So, you’ve snagged a binder and scavenged enough tabs to have one for each child plus at least one for general administration/support-type papers, right? And, you’ve printed out year-at-a-glance calendars as well as monthly calendars, right? If you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, see The Mom Binder Part 1 article that I posted a few days ago. If you’ve done the above, then let’s finish our totally cool, useful Mom Binders.
Start by labeling a tab for each child. Mine are alphabetical and from youngest to oldest (yeah, I know, another nerdy organization thing), but they can be in any order you wish. Behind each tab, In put ALL the documents required by your state and/or school district. Check with your state homeschool organization or with the Home School Legal Defense Association if you’re not sure what’s required. If you live in one of the few states that doesn’t require any paperwork, you lucked out, but there are still a few things you’ll probably want to keep handy in your Mom Binder.
In the state of North Carolina, where we currently live, all homeschoolers are required to keep attendance logs for 180 days, immunization records (or the proper exemption paperwork), and test scores for each child, beginning at age 7, every year. I have all of these records from every year that we have homeschooled in NC. I start at the back of each child’s section and every year add in the new stuff on top, closer to the front. That way, if I should ever get audited, I can easily lay my hands on the right paperwork.
In addition, I keep printed schedules or teacher guides for each subject, as appropriate. This is just for information not in a separate teacher’s manual and for things that I need to reference frequently. I also keep a loose plan of what each child is doing for that year, so I can remember that each vocabulary segment takes 4 weeks, each science module takes 2 weeks, and that there are 33 lessons for grammar. This is my cheat sheet so I don’t have to remember everything.
My oldest daughter is graduating this year (in just over a week!! ), so in her section, I’ve added a plastic sheet protector with all of her final high school records: official ACT score sheets, final transcript, course descriptions, and reading list. I’ve labeled the sheet protector and put it immediately after her tab, so all of her information is ready to be copied and sent off to colleges. Hhhmmm, just had a thought that maybe I should put those originals in our fire-proof box and put copies into my Mom Binder.
Next, I have an “admin.” tab. I keep the Notice of Intent and other communications from the state in there, along with an official letter from HSLDA when we needed their help a few years ago. I’ve also printed out the basic state requirements just to keep handy.
In the “support group” section, I have my official membership cards from HSLDA and our state homeschool organization, as well as other miscellaneous information from those groups.
The last tab is labeled “Mom,” and in there I’ve kept helpful articles that I want to implement, encouragement from various sources, and notes from homeschool conferences. When I no longer need an article, I either trash it or file it with like documents in my file folder system.
That’s it! Leave me a comment and let me know how you set up your Mom Binder.
I’ve referenced The Mom Binder quite a few times recently, and while I was writing those posts, I looked for the original Mom Binder post to link to. I couldn’t find one—time to write about one of my favorite homeschool organization tools. I’ve seen quite a few references online to household management binders, so why not a homeschool management binder?
Start with a 1 1/2- or 2-inch binder. Any larger than that, and it wouldn’t be workable. Any smaller than that, and there wouldn’t be enough room for everything that needs to be in it. You can repurpose one you find around your house or buy a cheap one just about anywhere. You can choose your favorite color, or choose the kind with a clear plastic cover so you can slide in your own artwork. Obviously, I’m not much of an artist, but at least my binder is properly labeled!
Next, figure out how many dividers you will need. I have one for each child (so that is 2), one for administrative paperwork (such as the notifications our state requires), one for support groups (memberships to HSLDA, our state homeschool group, etc.), and one for other stuff (like interesting articles). If you add those up, it makes 5, which is the exact number in a set of tabs (they also come in sets of 8). Yes, I’m totally neurotic about using matching tabs and using all of the ones in a set! If you’re not, that’s fine. Just make sure you at least have a tab for each child, plus at least one for administrative and/or support-type papers.
In front of all of the tabs, I have printouts of 2 year-at-a-glance calendars, to cover the whole school year. Behind those pages, I have printouts of each month, one per page. I use the year-at-a-glance calendars as a visual for how many weeks we do school in a particular month, when holidays fall, etc. On the monthly calendar pages, I write in co-op dates, which week number we’re on, and other general school notes. I keep attendance on the same computer program that I use for planning (the free version of Homeschool Tracker), but I’m a visual kind of girl, so I like to see the big picture.
Print these calendars from your computer, or check out some of the great, FREE offerings from Donna Young and The Homeschool Mom.
Now that you’ve got your shopping list ready (binder and tabs) and your memo to print out yearly and monthly calendars, I’ll let you get to it! Tune in on Thursday for exactly what types of papers and records you’ll be storing behind each tab.
Records? What are those? Didn’t they go out of style with eight-track cassettes? Or, records? Are you nuts? Why should I keep them? If I have to keep them, which ones should I be worried about, and how do I do it?
The first thing you need to do is to sort your mail standing over a trashcan. That way, all the junk mail and fliers for stuff in which you are not interested doesn’t even get set on a counter. Then, take the rest of the mail and put your bills in a to-be-paid file, tray, or slot on your desk. Put invitations, surveys, and anything else that requires a response in a to-do file or bin. Post other necessary information near your family calendar.
Take a similar approach with papers your kids bring home from outside classes, sports, church, or party and event invitations. If you need to fill out papers, put them in your to-do file. Make a note on your family calendar of important dates. Read the other information, then toss the papers or file them (temporarily) in the appropriate folder or binder section. Important note: flip through your to-do file daily.
Before we can get to organizing files or binders, you need to take some time to clean out the dead wood that you’ve already got cluttering up your desk, floor, and filing cabinet. Get a large trash bag and make sure your shredder is plugged in. If you have any old invitations, fliers, newspapers, magazines, or letters, throw them away. If you cancelled checks, keep ONLY those you need for tax purposes (more on that shortly) and shred the rest. If you have any banking records from more than seven years ago, shred them. Seriously. Shred the deed to the clunker car you bought when you were sixteen. Please. Shred ALL of the utility bills that are more than a year old.
So, what about bank statements, utility bills, and the fifty-zillion receipts littering the top of your desk right now? Bank statements should be saved for no longer than a year, so as you put this month’s statements in your file, throw out any statements that are from last April or earlier. It’s a good idea to save utility bills for several months for proof of residency or other issues, but it’s unnecessary to save them for longer than that unless you use them as tax deductions for a home business. Again, ask your accountant for his recommendations. Make a file for each utility bill, and as you put the new ones in each month, throw out ones that are older than three months or a year or whatever your accountant suggests. Receipts only need to be saved if they are tax deductible (in their own file), for a warranty (staple it to the warranty and file it with the owner’s manual), or for something that may need to be returned (clothes or tools, for instance, but weed these out regularly). The rest should be entered into your computer budgeting program weekly and then thrown out. I promise it won’t hurt!
Personal papers that need to be kept permanently (birth, death, and marriage certificates, citizenship and naturalization papers, separation and divorce papers, military records, social security cards, etc.) should be kept in a safety deposit box or in a fireproof box. Only a limited number of other items should be kept on a long-term basis and updated regularly. These include medical histories, employment, insurance, real estate and tax return records, insurance policies, and things like advance directives. These papers should be kept in a fireproof box in your home so you can readily update them and have access to them. Some papers need to be kept in a safe place only for as long as they are in effect: wills, car deeds, records of car repairs and service, passports, and owner’s manuals. If you keep these things in a filing cabinet, make one file for each type of record. Label it clearly and file it in alphabetical order.
I could say so much more about putting paper in its place, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Besides, until I started writing this post, I didn’t realize how much information was out there. Whatever you do, do NOT print this article out—you’ll just create more papers for which you would have to find a place!
Some of the most popular posts on my blog are from the Put Paper in Its Place 5-part series. I’ve taken the best of the best, added a few extras, and turned it into an e-book! Get all of my helpful paper organization tips together in one easy, print-ready format. Of course, you’ll have to file it appropriately after you print it out to read!
Have papers taken over your desk? Do you have to throw magazines, newspapers, and old invitations on the floor to find your couch? How often have you forgotten to make brownies for youth group or to sign a permission slip for a field trip? Learn how to Tame the Paper Monster once and for all. In Tame the Paper Monster, you’ll discover what papers need to be saved and which ones can be tossed; you’ll learn the secrets of setting up an effective binder or filing system that you’ll actually use. Organizing guru Bethany LeBedz lets you in on all these secrets and more. Download it now!
Q4U: Would you be interested in a book (yes, the printed kind with a cover that you hold in your hand!) that covers many of the homeschool organization topics, plus a few extra subjects, I’ve covered here on my blog? I’m seriously considering writing one, but there’s no point if there’s no market. So please, cast your vote!
Last week, I synthesized my 5-part paper series into a 45-minute talk for a Bible study group at my church. These lovely ladies are going through Karen Ehman’s The Complete Guide to Getting & Staying Organized book. When Becky first asked me to talk on “Putting Paper in Its Place,” I was worried that I would have trouble speaking for 10 minutes. I wasted perfectly good worry time over that! Turns out I could probably have talked for an hour at least.
As I was working on my notes and putting them into speaking order, I came up with a nifty acronym for the handout. Yes, I am well aware that giving a paper handout at a seminar on eliminating paper clutter is oxymoronish. But I just couldn’t help myself! After all, how else would they become my blog followers? So, here are the notes I handed out last week to the Bible study ladies. Drop me a line to let me know what you think.
P—PLAN. Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Papers do not organize themselves. You’ve got to make a plan and commit to keeping it.
A—ARRANGE. 1 Corinthians 14:40, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Decide whether you want to set up a filing system or a binder system, and then do it in a systematic fashion.
P—PERSEVERE. Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The bigger the paper piles, the longer it will take to get them in order. Don’t give up! Don’t expect that you’ll be able to finish the job in a single evening, or even a single weekend. Give yourself permission to tackle it in manageable chunks of time.
E—ESSENTIAL. Isaiah 58:11, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Do you REALLY need to keep it? Be brutally honest with yourself and keep only what is totally necessary.
R—REGULAR. Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Once a day, go through your to-do bin and take care of business. Once a week, file papers from your to-file bin and pay bills in the to-be-paid bin. Once a month, weed out the papers in your temporary files and put magazine articles, etc., in a file or in a binder. Once a year, collect all the papers you need for tax purposes and weed out other papers that need to be saved for only a year.
S—SELF-DISCIPLINE for a SANE SYSTEM. Galatians 5:22–23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Determine that you will gain control over your paper piles. Decide now that you will do whatever it takes to maintain that control. Ask the Lord for help to sustain your resolve to keep your paper system sane.
Welcome to the final segment of the “Put Paper in Its Place” series! If you’re a homeschooler and if you’ve been reading the entire series, this last section should just help you synthesize everything. As you may already suspect, I am not an advocate of keeping every single worksheet, piece of art, or diorama produced by the little darlings. Shocking, I know. Surprisingly, neither am I an advocate for trashing everything. You’ll be pleased to know that a middle ground exists. It’s called a portfolio.
The word portfolio usually strikes fear in the heart of homeschoolers. I have to keep a what? Why would I want to keep all that stuff? But all of the shadow boxes, insect project boards, wooden villages, and authentic medieval costumes won’t fit into a binder! Yes, I have heard all these comments and more whenever the topic of portfolios comes up. Yet, I always reply that a portfolio is not only a necessary thing, but also a good thing. Let me show you how and why.
What is a portfolio, anyway? I decided to look up the word in my official Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition to see what its normal usage is. After all, it’s a unique homeschooling word, right? At least, I thought the way that homeschoolers used the word was specific to us. I almost fell off my chair when I read this definition: “a selection of a student’s work (as papers and tests) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress.” So much for being revolutionary. Regardless, a portfolio is a collection of your child’s scholarly achievements.
How do you gather all this stuff? Do you just grab the last three pages out of your kids’ hands on June 15 and call it good? Do you wait until your high school senior tells you that his prospective college wants to see his portfolio when he visits tomorrow? No, no, no! On the other hand, you really don’t need to have the exact same number of papers for every subject perfectly typed on the computer and color coded in a set of twelve filing boxes.
A meritorious portfolio does not include every single assignment from every single subject. It includes a representation of work completed: the best writing samples, the best test scores, the best artwork, the best notebooking pages, and the best worksheet pages. It also includes pictures of 3-D projects, field trips, and other activities that can’t be condensed into a single written document. Set aside some work from every academic year. Do it as you go through the year so that it will not be an overwhelming task at whatever point you close out records for each year. I take my children’s desk binders about once a month, choose papers to go into the portfolio, and trash the rest, unless they’re needed for a later test.
The further your child gets academically, the more you may wish to weed out some of the earlier work. You may end up with only one kindergarten handwriting page and one first grade math test by the time your child graduates. That’s fine. Don’t take all of it out, though. I’ve attended homeschool graduations where a portfolio containing selections from twelve years’ worth of work was displayed. It was really neat to see the child’s scholastic progression through the years. Your child may enjoy looking back over her progress as well.
Okay, you’re collecting all of these papers and photos (of larger projects), so where do you put all of them? The best place for a portfolio is in a binder. Yes, even for you file foxes. The main reason for this is that a portfolio should be portable. (Extra bonus points if you notice that both of these words have port as the root, from the Latin word porto, which means I carry.) It’s much easier to carry a binder into a college admission counselor’s office than it is to carry a filing cabinet. You’ll definitely want a 3-inch size for this project. Feel free to let your child choose her favorite color, or buy the kind with the clear pocket on the front and have your student design her own cover.
Put subject dividers into the binder. File the papers from earliest (kindergarten or whatever grade you started homeschooling or saving papers) to the latest within each subject. Just save one out of every ten, twenty, or even thirty pages. Save more tests than regular worksheets. Save the best essays, and choose just one of those essays to show all of the child’s work—outline, rough drafts, corrections, and final draft.
I can hear you now: Why am I making a portfolio? It sounds like way too much work, and it’s not even required by my state! Do I still need to make one even if my child is not headed to college? Obviously, some states make portfolios mandatory, but aside from that, reasons abound for making one. If you choose not to give actual grades or not to fill out a report card (or its equivalent), then a portfolio becomes even more important. A portfolio gives physical evidence that little Johnny really is a genius—just as you always thought! Portfolios preserve hard work, provide evidence for skeptical grandparents or other family members and friends, help with planning for younger siblings, and record grades and/or levels earned and completed.
If you have piles and boxes of papers, start slowly. Set up the binder first so you have a place to put the papers you’re saving. Then go through one stack or box a day, perhaps while you’re watching TV at night, and eventually you will have a lovely portfolio of your child’s academic successes. I’m cringing as I write this, but I just have to reiterate that you must keep up with a project this large or it will get away from you. If you put a few papers into the portfolio every month or so, it will be no big deal, but if you procrastinate, you’ll find it more difficult to subdue the paper piles.
I hope you’ve found this series on paper to be helpful. The more I wrote, the more I realized could be written; however, this is it for now. I’ve provided you with the tips and encouragement that you need to conquer the paper monster once and for all.