3 Useful Back to School Projects (That Actually Look Good Too)

By Brittni • posted on 11/08/2023

Back to school ideas that kids (and parents) will love.

Kid's modern and minimal bedroom with basket full of stuffed animals and shelves with books, toys, and storage

Back to school projects anyone? Schools are already starting back up and I had a few back to school projects that I’ve been dying to share.

Partly because they’ll truly work for any time of year, whether it’s back to school month or not. And partly because one of the projects became a good excuse for buying a new power tool and I am now completely obsessed with my jigsaw!

Don’t worry though – if you’re not into power tools, there’s some simpler projects as well that are perfect for anyone wanting to get organized – adults and kiddos alike.

Here’s what I made: fabric covered organizational boxes (from recycled shoe boxes), DIY stenciled notebooks, and (my fave) a wood arch wall organizer that both kids and adults will love.

Click through for all 3 cool/ modern back to school projects.

3 Unique and Useful Back to School Projects

You might remember that I’ve used this same brand of stencils and paints many time before – most recently from my tutorial for how to paint on glass when I painted a set of color blocked glass vases, as well as my DIY fabric gift wrap project from over the holidays.

That’s one of the things I like most about these products… you can use them on so many different surfaces.

Which really helps cuts down on the clutter in my craft room (and you know I need help in that department).

You can use Martha Stewart’s Family Friendly Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic on glass, wood, canvas, metal, terra cotta, paper, and fabric. And the same is true for the stencils – they can be used on many surfaces and they’re washable and reusable as well. S

So, with these different use cases in mind, I wanted to show you three cool / modern back to school projects today, each using a different surface material to show how these supplies really work.

Here we go…

Shelf in kid's room with neutral colors and simple fabric covered storage boxes and notebooks

step instructions for covering an old shoe box with fabric for storage

1) How to Make Fabric Covered Organizational Boxes

One thing I’m learning with having a kid, even as young as Hayes currently in, there’s no lack of ‘stuff’ hanging around the house to keep him entertained.

And as he gets older, and goes to school, I imagine the clutter is only going to get worse – with pencils, scissors, notebooks, erasers, crayons, homework, etc.

So, I made these stenciled fabric storage boxes from old shoe boxes hanging out in my closet  to tame the small toys in Hayes’ room now, that are perfect for older kids going back to school…or just need a little boost in the organizing department. 

They’re super budget-friendly and look amazing when they’re done. You’d never know they were once shoe boxes, would you?

Materials for DIY Fabric Covered Boxes

  • Martha Stewart stencils (I used the cloud from the Weather and Forecast stencil)
  • daubers
  • acrylic paint
  • cardboard shoebox
  • plain fabric yardage (I used linen)
  • scissors
  • glue gun

Step 1: Start by cutting the fabric down to size.

Start by cutting out a piece of fabric that will wrap the lid of your shoe box and a piece that will wrap the bottom of the shoe box.

I just used the lid and box bottom as a guide and wrapped the fabric around to make sure it would be large enough before cutting.

This will be a different dimension for every shoe box, which is why I’m not giving exact dimensions. Iron fabric if needed, before moving onto step 2.

Step 2: Get your stencil ready.

Once the fabric pieces are cut, it’s time to stencil the pattern onto the fabric. I used the two large clouds stencils to create an overall pattern with acrylic paint (in deep sea blue).

For the adhesive paper stencils like mine, you remove the stencil from the backing, place the stencil on the fabric surface, and push down all the way around to ensure its adhered to the surface really well before painting.

Step 3: Time to paint.

Then pour a small amount of paint onto a paper plate and load the paint (sparingly) onto your dauber, or pouncer. 

Personally, I like using the daubers best, but the foam pouncers come in larger sizes, so they’re a good option too.

It’s important to dab off the excess paint before tapping or pouncing a thin layer of paint over the the stencil, onto the fabric. Then, pull the stencil away (carefully) to reveal the finished shape.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2  and 3.

Repeat this process from steps 2 and 3 until both pieces of fabric (lid fabric and bottom of box fabric) are both covered in clouds (or whatever stencil you choose).

Let the fabric dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Step 5: Covering the boxes in fabric.

Flip the fabric over, so the good side of the lid fabric is facing down. Then center the lid as shown in the photo on top of the fabric. 

Start by pulling and glueing the long sides of the fabric to the underneath of  the lid. Just a few lines of glue on the inner lip of the lid are all you need.

Then highly pull the fabric over and attach.

Then you’ll wrap the sides of the lid in a similar way. I did a hospital corner method for making clean looking / finished corners.

And then added glue to the inside lip again before gluing down.

Cut any excess fabric if necessary and add a final finishing fabric panel if desired. I decided to keep mine simple and did not add a finishing panel to the inside since it will likely be used for somewhat messy supplies anyway, like crayons and colored pencils.

Now, repeat those steps for the bottom of the shoe box with the larger piece of fabric and you’re all set.

Stack of colorful notebooks with a blue snake design on top and red pencil next to it

Step by step instructions for stenciling notebooks with a snake design

2) How to Make Stenciled Notebooks

If the other two projects feel intimidating at all, this one is the easiest of the bunch! So simple.

Though I do promise that all three DIYs really are pretty straightforward to tackle. 

Here’s how…

Materials for DIY Stenciled Notebooks

Step 1: Choose your stencil and apply to surface.

Just like the other projects, remove the stencil from the adhesive backing, place the stencil on the surface, and push down all the way around.

Step 2: Apply paint with dauber.

Use a dauber to pounce the paint over the stencil and onto your notebook.

Pull the stencil away when finished and wait for the paint to dry before using the stencil again on another area of the notebook if desired. 

Wait for the paint to dry before using.

Black arch chalkboard DIY with wooden shelf and hooks at the bottom for hats and artwork

Instructions for making an arch shaped wall organizer that is also a chalkboard

3) How to Make an Arch Wall Organizer

This is probably my favorite back to school project because it’s so cute but ALSO very functional.

I love places where I can leave reminders / notes to my self and keep paper organized all in one spot. So why not have something like that for kids, right?

This back to school wall organizer is perfect for keeping kids homework and backpack handy (so it never gets lost again( along with a spot for notes, doodles, whatever.

A space for creativity and functionality. Here’s how to make an arched wall organizer like mine.

Materials for DIY Arch Wall Organizer

  • Martha Stewart stencils (I used the stars from the Weather and Forecast stencil)
  • daubers
  • acrylic paint
  • paint brushes
  • piece of inexpensive wood or common board*
  • small piece of wood for shelf*
  • string and pencil
  • jigsaw, sander, and drill
  • 2 small L brackets (mine are 1 inch) and screws
  • decorative hook (mine is a wood ball hook)
  • clipboard clip

*I bought a piece of common board that is 1 inch thick x 12 inch wide x 4 ft long for under $8 and then cut it down. And I also bought a small, nicer piece of oak (because it was not painted) for the shelf that was 1/2 inch thick x 3 inches wide x 3 ft long for $5. You could technically use the scraps from the common board for the shelf though, if desired.

Step 1: Create an arch with a pencil and string.

Start by using a string and pencil to create an arch toward the end of  the piece of larger wood.

This is the basic method I used, I just didn’t complete the circle – only created the arch.

Step 2: Cut down and sand the wood to create an arch shape.

Then use a jigsaw to cut the arch away from the end of a piece of wood using the pencil line as a guide.

Then cut the bottom of the board down to size as well, based on your desired height. I cut mine down so the final height would be roughly 18 inches tall.

Use a sander to sand any edges that need to be smoothed or evened out after using the jigsaw.

I gave the entire board a quick sanding (even the sides) to prep for paint. Then wipe any debris off with a clean cloth.

*This would also be a good time to determine the front and back of the board as well and create a hole toward the top center of the back that a sturdy screw can rest in when it goes on the wall. I used a spade drill bit for this.

Step 3: Cut the small shelf down to size.

Next, cut down the smaller piece of wood, which will be used for the shelf.

If you’re following the dimensions I used, the board should be 12 inches long to match the 12 inch width of the arch board. Again, sand if necessary.

Step 4: Paint the arch with chalkboard paint.

Paint the front and sides of the arch board with chalkboard paint.

If you are using a chalkboard paint that is a paint and primer in one, there is no need to prime. Otherwise, you’ll first want to use a primer, then add the chalkboard paint. 

Wait for the paint to dry and apply another coat if needed.

Step 5: Stencil and paint pattern.

Now it’s time to stencil!

Using a portion of the star stencil from the Weather and Forecast stencil, remove the adhesive backing. Put the stencil wherever you’d like to use it on the arch. I went with just a simple addition toward the top.

I wanted it to look like a doodle or drawing, so I went with Martha Stewart’s Family Friendly Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic in Snowball. The white kinda looks like chalk on the chalkboard surface, right?

Use a dauber to pounce the paint over the stencil and pull the stencil away when finished. Super easy!

For more complicated patterns, wait for the paint to dry before using the stencil again on another area that may overlap, if desired.

Step 6: Assemble / attach the final pieces: shelf, hook, and clip.

Once the paint is dry, it’s time to assemble the final pieces.

Determine where you want the shelf height to be (mine was secured 5.5 inches from the bottom) and secure to the arch using small L brackets and screws.

Next, secure the decorative hook and clipboard clip.

I used screws for each of these as well to make sure they’re super secure. And then it’s ready to hang!

Stack of colorful notebooks with dinosaur stencil design on it and a red pencil on top

Fabric covered storage boxes on wood tabletop surface with paint and stencil materials nearby

Arch shaped chalkboard wall organizer hanging on white wall with kids hat, artwork, and art supplies on wooden shelf

Stacked set of notebooks in bold colors, with a snake design on top

Neutral modern kid's room with wall organizer, basket of stuffed animals and minimal wood storage shelf

Looking for more DIY back to school ideas?

I hope you enjoyed these back to school project ideas. Maybe it will inspire you to create something of your own, for your kiddos.

6 comments | Click here to reply

Your work gives immensely positive energy!! Good Job


Oooooo those boxes are SO cute! These will definitely going on my to do list, the clouds are so dreamy, perfect for dreaming of new plans 🙂


OMG! A large version would be awesome for an entryway, Cat. Now I want to make another one. Haha.


I want to make a large version of the arched chalkboard for our entryway! What a cute project


Thanks Paige!


These are all such fun ideas!


Paige Cassandra Flamm
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