Today I filched a couple of pieces of junk mail out of the wastepaper basket to preserve some lucious pictures of oranges on them for my picture file. Mine, which is only of about two years' vintage, is but a pale shadow of the one my mother kept for decades, but I hope by the time D1 reaches the cutting-and-pasting stage to have a respectable accummulation.
Why keep a picture file?
Why keep a picture file when one can bring up a picture of anything on Google in a few minutes? Starting with the more pragmatic reasons, one's own picture file is already prescreened for suitability and possibly presorted. Printing a picture off the internet is unlikely to give you the lucious full-color glossy pictures you can get in the mail, and it costs you, whereas junk mail and old magazines are free. More vaguely, sorting through a set of pictures with one's hands provides a very different–and I think better–mental experience than clicking through screen after screen of them.
Where do you get the pictures?
The most obvious source is old magazines. You'll soon learn that it's easy to get tons of pictures of cars, home interiors, and people standing stiffly in nice clothing. Then you'll learn to be selective, and only pick those that stand out as unusually entertaining or thought-provoking. Pictures of people smiling are a dime a dozen. Pictures of people yelling into the phone are a little harder to come by.
Business magazines (like Forbes) might not be the first source you think of, but they are a great source for unusual pictures, especially illustrating more abstract concepts.
(Where do you get all these old magazines? If you don't have your own personal stash, ask relatives, the doctor's office, and the library if you can have any when they're done with them.)
Old books whose bindings have disintegrated can be great sources for pictures, whether your family is personally responsible for the disintegration, or you get a great deal on a pre-disintegrated one at a yard sale.
For Bible pictures, and endless sappy pictures of children being Helpers and Kind, old Sunday School material is handy. Most churches have quite a bit of surplus that they'll purge from time to time.
Don't overlook the junk mail!
How do you store them?
I find devoting a file cabinet drawer or two and sorting them into hanging folders is easiest. Right now I only have a few categories: People, Animals, Objects, Places, and Concepts. Mom had a lot more: Bible-Old, New, and General; People-Foreign; Children-Happy, Sad/Sick, Bad; Food; etc.
Another possibility would be large manila envelopes in a box. Whatever you do, label the categories plainly on the outside or it will be way too much trouble to file them in the right slot. Putting them away would be a great beginning project in learning to file, which out to be an essential part of any education.
You might find you have a lot of pictures that would be fun to cut up but aren't special enough to file. You might also find you have children who are very fond of projects involving scissors and paste. In that case, you might want to keep a generic dump box that the kids can go through at will, while you save the better pictures for school projects.
What can you do with them?
Sure you could buy a lot of these things already done, but there is nothing like making things for yourself, both for learning value and saving money.
Alphabet book or counting book. (The “dump box” would probably provide ample pictures for this one, and a thousand other preschool uses.)
Sorting and classifying: Happy people over here, sad people over there. Grownups here, children there. Any other categories the children can think of. When you study biology, get out the animal and plant pictures and classify them in the right kingdom, phylum, class, and so forth.
Scripture memory book. I can still picture the illustrations for Psalm 23, Psalm 24, and Proverbs 31; more important, I can still remember the verses. Mom put these in old sticky photo albums–the kind that will eat regular pictures. They worked great for this.
Illustrated songs for group singing. By cutting the tabs off file folders and stapling a few together, you can have a nice, sturdy book to put the pictures and words on.
Vocabulary cards. We always had vocabulary words we studied as a family, and the pictures put words like “irascible” and “ardent” within the reach of the younger children.
Prompts for writing. Paste one on the top of a page, then have the student write a paragraph about it. Personally, I hated this technique and did some of my worse writing ever under it, but I pass it along in case there are those out there who like it.
Illustrations to jazz up your notebooks/lap books/mini books/reports or whatever way it is you record things you have studied.
Collages to illustrate a concept or poem. I never was too inspired by this, either, but I notice a lot of school teachers seem to like it.
And much, much more–a few minutes here and there will provide you with a never-ending free source of material for projects for people of all ages.