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Documenting the School Year

It’s the start of a new school year and it doesn’t look the same for anyone. Some students are learning from home, others are at school, but they are all heading back to school in one way or another. When I’m working with my photo and home organizing clients, we always end up talking about systems for dealing with the influx of school papers and school artwork. It is a lot, especially when they are in elementary school . Here are a couple things I tell my clients with young kids about how to manage it all.

  1. DATE IT! As soon as a piece of artwork of schoolwork comes into your home, flip it over and write the date on it. You think you will always remember, but sometimes you don’t. If you have more than one child (or think you may), I suggest also adding a name or initials to the label. You will not regret it as I cannot tell you the number of times people don’t remember which child did which artwork. It happens A LOT.

  2. PHOTOGRAPH IT! I keep a piece of white and black poster board pretty handy to use as a background but you can use the floor or counter. As soon as something comes into my house I think I may want to remember, I take a picture of it. Many times this item gets taped to my child’s door or enjoyed and when things get enjoyed they often get ruined/ripped/dirty. By taking the moment to snap a quick pic, I don’t have to worry about what happens to the art next. And I want to encourage my kids to enjoy it and sometimes that means it get extra loved (read: ruined).

  3. USE NATURAL LIGHT! I have a spot in my family room that gets good light in the morning. This is when I take pictures of things in that spot. It moves around based on the time of day so look for that good light in your house and learn when it hits where. That’s where and when you want to take you pics to get a good shot.

  4. 3D ART! Not a problem. My favorite thing to do is have my child hold onto the art and snap a pic. It’s fun to look back and see then with their amazing creation and it adds perspective on something. You can get an idea of how old your child was when they made that piece and it’s often super cute to see them proudly showing off their creation. 3D art is usually not something that's going to have a long term home so the sooner I can get a pic, the better.

Here is a pic of my then 2-year old with her amazing Thanksgiving art. If I saved every piece of "art" like this, I wouldn't have room in my house to live. While it's cute, I especially like this picture with her instead of the actual turkey box.

Now that you know what to do with that can move to the next part. There are many options. You can move these pictures you took into a folder on your phone or computer and collect the pics that way so at the end of the year you have what you need to make a book. While that’s a good solution, it’s still a lot of work to make a book at the end and I prefer to bite off small chunks at a time while the memories are fresh. I don’t like extra me lazy but I prefer to be called efficient. I think there is an even better way to go about it, using something many people already have, something that will save you time in the end. I’m a big believer in simple systems, in using what you have, in working smarter and for making things you already have work for you.

Enter Instagram.

Most of the people I work with are already using this social media platform to share with their family and friends. And if you’re not, you can use it for this purpose only. I’m not telling you to bombard your regular news feed with pics of your preschooler’s finger paintings. Instead, I suggest you make a new PRIVATE Instagram account for each of your kids. Here is a place you can post their first day of school pics, their artwork, their handwriting samples, etc. You can decide to use it strictly for artwork or you can use it to document their entire year. It’s up to you. It’s also up to you if you keep it 100% private or if you share with grandparents or extended family. At the end of the school year you can link your account up with the Chatbooks App and print a little book with all their pics. It’s really SO easy. I promise. Sure there are other apps that offer a similar service, but I find it's easy to use something you're already using and Chatbooks is a really affordable printing solution for something like this.

So what are some tips I have for using an Instagram account this way?

  1. BE TIMELY! Post your pictures as soon as you can. When you go to print your book, it’s nice for them to have the correct day and info. You will be able to edit it later on, but why not just make it easier for yourself and post it as soon as you can? I like easy.

  2. GET THE STORIES! Write the information and funny things that go with the pics while they are fresh in your head. As you’re adding the pictures of artwork or anything, write the story about how your child told you the splat was a “big furry monster.” Even if it doesn’t look like a monster to you, that’s something you want to remember. Aren’t the stories the real point of documenting their artwork or anything?

  3. ADD OTHER PICTURES! You could add pics of your child on the first day, pics of them working on a project at home, pics of their schoolwork, their handwriting, anything that’s part of their development from that year. It doesn’t have to all be from school so include things from that time period, instead, if you like. Remember, there are no real hard rules to this so just do what feels right to you.

But what if your kids are older? This isn’t just a system to be used for elementary kids. As my kids are entering middle school and high school, I know they aren’t bringing home a ton of art and such anymore. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to document. It may be more pictures or with fewer items, maybe the book I print is a combination of multiple years. And that’s ok, too. The great thing is that I don’t have to decide right now. I just need to start. Starting gives the flexibility to make the decisions later on. And if you don’t start at the beginning of the year, you can still post pics to catch up later. It’s not a big deal. This shouldn't be stressful!

Whether you want to document just your child’s artwork or their whole year of pictures, consider making a private IG account to use for your “holding zone” until you are ready to press print with Chatbooks. It’s insanely easy and a great way to use what you already have to work for you. And it's the beginning of the school year so there is no better time to start than NOW!

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Blue Pencil is based in Greenwich, Connecticut. Locally servicing Fairfield and Westchester Counties. Remote consultation available.

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