Back to school brings a lot of things: early mornings, new schedules, homework, and… artwork. Especially for families with children in preschool and early elementary years, it seems like the artwork comes in at least once a day. What is the best way to manage it all? Here are a few tips.
Establish a gallery.
A gallery is an area of wall in your home where you will hang children’s artwork. It is nice to have this space because it makes kids feel proud and confident to see their work on display. Prime candidates include the wall of the family room, the playroom, the wall leading up or down a flight of stairs, and even the walls of a laundry room (where we spend a lot of time!).
Decide how you will attach artwork to the wall.
There are lots of options for hanging artwork, such as:
- Painter’s tape, in multiple colors if you want to add whimsy. Avoid using regular transparent tape or masking tape because these can damage the paint.
- Long boards with attached clips
- Magnetic walls made with sheet metal or magnetic paint
- Wire system (such as this one). The beauty of these is they accommodate art of all sizes quickly and easily.
- “Swap out” frames like these that allow you to open the front and add another piece on top.
Triage new arrivals.
When the artwork comes home, the first thing to do is spread it all out and talk about it with your child. Ask your child to tell you about each piece. This gives you a chance to gauge how much the piece means to your child, and to know what he/she was thinking of when it was created. This is also the moment to make a note on the back of what the child tells you about it, such as “This is Mommy in her party dress.” You may also wish to note the date.
If you like, this is a good time take a photo and upload it to an art storage app such as Artkive or Keepy. Apps such as these allow you to easily label and tag each piece for future reference. They also give you the option of emailing these photos directly from the app to a list of recipients (such as grandparents). The Keepy app allows you to record your child talking about the piece as well. This process can be handy for making photo books or other products in the future.
Move new arrivals to the gallery.
Any pieces your child seemed proud of are worthy of going to the gallery. Gather the pieces together and either hang them up right away or put them in a stack to be hung later when you have a free minute.
Relocate items coming out of the gallery.
Since gallery space is limited, there will be a need to create space for new arrivals fairly early on. Think of the gallery as a “one in, one out” kind of space. Some of the pieces of artwork coming out of the gallery will be “keepers,” masterpieces that you want to hold onto as memorabilia.
Good candidates for saving will be pieces that…
- You love
- Your child loves
- Are autographed
- Are self-portraits
- Are original creations
On the flip side, pieces that should probably go are those that are…
- Oversized (e.g. paint on newsprint)
- Made with food (food attracts bugs)
- More an assembly of pre-cut pieces than an original design
- Fragile/difficult to preserve (this is where photos come in handy)
- Scribbles that won’t have future emotional value
Move “keepers” to a storage location.
Sorting artwork should be quick and easy. Designate a spot where you can easily drop any artwork you keep. Be sure to choose a space that is convenient as otherwise you are likely to stack it up and end up with a big project. Consider:
- An open, large, plastic box under the bed
- A drawer in a nearby dresser (think one drawer per child)
- A bin in a closet or on a shelf in the mudroom/entry
- An oversized folio (either purchased, or made from two pieces of poster board taped together)
Maintain the routine the duration of the school year.
Don’t worry too much on a daily basis about whether you are keeping the right pieces. When in doubt, keep it. The goal is for this to be a quick sort, switch, and drop process that can be accomplished in a few minutes each day.
Sort the collection at the end of the school year.
At the end of the school year, set aside a couple of hours (per child) to dump out the year’s worth of “keeps.” This is your time to be a bit more picky about what you will keep, and it will be easier to do so now that you can see the year’s worth of creations. Sort the art into piles, putting similar pieces together. Then, go through each stack and pick the few best to keep. If your child has made 45 rainbow drawings because he was particularly into rainbows this year, you don’t need to keep them all. Select the two best rainbows and let the remainder go.
Place the keepers into a plastic/water safe box and put this box into remote storage. You won’t need to access this container for a while, so it can live in any space that is safe from the elements.
Digitize the collection.
Even with mindful culling, you may end up with a lot of artwork. Few young adults wish to tote a box of their childhood artwork around from apartment to apartment. One great option is to digitize the art, either by photographing or scanning it. [Note: if you took photos as the art came in, this step has already been completed.] You can then transfer the images to a thumb drive (label it!), and/or have them printed as a collection.
There is no hard and fast rule for how much artwork to keep, but a nice middle ground is to make one collection of preschool art and a second of elementary art.
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A child’s artistic creations are a treasure. Having a smooth system for circulating and saving them will allow you to enjoy them both now and in the future.
Do you have a favorite system for managing children’s artwork?