Saturday, March 19, 2011

Keeping A Portfolio Of Your Child's Work

Readers who know me well, repeat after me, "This is in no way an authoritative how-to".

There are many reasons for keeping a portfolio of your child's work and there are many organizations that require such things before they will provide admittance or offer some kind of scholastic benefit to your family. Perhaps you would like to apply to a special school or see if your child qualifies for summer camps or retreats with exclusive requirements. Perhaps you are compiling a homeschool "what kiddo did" scrapbook. Or perhaps you just like to be prepared because face it, you usually realize you need such things only too late.

Please keep in mind that every portfolio must be driven by a purpose. When I get immersed in projects such as these, I am usually controlled by a momentum of thought and feeling that makes the result suited specifically to that one purpose. These are just thoughts to get you started and so may not be helpful unless you have a similar purpose in mind. Also, this is a guide for submitting a portfolio of work when your child is still young, umm...let's say 6 to 9 years old. I'm guessing that a portfolio for older kids will have different needs so I'll write a post for that when I get there.

I'm writing this from my very recent experience creating an achievement portfolio for kiddo. I will try to remember to update the post if I stumble across other ideas.


A box of memorabilia from kiddo's birth till now. His Book of Days is in the bottom right.
Helps to start early! I began keeping a record of the kiddo's development from the first weeks of his birth. Into it went the usual things: day and time of birth, measurements, overall temperament and a bunch of snapshots. His first year, I wrote what I called ______'s A Book of Days. I'd note little observations of what he did and said and what others said about him in a little journal, leaving out quite a lot of detail which in retrospect I wish I had included. But again, my purpose was to capture a brief record of his first year as a gift to him when he was older. Today, kiddo loves reading and re-reading this little book. It delights him to discover again and again the truth of his total tyrannical control over his besotted parents. Much of his second to fifth years failed to be recorded in writing due to life events and lack of time. But I faithfully updated his growth chart and took many photos of his learning milestones.

Sometime in 2008, kiddo turning six, I began keeping a little journal again. This time, the book was filled with milestones as well as observations of his interests, obsessions, inventions and so on. Developmental milestones sat side by side with a record of his rapidly developing observation/ thinking/ analyzing skills and other little achievements. I still regret not writing down enough but am thankful for what I had. Plus, I also started this blog. Both have been helpful as sources of information for an explanatory letter I am including in his achievement portfolio. Please keep in mind that I'm no scrapbooking expert and haven't thought in detail about using acid-free or archive-quality materials. So do carry out appropriate research on these if necessary.


Don't shred without checking! When hubby cautioned me years ago to hang on to the drawings, doodlings, cipher-like codes, etc. kiddo had produced, I scoffed. I hate clutter so off everything went into a recycle bin. Besides, we were moving thousands of miles within a limited budget. How could I find room for these? Yes, I am swearing at myself now. Hard. So keep all that you can. If you don't have time, find a box for it and just dump it in there, scribble a name on the box, lest you accidentally throw it away. Keep said box somewhere close or you won't remember to use it.

Date and organize. If your obsession for being organized runs deeper than boxes, use a 2-inch binder with sheet protectors or something similar. Date your kiddo's work (you won't remember otherwise when it happened, trust me). Use one binder a year or one every six months if you have a prolific producer of amazing talent. Organize electronically if closet space is limited. Take photos, rename the file to include event and date (e.g. ExplosiveDevice031209), save it in a folder with your child's name, organize folders by year if necessary, and always back up your files (again, just trust me). I once took a video of kiddo reading aloud from his chapter book at just over three years old and was so happy I'd been able to catch him doing it. I forgot to back it up and overwrote the memory card! I didn't have another opportunity that year.

Notebooks. Don't underestimate the value of notebooks and sketchbooks. There are many affordable notebooks, graph paper books, sketchbooks etc. out there. Let your child have as many as you can afford.

What to include? When you're putting aside work for a memory book or precious storage, anything goes. But when you start compiling meaningful work for an achievement portfolio, you want to look for work that's precocious or unusual for age. You want to ensure it's handwritten/ hand-drawn by the child when possible. You want to try to remember what made your kiddo produce it. So, apart from date, try to attach a short explanatory note too. Ask your child what made her do it. Take her explanation down in dictation if necessary. Your explanatory note is basically trying to explain your child's thought processes, her ability to analyze and synthesize information. Not just the "what" but also the "how" and "why" of her creation.

Often, work like this is produced as a result of free will or is delight-directed and is rarely assigned by an adult. There are exceptions of course. One of the sheets that went into kiddo's achievement portfolio was math homework assigned by his tutor. It was of obviously different quality from work I'd assigned a semester before and I wanted that difference to show.

Here're more ideas of what could be suitable to include:
  • copies of achievement test scores, standardized test scores, etc. and if you don't use such tests, perhaps chapter review tests from curricula she's completed could be helpful too
  • copies of any IQ test reports you may have -- we don't have these so I may not be the best person to advice here. If in doubt, call the people who will be assessing the achievement portfolio and ask them what they need.
  • depending on the situation, other anecdotes and observations you've recorded spontaneously about your child -- if you need to explain further, attach an explanatory letter. For example, frustrated about not finding suitable curricula options for my rapidly learning youngster, I'd scribbled a note to myself one day in that journal I'd started in 2008. I'd forgotten about this but when I flipped through the pages and found it, I remembered why I'd written it and felt it was ample evidence to show how challenging it has been to homeschool him.
  • it bears repeating...include videos and pictures -- pictures do paint many, many words. This is also especially useful when like me you have a kiddo who hates to write and won't "perform" for a planned video. So if you have a chance to capture a moment on tape when she isn't aware of it, do it! I keep my camera just next to the sofa where he does most of his written work. And again, don't forget to date and back-up the clips.
  • running list of ideas: baby milestones, comments about child from other parents, observations by school/ enrichment class teachers (if any), stories, doodles, artwork, crafts, poems, invention ideas, toys child made out of paper/ boxes/etc, puzzles created by and solved by your child, examples of handwriting and reading milestones, a list of hobbies, types of books (fiction and nonfiction) she reads, plays child has performed, songs she likes to sing and how quickly she memorized a script or lyrics, child's musical compositions. Again, I'll add to this if I have more ideas!
How much to include? This is a question only you can answer. There's only so much you can send by mail or email or interest someone long enough to explain to face-to-face. So all the more important to choose work that will grab attention and create a good first impression in the first 3 to 5 seconds of viewing it. You could perhaps consult a trusted friend to assess the portfolio before you send it. And unless you are on a strict submission deadline, it helps to spend a day or two compiling the portfolio and then taking a few days to let it "simmer" in the background. Giving yourself think-time might help you to remember to include something important you missed and help you decide if you should leave something else out.

Just as you would for a job interview, if you are submitting a portfolio, tailor the contents and your explanatory and cover letters to the situation. Keep it relevant to the purpose. And always make a copy of what you submit and keep it safe.

Good luck!

If you have experience compiling portfolios for your kids or have other ideas to contribute, please leave a comment. I'd love to learn more from you!


  1. Wow, you're very diligent indeed, Suji! I have my camera with me all the time to capture moments throughout our days. It's a very quick way to keep track of what we do. Your other suggestions are very useful too. Thanks for sharing your method.

  2. My son doesn't write much yet, and "art projects are few and far between. But I should be taking photos of him and LEGO creations, that's for sure! Thanks for the reminder.

    Oh - one little tip on naming computer files. If you put the date at the start of the title, in the order year, month, day, when you sort by "name" everything goes in chronological order very nicely. For example, today's awesomeness would be titled "110319_AwesomeStuff". Works nicely.

  3. I do a portfolio at the end of the year (ooops, except I didn't finish last years yet). It helps in our registration process, in showing others that he is progressing and also serves as a good reminder to me of what we've done.

    Thanks for the tips!

  4. Thanks AND you're welcome Neo. :) Yes, the faithful digital cam is my constant companion too as it takes both photos and video.

    Stephanie, that's such a neat tip. Thanks! I hadn't thought of naming the file that way at all.

    Excellent idea to do it yearly, Kerrie. I'm thankful that our charter has been doing a yearly portfolio as well but we don't get to see it or use it for our purposes.


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