Archiving Schoolwork and Other Stuff from Your Kids

One thing about school kids in our culture is that they make a lot of stuff. I am a parent of two boys and I’m also an avowed archivist. Over the years, I’ve developed some practices for managing and storing the stuff kids make, collect, and earn over the course of childhood.

Since my oldest child is 18 and is graduating from high school next month, I’ve looked back at the archives for him and his brother (who is 16), and I thought I’d share the exact materials and methods I’ve used.

Let’s start with some basic learnings

  • Format is destiny. I’ve learned to use the smallest vessel possible. This also enforces a certain thematic cohesion. For example, you won’t see 9 x 12 art sheet projects coming home much past 6th grade. Grouping items of similar shape and size makes more sense through time than you’d think
  • Chronological order is best order. I just flow all objects through to the archive w/o regard to what grade they’re in, what class it is, and so on. This allows you to see it all at once, flip through fast, and see your own themes rather than something imposed by the archivist
  • Annotate everything. Everything seems obvious in the moment, but as time passes, you may wonder who made what, what grade it was, and so on. A simple notation on the back of every item— name, grade, month, year— eliminates all the guessing
  • Focus on the child. This means if you have more than one child, make sure you make their archive 100% about them, with separate and distinct portfolios/ boxes/ whatever for them. If also means that each object should relate to them rather than you & them, their teacher & them, their sibling & them— whatever. The idea is that this is a collection that will be theirs someday— something uniquely about and for them
  • Don’t bog down the child with the past. There is a danger here in glorifying the past and / or force-feeding a whole shelf-full of crap that they don’t want in their lives. I rarely talk about their archives and we don’t make a show about going through it— I just quietly build it. As they’ve gotten older, and I am less intrusive when it comes to digging through their schoolbags for material, they make sure to give me things they want to keep for them. Having said that, I couldn’t care less if one day they incinerated their entire collection. Nostalgia is death
  • Focus on output and documentation rather than achievement and excellence. Certainly there are way more “A” papers in the archive than “D” tests, but I don’t shy away from putting in things like artwork that cast me in a less-than-great light (“this is how dad swears when he’s mad” doodle in 2nd grade). It’s also easy to make judgements about their work— and I do plenty of that in the normal course of parenting, tryna get them to do their best. But it’s important not to use an archive as yet another way to mess up your child about the pending doom of high school or college acceptance. That stuff is whack
  • Decide what you care about and collect for that. This is where one has to decide what’s wheat and what’s chafe. For me, I focused on original expression— writing, drawing, essays. That means I throw away standardized tests and worksheets, no matter how well they did on them, and I optimize handwritten, hand-drawn items. I want them to look back and see themselves
  • Never stop collecting, never stop winnowing. In order for this to work, you can’t let there be huge gaps. The good thing is that it sort of fits in with the overall need, as a parent, to pay attention to what your kid is doing. Go through their bag and make your piles. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to the pile, as long as the pile is there. I’d say I would keep 10% of what comes home in the pile-making stage, and throw away maybe 50% of that in the winnowing stage

Here’s pictures of the entire end result

Basically one shelf-full for each kid and a sliver of a closest for the posterboard-sized stuff (the large portfolio at the top holds material for both kids— it’s the only vessel shared between them). It’s really not a whole lot of stuff, when you think about the enormous amount of material we generate.

Here’s a look at each type of vessel, and what I put in each:

Continue reading “Archiving Schoolwork and Other Stuff from Your Kids”

In Praise of Martha Lavey

I did not know Martha Lavey, who died this afternoon. She was a living legend, a towering figure who made Chicago better, made us more relevant to the world, and contributed to the advance of American art in ways that people who are were close to her will tell over the coming days.

But I have a Martha Lavey story.

I was on the steering committee for On The Table, an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust, a program designed to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and inspire action.

I showed up at a meeting at The Trust for the committee— a typical affair, with 30-40 people in a board room talking about stuff.

And there was Martha Lavey. I stopped short. I was flummoxed to see her. There are people like this for all of us— untouchables who represent a level of import that makes us quake or look away or go shy.

So we started the meeting. People ate bagels and poured coffee and talked about stuff.

And Martha Lavey pulls out some nail polish from her purse.

She starts painting her nails. She chimes in on some topics, saying smarter things than everyone else, making us think, all the while casually looking down, painting her nails.

And I’m like, “Martha Lavey you are a fucking boss and I love you so much thank you Martha Lavey”.

I did not tell her that; I said it to myself.

Martha Lavey didn’t need me to tell her I loved her, but right now I raise that up and make it plain to you.

The Use of Simple Digital Tools for Communion

Thoughts in preparation for The Impact of Digital Communication on Civic Engagement at DPLA Fest.

A lot of my career has revolved around data and communications.

The first civic tech tool I ever made, in 1999,  was “KillerOnThe”, a dumb notification tool that let you know, via Wireless Application Protocol, if there was a person nearby who has killed one or more people and who may kill others. It was more performance art than anything, focused on the towering insufficiency of technology.

I helped make EveryBlock, an early experiment in neighborhood data, and at Smart Chicago I helped launch many tools, methods, and programs around data and people, including Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Smart Health Centers, Documenters, and

What I always want— what’s at the center of my work— is communion. I seek to use data and technology as a bonding agent for people— making a common set of principles, facts, and goals.

It’s not easy, and I have not succeeded.

The election of the current president— and the wide-ranging foreign intelligence operation that helped him win— is a good indication of failure. The tactics centered around  discord, and they were successful.

But if we choose— and I do— we can keep “right on going on /  a sort of human statement“, as Anne Sexton says.

Here’s thoughts:

Libraries are natural places of communion. Let’s do this.

Video of People Lining Up for the 10AM Buses for Chance the Rapper at #MCW2

Today my youngest child and 5 of his friends went to see #MCW2 by Chance the Rapper. By all accounts, it was a magical experience and it may soon be on Netflix. We walked them over to the secret bus location and I took a quick video. The shows seem to be over now, so I think it’s safe to post this video w/o giving anything.

I make a lot of personal documentaries like this. Here’s some more.