Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Organizing Primary Music "Stuff"

I promised to tell you how I organize all the "stuff" that this Primary calling produces.

Years and years ago I learned a filing system in a Relief Society meeting. I am sorry that I can’t give proper credit to whomever it was that taught it to me. You should know that I didn’t think of this myself. I am not naturally organized! I am also not as careful as I should be to keep up with it, but the system works pretty well, even at a low level. I need to start by explaining the filing system and then show how I use the same system for my Primary music stuff.

The System


One of my file drawers is dedicated to gospel material designed for children. I have the usual alphabetized topical file folders which hold materials that I’ve used in family night and sharing time and in teaching classes over the years. Materials that are flat go into a folder that best represents the topic. If the item represents more than one topic, I write a note with a title or description as a cross-reference on the outside of these related file folders and these notes refer me to the original folder, where the material is actually filed. There is nothing unusual about a system of file folders, but this system integrates boxes as well.


Stories, flannel board figures and pictures are usually flat enough to be kept in a folder, but I have collected many materials that are too bulky for a folder. I use boxes for this type of material. I assign each box a letter code and label the box with this code. If I have a visual aid that is thick, over sized, or otherwise unsuitable for a folder, it gets a sticker with a coded number for a box. This acts as a location number for the item. Then it goes into the appropriate box. I write a note with the assigned number and a short description of the item on the outside of the topical folder to which the material would logically belong. This note acts to refer me to the proper box when I want to retrieve the item. The same material sometimes represents more than one topic. I can make a note of the location number on other topical folders as well. In this way, more than one folder can refer to the same item in a box.

How I Apply This System

I started with just one box, but now I use several lettered boxes. Some of them are smallish, and fit at the back of the file drawer.

Others are bigger and sit on top of the cabinet or on a shelf nearby.

Let’s use an example of a set of felt finger puppets that illustrate the story of Daniel in the lion’s den and one box labeled “A.” The puppets would be too bulky for the file folder, so I would place them together in a plastic baggie and label them “A-1.” Then, I would write a note on the outside of the “faith” folder. “A-1--finger puppets--Daniel and the Lions.” The puppets then get placed in the A box. While I’m at it, I may make an additional note about these puppets on the “prayer” file folder. The next item I acquire may be a flip-chart about tithing. This item would be labeled “A-2.” The note goes on the “tithing” folder and perhaps the “faith” folder as well and then the item goes into the A box along with the finger puppets. The next item, whatever it is, gets labeled “A-3" and the proper notes are made on the topical file folders. This process continues until the A box is full. When the A box is filled, I add a B box, and then additional consecutively lettered boxes.

A peek inside my B box

Notes on the file folder

If an item in a box is ever discarded, I simply make a note on the inside lid of the box. I can then re-use the space in that box with a new item, but I do not reuse the number. I use a new number, consecutive to the number on the last item I added to the box. Because I don’t reuse the number of the item that I discarded, I don’t have to delete all the notes on all the folders that referenced the item. I may not even remember which folders these are! If I am referred to a box and the material isn’t there, the note on the lid reminds me that I discarded it. If an item is missing from the box and there isn’t a note on the lid, I know that I didn’t put the material back where it belongs and it may be lost in a pile somewhere!!!

Other Boxes and Locations

The system nicely accommodates all kinds of materials. Oversized items get an O-number and go into an oversized box (labeled with the O code) somewhere near the file cabinet. Posters get a P-number and are stacked next to the file cabinet. Games, except music games, get a GM- number and go into a box dedicated to games and labeled with GM. Whatever the material, a coded number can be assigned and a reference note is made on the appropriate file folder(s). Because I know the codes of my boxes, I know where to look for the item.

Organizing Music Stuff

In the early days I had just one box for music items and anything that had something to do with music got a number that began with M and went into a box dedicated to music stuff. I didn’t actually number all my music aids. The baton, the microphone, the apron, etc. These general music aids just lived in the box with everything else. After many years of collecting music related teaching materials I’ve had to increase the number of boxes that hold it all. Thankfully, the basic system grows to accommodate any number of boxes and even locations other than boxes.

These are the boxes I have now. I like to use clear boxes because I’m a visual person. I think I am more creative when I can see what I have.

One box holds visual aids that are directly related to a particular song. These items are assigned a number (M-1, M-2, and so on.) That number is noted in my Children’s Song Book, next to the title of the song. As I prepare for singing time, I know right away if I have a visual aid for that particular song. If it is appropriate, I can also cross-reference my music items on any of the topical folders in my gospel file drawer. I might prepare a better sharing time if I know I have visual aids or a game for music. The following pictures show how simple this is.

The materials are stored together in a baggie or a page protector, but there is no other order in the box. This size of box doesn’t hold more than I can quickly sort through to find what I know is there. When I add an additional item, I assign the next consecutive number and add the notes to my songbook. I keep a set of numbered labels in the box to make the whole process easy and quick. This particular box holds about as much as I want to sort through. I will soon need to add another box for items directly related to song presentations. I could call that box M2 and begin labeling with M2-1, M2-2, etc. If I have song-related material that is oversized or a poster, it gets an O-numbered label or a P-numbered label and I store the item along with those similar items. That number and description is noted in my songbook just like smaller materials. Because of the code number, I know just where to look.

Another box holds musical items that relate to general song review activities and materials that I have prepared for choose and review. Currently items in this box don’t have numbers assigned. I have a master list of activities that I use for song review. When I make a musical aid to match an activity, I put the aid in this box and make a short descriptive note on my list. I also keep track of the theme-related activities that I have prepared as a choose and review on a master list. Many of these activities use pictures that just get re-filed or are temporary in other ways. But, if I’ve put any effort into making visuals, I put the aids in here. I may want to use them again sometime.

I am needing to split this box as well. When I do, I will assign one box for song review (SR) and one for choose and review (CR) and use consecutive numbers, like the rest of the system. The numbers and a short description of the item will be noted on my master lists next to the title of the activity.

Another box holds general music aids like the baton and the fancies, the pitch sticks, my wiggle worms, the bean bags, my aprons, rhythm sticks, the microphone, glove, bell, and so on. It also holds spill-over from the other box.

This small box holds the flat, cut and laminated pictures that I use to illustrate many of my singing time activities. These pictures are stored loosely in this box and when I need to find pictures, I just dump them out on my bed and paw through them until I find something that matches the ideas I have in my head. I talk a little more about pictures in this post.

No system is perfect, especially for someone like me. But this one works well, if I would just keep up with it. As my materials have increased over the years, I sometimes just put things in those last two general boxes. These boxes get mixed up regularly because none of the materials have location numbers. If I would split the materials into the categories I mentioned and assign boxes and numbers, it would all stay more organized. It may be easy enough to look through one box of stuff for what I know is there, but no one wants to sort through two or three boxes while her husband waits in the car!

My husband tells me that I have too much stuff. He is trying to teach me that I don’t need to save everything I make. It has taken me a long time to realize that he is probably right, but I still find it hard to discard things. For instance, I saved the roll and the sticks from the roller box activity I did in July, but I didn’t save the roller box itself. I will have to make that again if I re-use that activity. I’m learning that I often like to make new things anyway. I have more pioneer activities than I can use and I still made that roller box activity. Who knows what I will feel like doing this next year. So I can see his point. On the other hand, I don’t like to make the same things again and again! I’m conflicted. I really don’t have room for any more boxes of stuff!

I actually have purged many things from my boxes and files from the years before the Church asked us to use approved resources. I strongly encourage you to do the same. I have a testimony of following this counsel. I have only a couple of exceptions, and these I have saved until I can find pictures from approved resources to remake the activity.

Well, I hope this post made some sense and I hope that it helps someone. I have really struggled to explain this clearly. If it is confusing, please, please let me know and I’ll try to clarify. I can always do a better job of organizing my life, but this system has really helped me for many years now. If you have an organizing system, I’m sure we would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment or share a link!


matilda said...

This is great! You have more stuff than I do, but I hang on to things too. You might need them again.

Jenny in NC said...

I knew it. You ARE an overachiever! :)

Sounds like a great system. I've only collected about a box full of singing time stuff, but if I have this calling for as long as you have, I'll probably need your system sooner than later!

: ) Paula said...

Ooh--hundreds of great ideas! I found myself trying to move the items at the tops of your boxes so I could peek at the rest of your things. I'd love to see more pictures of your packaged activities.

I have an expanded file box I lug with me every week. But I don't think I open it often enough. If I stored everything like you do at home, that would make so much more sense. Thank you, Kathleen for this new (to me) idea. The great thing is that it doesn't look too hard to start a box for myself. I especially like that you wrote reference numbers in your songbook. I'm going to use that tip this week so I can start being better organized.

Kathleen said...

Me, an overachiever? Does it show? LOL. BTW, Paula - No need to peek under the top layer. I have a big part of these activities shown on the blog under individual posts. Mainly under the choose and review, reviewing songs, and music aids labels. I'm actually beginning to see the bottom of my box, so to speak, as far as showing my stuff. What will I write about then, I wonder.

Amber Omer said...

You are amazing! Thank you for sharing your method. Time to get me some boxes! :)

Mary-Rose said...

I haven't got my music stuff at all organized-- I'm hoping your system will inspire me! But I work with the costumes in our high school Show Choir, and we have developed an awesome filing system that I want to adapt for music. We have much the same idea as your boxes, but the contents of the boxes (big totes, actually)is all listed in a Word document on computer (stored on several computers). When we need something, we can use the "Find" button under "Edit" and search for it, then go to the right tote. I love letting the computer do the searching!

Kathleen said...

Thanks for the compliment Amber, I hope you can make this work for you.

See Mary Rose, I am still so old-fashioned that I don't even think about organizing with a computer! But that would really work wonderfully well! You would have to stay on top of it, as far as adding a description of the item, but computers are built for this very thing I guess. Thanks for this thought.

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