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Hands-On Project Materials: Staying Organized From Start to Finish

Hands-On Project Materials: Staying Organized From Start to Finish

Don’t you just love it when the kids get so excited about lessons that they don’t want to stop? This generally happens when there is a project underway. It might be a shoebox diorama, a lap book, a file folder game, or 3-dimensional art, such as authentic crafts from an era or dress-up clothes. However, there are times that us moms can get a little overwhelmed with all the material prep, and sometimes we just don’t know what to do with all the creations at the end of the year!

Never fear! I have been a crafty, hands-on mom right from the beginning. In our early homeschool years, you couldn’t leave my house without taking a sprinkling of glitter with you, and my hallways and shelves were adorned with posters and artwork of all kinds. But when it came time to thin things out to make room for the following year, the children often made a fuss because they didn’t want their creations to end up in the garbage, and I can’t blame them. Some of these projects were worked on for hours with a lot of love, sweat, and tears. Still, I found myself sneaking out to the garbage cans the night before pick-up to try to eliminate at least some of them! 

Over the years, I have accumulated several suggestions to help you not just get organized, but provide keepsakes of your children’s masterpieces.

Getting Set Up

First, let’s start with preparation. There were MANY times I ran behind with lessons because we didn’t have our materials gathered and couldn’t find the hoozamacallit that we desperately needed for that particular project. I’d get upset because it wasn’t where I last had it, and the kids would start to lose interest because it was taking too long to get going. I needed to come up with a plan so we would not continue to lose chunks of our school days.

My plan boiled down to organization of craft supplies, organization of printed material, and organization of time. 

Craft Material Preparation

Craft supplies broke down to three levels: the most commonly used items, the secondary items that are needed often but maybe not all the time, and the items that are unique and rarely used, but necessary for particular projects. 

The most commonly used items may include: 

  • Clear tape

  • Double-sided sticky tape

  • Glue sticks (permanent rather than washable, for better adhesion)

  • Liquid glue

  • Pencils

  • Colored pencils

  • Erasers

  • Rulers (both for measuring and to use as a straight edge)

  • Scissors

  • Paper (both white and colored)

  • Card stock (both white and colored)

  • Paper clips

  • Stapler

  • A stack of scrap paper for gluing on

The secondary items may include:

  • Paper fasteners

  • Colored file folders

  • Lamination sheets (for protection of some projects like game boards)

  • Acetate or acetate alternative, such as Dura-lar™

  • 3-ring binders (for notebooking a topic)

  • Pocket folders (for holding pieces of a project, such as instructions, art image text, or other resources you may have printed or gathered to assist the child with the project)

  • Paints and paintbrushes

  • Markers 

  • A three-hole punch and a single-hole punch

  • Craft knife (for older children and with parental guidance)

  • Corrugated cardboard for a cutting surface

  • Page protectors

The unique items can range all over, depending on the project. Here are a few suggestions to give you an idea:

  • Air-dry clay

  • A variety of fabrics and felt

  • Ribbons and string

  • Glitter

  • Plaster of Paris

  • Buttons and beads

  • Spray paint

  • Foam core

  • The list could go on and on!

We would have shelves dedicated to holding the craft supplies, the more common upstairs for daily access, and the more unique or lesser-used in our basement, but in storage buckets well labeled and within easy reach when we needed them.

Printing Preparation

Often hands-on projects need printing done, whether on paper or card stock. Some homeschool moms I know will go through their entire curriculum and print it all out over the summer to have ready to go through the entire school year. This works well if you have chosen exactly what you are doing and know how many children will need copies, especially if you are having copies made outside your home.

We chose to do it a little differently. It seemed every time I tried to plan anywhere beyond two weeks, my days would be thwarted (such as illness or a last-minute field trip), and we needed to shift around our lesson planner, possibly dropping out a project. I found that on a given Sunday, I would plan out the next two weeks—in pencil—and look at the projects we planned to do. I determined if they would be done per each child, or if they could be done as a group. This would help me account for the number of copies I would need. Because it was only for two weeks or so, it would not take long to make the copies. I would then store the copies in folders for when we would need them along with the instructions. ...and I knew right where they were! 

Organization of Time

By having your supplies in places you know and printed pages ready to go, you’ve already won half the battle! Another way to organize your time is to evaluate the type of project the children will be doing. Is it simple or complex? Will it need to be done in stages so parts can dry? Get a feel for if you need a half-hour or the whole afternoon and plan accordingly. 

Hands-on projects can also involve food! Are you planning a meal according to the culture you are studying? In that case, plan out your lesson to coincide with preparations for dinner. I know some of this sounds like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many times I’d forget that we needed something to thaw out or marinate for several hours beforehand. This also means making sure to take into account the grocery items you need well before the day you plan to use them ...another lesson we learned the hard way!

Storing the “Masterpieces”

So, you’ve gotten through your study, and your children just beam when they show off the shelves and walls full of the many wonderful creations they have completed. However, unless you continue to size-up your house to hold it all, this can become a problem! What do you do when you need to clear out? Here are a couple of suggestions:

The 3-Ring Binder Scrapbook:

If it can be 3-hole punched and lay flat, it can be stored in a binder. This is a great time to collect art of all kinds and start a scrapbook for that topic or that year. Use it to keep your favorite pieces. We even stored projects that were up to ½” thick at times, as long as they could either be hole-punched or slid into a page protector.

Oversize Poly Envelopes:

Poly envelopes are excellent for storing lap books and projects of that size and help keep them from getting damaged or dusty. They often close with velcro or a plastic snap, and can easily store on a shelf or in a file system. 

What about the BIG stuff? 

Take photos! Have your child hold the craft he made or stand by it so you can have a memento of the age he was when he made it. And don’t forget photos of the cooking sessions or the family gathered around the meal! Be sure to add these photos to the scrapbook, so you have a record of ALL the hands-on activities you did during the study! 

If you’ve made period clothing of any kind, be sure to get photos of your child wearing them! It will only be a moment of time that those close will fit, and before you know it, your child will have grown out of them.

Making Keepsakes

There will often be times you will be learning about authentic crafts of an era. Our Time Travelers and Project Passport history studies are loaded with special projects such as these. Whether it’s a decoupage of the late 19th century, quilting projects like the Friendship quilt or Yo-Yo quilt, penny-rugs, punch tins, dolls and toys, floor clothes, mosaics, frescoes, quilling, painted pottery, or so many more, you may wish to use them as gifts for friends, family, and neighbors.  

And coming from a mom whose last child has just left the nest and the bustling house grows quiet, hanging on to some of these keepsakes yourself will be a comfort. With so many memories attached to them, they can’t help but warm your heart and put a smile on your face ...Trust me.

Amy Pak is an 18-year homeschool veteran to four and a “Maimy” to seven grandkids. She is also the co-owner, illustrator, and co-author at Home School in the Woods, a family-run history company known for its historical timeline figures and hands-on history studies. You can read more of Amy’s writing on her company’s blog

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