So when one of my readers asked me what to do with the ‘mountain of artwork’ his kids were bringing home, it really struck a chord.
After surveying friends, family, my own bookshelf, and the internet in general, I came to a few conclusions I’d like to share!
The first thing I noticed was that when it comes to kids’ artwork, ‘what to save and how to save it’ is a universal dilemma for everyone with kids.
Realistically, you can’t keep it all.
But as any parent will tell you, a child’s artwork offers a priceless glimpse into a specific stage of their development, bringing with it a flood of memories and emotions. Artwork that’s discarded can never be replaced, so not saving it is not a good option either.
Even if you had the space to save everything your child ever made, storing a large amount of artwork suggests that it would be packed away in boxes or folders…. in which case it’s not being enjoyed and appreciated. You should also consider that the pigments used in your child’s artwork are probably not permanent. Imagine your dismay after pulling out a piece of art you had saved for 20 years, only to discover the paper had yellowed and colors had completely faded! (This actually happened to me – insert sad face here!)
So, if you can’t keep it all, what do you keep and how do you decide? Most parents I surveyed have boxes, tubs, or portfolios of ‘memorabilia’ saved for each child, which included some of what they felt was their child’s best artwork. But because they’re just storing it for some future time, they’re missing out on enjoying it now. And the work that ‘didn’t make the cut’ is lost forever.
Thankfully, there is a solution! Before you do anything else, take a digital photo of each piece of your child’s artwork. If possible, get a photo of your child with their art, too. A video of your child talking about their artwork would be priceless one day! Consider saving these photos and videos with notes about the date each piece was created (and any other information you can add) in Evernote. Check out the Keepy App, too, where you can even record video compliments from family members. Years from now you’ll be glad you took a few extra minutes to record and preserve those memories!
Then, once you have digital photos of everything, involve your child in the decision about which originals to keep. Sharon McGinnis, author of the “10 Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Home Quickly”, says, “Teaching your child that they can’t keep everything forever helps them learn basic decision-making and organizing principles at a young age.” Encourage your child to help you choose favorite pieces of art to use and display in unique ways. One criteria for choosing what to save could be the originality involved in creating their art. Projects that had obvious adult help or were overly similar to every other student’s work are less likely to reflect your child’s unique perspective and ability.
One of my favorite tips is from the best selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. She suggests that you save “only things that spark joy”. When my son was four, he used markers to draw faces on small rocks which he named “Rock Babies” and sold at a lemonade-style stand in front of our house. I of course bought up everything that was left un-sold when he lost interest a few weeks later. For years I’ve kept those Rock Babies in a drawer where I see them often, and I’m immediately taken back to that precious stage of his childhood. They “spark joy” every time! Our daughter’s pencil drawing of her favorite stuffed animal is framed and hanging in her old bedroom…. another example that ‘sparks joy’ and rekindles cherished memories!
After taking photos, here are a few more ways you can enjoy your child’s art originals:
- Frame your favorites to hang in your home. This doesn’t have to be expensive – you can do a lot with ready-made frames. Large pieces can be framed with inexpensive poster frames. Or, go all out and have some special pieces professionally framed. Just make sure you hang artwork where it won’t be exposed to direct sun, which causes colors to fade more quickly.
- Use your child’s seasonally themed artwork when decorating for holidays. Many people mentioned saving ornaments their child made or having their artwork printed on an ornament.
- Laminate your child’s art and make placemats with it.
- Make a collage of small drawings that relate to a specific theme or phase that your child was immersed in, like drawing horses or designing race cars.
- 3D pieces can be used throughout your home. I like to display small ceramic sculptures in my houseplants, and larger ceramic pieces out in the garden. Ceramic cups make perfect holders for pens, paperclips, or toothbrushes. Bowls and plates are great for jewelry or coins.
- Explore other creative ways to use your child’s art, but make sure you take pictures first!
Now use the photos you took of your child’s 2D and 3D art to make a super space-efficient digital photo book. This was by far the most popular response to my question about saving kids’ art. Nearly everyone wanted a record of their child’s art in a printed hardcover book and also said that they would love to have a book like that with their own artwork from childhood, too. This is easy to do with today’s technology, yet surprisingly few of those who told me this had taken any steps toward accomplishing it! As with most projects that seem daunting, having a plan and getting started is half the battle.
If your children are young, make a habit of taking photos and videos each time they bring new artwork home. Almost as important as taking photos is making sure you tag or label the photos with your child’s name, grade or year, and the word “art”. This way a quick search is all you need to gather them in one place. If you’re doing this years later (like me) and have no idea what year your child made something or any of the details surrounding it, try asking them. You might be surprised by the things they remember. Most of all, just start taking the photos!
Hard cover photo books printed with your child’s artwork are easier to make than you might think. If you’ve never made one, I encourage you to try it! Websites like Shutterfly, Snapfish, Mix Book, Picaboo, and of course, Apple (directly through your iPhoto or Photos app), will walk you through the process step by step and include helpful templates, backgrounds, and more to make the process quick and easy. Even retail stores like Costco, Walgreens, and CVS offer professional quality photo books. If your child is prolific, consider making a “Volume 1” and “Volume 2”!
Once you have your digital photos, you can also order all kinds of other products (in addition to books) printed with your child’s artwork from sites like Original Works, Square 1 Art, Artkive, Plum Print and Artsonia (an online gallery of student art). Most of these sites also offer fundraising opportunities when orders are placed through your child’s school or organization. Kids Kreations (my personal favorite) gives you a preview of your child’s art on each of their products so you can see what it will look like before you order.
In researching this post, I wondered if a child’s artwork would be important to the child years later, or was this really just a ‘parent thing’? I was surprised to learn that most parents wish they still had some of their own childhood artwork to share with their kids and grandkids. And while they may not be eager to take it with them when they leave home, adult children really do enjoy seeing their art displayed at their parents’ house. Seeing the progression of their own artistic skill seems to become more meaningful to children as they grow up and have kids of their own!