket for each grade and the tabs make it easy to label. Because the accordion file is expandable it can hold a fair amount – but not too much. Keep in mind that you will be saving paper every year your child is in school. A few select items will be much more meaningful than an overwhelming collection of hundreds of pages. Slipping a school picture into the pocket along with his papers adds a special touch. Your child may want to decorate the outside of the file to personalize it.
Older children may want to keep their notes from their classes. It is worth exploring why your child wants to keep his notes by asking how the notes will be helpful in the future. Sometimes students check previous work to remind themselves of concepts that they are reviewing. Sometimes just having the notes brings a sense of comfort. Archive notes by subject by either putting them in a binder with subject dividers. Label the binder spine with the year. Make a deal with your child that notes that aren’t referenced in a year can be recycled.
The last step is to recycle the paper that you are not keeping. Throw away any worn-out school supplies and put away the backpack and any usable school supplies for next year. Thank your child for spending his time on this productive activity. Kudos to you too. You have modeled some important organizing skills for your child and taught him how to bring closure to the school year – or any project. I think that calls for a celebration. Ice cream, anyone?