The Brown Paper Bag // Oakland, CA Photographer

Image_Lori Fuller PhotographyEvery year around this time, my kids bring home a brown paper bag overflowing with all kinds of treasures from school - writing journals, projects, half-used workbooks, photos, class work, random drawings, dioramas, art portfolios, and so on. And every year, that brown bag sits in our dining room for a week (or longer) as I ponder what to do with it all. The easiest solution, of course, is to not give it one ounce of thought and toss the whole thing in the recycle bin. But, I just can't. Perhaps it's the former teacher in me or just the sentimental mom, but there is so much hard work showcased in that bag. It is an entire years worth of growth and accomplishment - how can I just toss it? So, I dump everything on the table and I begin sorting through it all, one piece at a time. The kids help make decisions about what to keep and what to toss. We work until we've narrowed the pile down. But, then what?

A few years ago, I would've gone through this process and narrowed down the keepers, and then guess what I would do with those pieces? Toss them right back into the brown paper bag and hide the bag in a closet! The problem was I didn't have a system in place for storing the papers and projects that we all wanted to keep. That is, until I finally decided on a way to store, highlight and archive all of the amazing work and special projects done throughout the year.

A School Days Portfolio Keepsake was my solution. The binder porfolio is a system I have fully embraced because it is smart, easy to keep organized, and will be just the right size keepsake for my children to hold on to and enjoy flipping through over the years. Here's how I do it:

how to create1. Gather your supplies. 

one large three-ring binder (the largest you can find) for each child page protectors tabbed page protectors archival album pages (sizes 4x6 and 8x10) tape, scissors, post-it notes, pen pages labeled with each grade 2015-06-03_0007

2. Label the tabs.

I have one tab for each grade from preschool-8th grade. You can break this down however you would like (ie. make a K-5 binder and then a separate one for 6-8). I know that the earlier years have more paperwork than the older years, so I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to fit all the items we want to keep through 8th grade in this one binder. 2015-06-03_00043. What to keep

I have a few hard and fast rules in terms of what to keep. Some of the must-include items are:

-report cards

-school photos

-class photos

-special certificates

-sports/extracurricular awards/pictures

-misc. photos from the year

-writing samples (creative writing and poems are my favorite)

-art projects

-self-portraits 2015-06-03_00022015-06-03_00034. Photograph oversized art work or projects.

One of my favorite projects in the early grades is when the teachers ask the class at the beginning of the year what they hope to learn, and then ask what they learned at the end of the year. These projects don't fit well in a three-ring binder so I just take photos of fun projects like this so we can print them and include in an album or the binder. 2015-06-03_0008

5. Let the kids take ownership of their portfolios

In addition to helping decide what to keep or toss, enlist your child's help in decorating the cover, as well as the tabbed divider pages for each grade. What I love about this is not only seeing how much more sophisticated their art becomes, but since they usually draw pictures of things they are most interested in at that time (ie. Minecraft), it becomes a time capsule of sorts and lets me see how their hobbies/interests have changed (or stayed the same) year to year. 2015-06-03_00092015-06-03_00056. Include photographs from the year

I will incorporate images from the year that really tell a story about my child's interests or favorite things. Here you see my daughter dressed as a baseball player (GO YANKS!), playing school, and holding her most precious toy, Baby Lily. I use archival-quality photo pages from Print File to safely hold and protect images. I absolutely L O V E mixing images into the binder because 1) it shows how much my kids have grown, 2) it adds great visuals, and 3) printed photos rock! #printyourphotos

Below is a sweet little note my son wrote to my daughter on her first day of Kindergarten. sniff sniff


7. Be selective in what you choose to keep. 

Set guidelines with your kids on how to decide if something is portfolio-worthy or not. A general rule of thumb is if it takes us longer than a few seconds to decide, then it probably isn't worth keeping.2015-06-03_0010


If you have a system in place and all the supplies on hand, creating a School Days Portfolio Keepsake is really a quick - and fun - project that you can do together with the whole family. It is my hope that someday my kids will appreciate my sentimental side as they browse through this book of memories and hard work.

Do you have a system for organizing all of your kid's school work? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!