What to do with your kids’ art

What do you do with all the artwork your kids bring home from school? What happens with all the drawings, paintings and macaroni collages they also make — lovingly — for you at home? They’re so cute, but refrigerator doors can only hold so much!

My wife and I implement a simple process of editing, displaying and swapping that serves us well. It does take a little honesty and “tough love,” but it works out quite well.

Step One: Edit

In essence, these pieces of art tell a story. You can watch Jr.’s skills evolve, and notice what he notices in his daily life. This story, like any other, needs editing. Now that the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to sit down with the stack and identify the keepers and the rest. What does a keeper look like?

  1. A first. For example, we saved my daughter’s first attempt at drawing people who weren’t stick figures. I’m wearing an actual shirt! Other firsts might include a new home, new puppy in the family and so on.
  2. A beautiful piece of art. Every now and then they’ll knock your socks off with something that looks downright good. Those examples definitely go in the keep pile.
  3. Holiday Theme. As I’ll explain later, it’s nice to grab something to represent Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer or whatever you celebrate. Only one, though.
  4. Something Meaningful. Maybe you’ve got something that was made on a special trip, on a memorable occasion, or for a reason that has great significance to you and your family. Just be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you here or you may go overboard.

Step Two: Display

Now that you’ve identified the cream of the crop and eliminated a lot of clutter potential, it’s time to give the winners the respect and prominence they deserve. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Frame them. You can find inexpensive matted frames in various sizes at photo supply stores, craft stores and even the supermarket. They hang on the wall and really make that art look special. We’ve found that you can store three or four paintings or drawings in the frame behind the piece being displayed. So, we’ve got four frames that actually store 16 pieces of art. As the seasons (or our whims) change, we simply take the frame off the wall and rotate which piece is in front.
  2. Make a digital photo book. Shutterfly and Apple’s iPhoto will let you create beautiful hard-bound books of photos. You can snap photos of your children’s art and in a few steps have a beautiful coffee table book of their work. This is especially useful for items that might break like pottery or tree ornaments. These are also great to share with grandma, grandpa and other loved ones who don’t get to see your childrens’ art in person. Finally, here’s how to get great photos of objects at home on the cheap.
  3. Create a home gallery. This can be a lot of fun and gets the kids involved in the editing process. Pick one area of the house, perhaps a single wall, to be the art gallery. Avoid Jr.’s bedroom because you want this to be visible to all visitors. Have her select the pieces to be displayed. I love this idea of putting a frame around an office clip mounted to the wall. How easy to swap pieces in and out. When the gallery gets full, take a photo, then pull that “exhibit” down and begin replacing it with the next one.
  4. Re-use. That painting needn’t be a painting forever! You can turn it into a greeting card or laminate larger pieces and use them as place mats.

Step Three: Swap

When swapping out some pieces, consider sending them to far-flung family and friends. Chances are they’ll love having them.

More Ideas

Another option is Kids Art for the Cure. This organization takes donated artwork and puts them on greeting cards. Proceeds go to recognized cancer research organizations.

Or, consider Child’s Own Studio. This company builds actual stuffed dolls based on your child’s drawings.

What do you do or have you done with children’s artwork? Share your success stories in the comments.

19 Comments for “What to do with your kids’ art”

  1. posted by Mara on

    http://www.ikeahackers.net/2009/01/what-to-do-with-your-kids-artwork.html

    This link has a great idea for displaying kid’s art: one of those IKEA wire-curtain-rod systems. (It’s the second idea on the page). Hang it on the wall instead of over a window, and instead of their curtain panels, use the clips to display a wall’s-length of preschool art.

  2. Avatar of

    posted by figlet on

    I love the idea of making a photobook, since I worry that someday I won’t be able to access digital files.

    I keep everything in one box, and when the box gets full I edit what I’m saving. Sometimes there are hard choices, but usually there is so much stuff, I can find one piece that is representative of the others.

  3. posted by randomguru on

    Excellent idea! Thanks for the artice, and for laying out your entire process.

    I have my kids’ artwork ine boxes in the garage. Hopefully, I can salvage them in good condition and frame them.

  4. posted by Reid IS GREAT on

    What about these beauties?

    Li’l Davinci® Kid’s Art Frames http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B004FDG5GQ/associatizer-20/

  5. posted by Dana on

    I scanned artwork and handmade cards that a young friend made for me in her first 10 years and created a Shutterfly book. I ordered two copies, one for me, and one for my young friend for her 10th birthday (it was a hit!).

    Aside from a couple of special pieces, I no longer feel compelled to keep the rest of the physical copies.

  6. posted by Beth on

    I agree that keeping all your children’s art work isn’t necessary but I worry that we are going too far in the other direction when we talk about photographing it and throwing out the original. Now most of our children are not Picasso or Monet or any of the other famous painters but what if the only artwork around was a digital copy of what they did. Would they ever have become famous? A photograph is nice but……..

  7. posted by purpleBee on

    If there isn’t a spare wall but is a spare door, then an over the door rack would work as hanging space. This ladder style shoe rack could be used to hold quite a few little masterpieces http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0019FOUQ0/associatizer-20/

  8. posted by momofthree on

    I would actually write letters to far away friends and family on the backside!

    My mother in law loved getting some of the pre school artwork and the news from the family on the back.

    Other family giggled over my choice of “stationary” but, hey they got news from us unlike any other

  9. posted by Dede on

    When the kids were little, we used artwork as wallpaper on the large kitchen wall. It hid a less-than desirable wall let the kids see their progress each year. At the end of the year, the art came down and we kept the ones we really loved. That was 20+ years ago and we’ve tossed 97% of what we saved over the years. Scanning was not available back in the “old days”, but that’s what I would have done – and then sent it as stationary (LOVE that idea).

  10. posted by Karen on

    As the mother of 2 college kids and a high school senior, my advice would be to take a photo of your child holding the piece of art. I have boxes of art that are meaningless to me, but I have precious photos of them proudly holding their creations that melt my heart.

  11. posted by Jenn on

    I use a large binder and after sorting, put the artwork that will fit into it. You can flip through and see how much the artist and the artwork has evolved over the years. You can also use sleeves if there is glitter. I also do this with school memorabilia in a separate binder with grade tabs. I just game my college age daughter her book that went from preschool through high school graduation.

  12. posted by Erin on

    I love the stationary idea!

  13. posted by Lynn M on

    HP also offers beautiful hard-bound books of photos with the option of in-store pickups and online storage for sharing.
    http://www.snapfish.com

  14. posted by Rose on

    I’ve been using am app called artkive. It’s great and you can digitally store art under each child’s name.
    For art we do at home I buy cheap blocked canvas and I paint a solid base color then let the kids do whatever they want on top. They always look fantastic. I often do this as an activity at my kids birthday parties and then their guests can take their artwork home ready to hang on the wall.

  15. posted by Marcy on

    I made a photo book of my children’s art work through the years that I mixed in with photos of them from the same ages and even some school worksheets. I saved some of my favorite originals, but tossed a lot of it, especially the old school work. Love the book!

  16. posted by Tara Ziegmont on

    I also choose the best artwork, then hang it up in our house. I also photograph their best pieces and store those in my account on AboutOne.com. I can share the photos in AboutOne with others, so I’m able to send them to the grandparents and aunts really easily.

  17. posted by Andru on

    Kids are really angels on earth. I am a proud father of two kids, they are my life. From the day they were born they have given me nothing but happiness. I really don’t know what I would without them. They have this habit of making little knickknacks for me whenever they can and they are really precious for me. I keep them safe in my cupboard because I don’t want them getting spoiled.

  18. posted by Cheena on

    What an amazing thread of ideas! Why not also share all the beautiful masterpieces with us on littlesketchers.com! Each child gets a ‘studio space’, and the parents can cherish and preserve these virtual sketchbooks for ever…

    Do stop by!
    Thanks!

  19. posted by Niloufer on

    An idea. Most of the stuff I quietly throw away. But the really good ones, I scan and convert into next year’s calendar. It’s a real thrill for the kid to see it all reappear and for grandparents :)

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