You have a budding artist—or two or three. The front of your fridge is plastered with images ranging from your 2-year-old’s first scribbles (on paper) to your kindergartner’s abstract macaroni cow to your second-grader’s ever-evolving and oh-so-prolific attempts at Dracula and his happy pet bats. You receive daily samples of your someday-famous artist’s prowess in mediums ranging from crayons to Cap’n Crunch—and the front of the fridge isn’t getting any bigger. What’s the best way to capture the best of the best and celebrate your child’s creativity without buying an extra refrigerator or renting a storage unit?
Create Guidelines for What to Keep
The beginning of the school year is a perfect time to establish ground rules for which, and how many, items and projects you will save. Involve your child in this process so you have his or her buy-in when the time comes to purge. I recommend saving between 10 and 15 pieces of artwork per year, perhaps a few more if your child is a truly gifted artist or absolutely loves to create.
Examples of items to keep are—
- Particularly fine work.
- Special projects.
- Projects and pictures that truly reflect or chronicle your child’s developmental stages.
Examples of items to let go are—
- Daily worksheets.
- Coloring book pages (unless they are masterfully done).
- Projects with food glued to them (like macaroni, beans, candy, etc.).
- 195 of your child’s two hundred pictures of his or her favorite subject.
Create an Incoming Container and Location
Use this container to hold all incoming art projects and pictures for the school year. Some basic containers are—
- Wall-mounted in boxes.
- Banker’s boxes.
- Plastic boxes (like Rubbermaid).
- Portable accordion files.
- Hanging file folders in your active paper system.
- Portable tubes for transporting “the big stuff.”
Place this container in an area of your home where you can actually access and use it. If you find that your child’s backpack is unloaded in the kitchen, place the container in the kitchen. If your home office is more conducive to short-term storage, place your container in the home office. You get the idea.
Decide How to Display and Store Projects
Displaying your child’s creative accomplishments is a fantastic way to enhance the creative process and celebrate his or her accomplishments. If the refrigerator display method is quickly losing its luster, consider some of these options:
- Store projects in plastic boxes. Plastic boxes are especially good for long-term storage and are one of the easiest ways to protect and preserve pictures and projects.
- Scan pictures and/or take pictures of projects and store them on CD.
- Create a screensaver of your child’s scanned photos and use it on your family computer.
- Create a portfolio in either an artist’s portfolio binder or 3-ring binder with page protectors.
- Hang pictures and projects with clothespins from yarn, wire, rope, or ribbon.
- Create greeting cards or postcards with favorite pictures. This is a great way to share with out-of-town friends and family. Simply take your favorite pieces to a copy store, scale the image down and have the cards printed on heavy cardstock or glossy photo paper.
- Create placemats. Mount a picture on a large piece of construction or colored paper and laminate or place the image between sheets of contact paper.
- Create a bound book with scanned pictures. Visit www.mypublisher.com or www.shutterfly.com for samples and pricing.
- Create postage stamps. Visit www.stamps.com for samples and pricing.
- Decoupage furniture, like a small night table or special chair, with some of your child’s best art.
- Create a rotating gallery or mural. Use several picture frames or mount pictures on heavy scrapbooking paper to create an art wall. Swap out pictures occasionally to keep the display fresh.
- Take pictures of over-sized or food-containing items rather than keeping the items themselves. Use the pictures in your child’s portfolio or display.
- Create a refrigerator art frame. Purchase or make a craft foam picture frame with your child, attach a magnet to the back, and let this frame act as the border for a fridge art display. By displaying one piece of art at a time in this frame, you have a better chance of your fridge staying relatively clear and can really showcase special art pieces.
Establish a System for Rotating and Purging
Set aside times (e.g. at winter break and/or at the end of the school year) to go through your child’s artwork. Don’t go through artwork too often or you and your child will have a harder time letting things go. Allowing yourself some time and distance will help you determine what is really worth saving. Winnow the collection down to pieces of which he or she is especially proud. Remember that if you save everything, nothing is special. Setting limits on the number of art items you keep is a great way to teach the value of keeping those things with greatest value.
Jennifer Farrington, president and CEO of Chicago Children’s Museum, reminds us that “Art is not a receipt of your child’s childhood. We as parents have to get over that” (quoted in “Easy Ways to Display and Save Kids’ Art” by Cindy Dampier of the Chicago Tribune). If my own experience is any reflection of yours, your kids may be a whole lot better at letting some of their things go than you are. If you absolutely MUST save things that your children are willing to let go, place those items in your own memorabilia rather than in theirs.
I hope that you and your children have a wonderful time putting together their art displays and celebrating their creativity!