Ask Deborah: Organizing your kids’ artwork

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Parent’s organizing questions to help role-model organizing to their kids!

dkawashima110BY DEBORAH KAWASHIMA, C.P.O.,

Q: “I have a preschooler and a kindergartener and I feel like I’m drowning in all the artwork they bring home from school each day. I feel guilty if  I just throw it away but I can’t keep everything they make. What do I do with all of this? Can you please give me some direction and ideas on what to do and how to organize their artwork. Thanks!” Mother of a 3 year old girl and a 6 year old boy.


A: We’ve all been through this. After the first few weeks of, “Oh how beautiful!” and seeing those beaming eyes looking up at you as they present their masterpiece of the day, it starts to become less enchanting. Your smile wanes as you think to yourself, “What am I going to do with this?” waiting for the perfect moment to toss it out and hope they don’t ask for it, or worst, find it in the trash, crushing their creative little hearts! Putting it in perspective, kids art is all about the process. The final artwork they produce is all bout “Look what I created!” You want to honor that process and embrace it, but at the same time help them discover that not everything we create is worth keeping for the long term. What you need is an artwork routine. A place to put the new art on display, and then a routine that replaces the old art with the new and a system for storing what they want to keep for the long term.  Take the time to set this up and save a lot of stress on your part and unwanted tears on theirs. After all, I’m sure the masters didn’t love everything they created either!

Displaying their Artwork: When they come home each day, have a place to put their artwork; from the large paintings, to the smaller drawings to all those 3-D sculptures and arts & crafts pieces. Decide as a family (ie your spouse) where it is okay to display the artwork. Choose your battles and honor it if your spouse does not want kids artwork mixed into the décor. Weather it’s displayed in the entrance hallway or the kitchen or in the kids bedroom is not as important as the fact that they are displayed.

Flat Artwork: Make it inviting and wall friendly. You can use a rope and clothespins to string them across a wall or area. This is great for large paintings or arts& craft pieces. Using one of those frames that rotate artwork is fine if they are producing something within the size range (these kind of frames usually hold about 30 pieces of 9” x 10” artwork. Found at Michaels or on-line.) Taping it straight on the wall is an option, but avoid masking tape and instead use painter tape which removes easily. Take the time to individually frame the artwork you and your kids really love! Have all frames be similar for a nice presentation.(all frames black in different styles… or all the same style in different colors.)

3-D Artwork: Dedicate one shelf in a bookcase that can be used for displaying all the arts& craft pieces that can’t be hung. Mix it up with framed photos if you like. This can also go for all those Lego and Binonicle creations! Anything they make that’s 3-D.

The Artwork Routine: Decide how long the artwork is going to be displayed for. A week? A month? It all depends on how often new artwork comes in. By defining a set space for the artwork, you are now limiting what can be displayed and making it necessary to rotate the old with the new! Easy peasy as a 3 year old would say! Of course the hard part comes next, because as the new artwork is displayed, you need to decide what to do with the old artwork.

Rules for Tossing/Keeping Artwork: Not everything we create is worth keeping and the sooner kids learn this the better. This is a great life skill for them to practice, sooner rather than later! Have them sort through it with you, so they are the ones tossing it, not you! Here are a few rules.

RULE 1: If it has anything pasted on  it (beads, macaroni etc.) toss it. You only want to keep what will preserve well over the years. You can always take a photo of it to keep for memorabilia.

RULE 2: If the content of their artwork has meaning to them, then keep it; a self portrait, a picture of their new little brother, or a special place for them. When they bring artwork home, have them tell you about it. Say “Tell me about this” instead of asking, “What is it?”

RULE 3: Keep their best artwork. If they have hundreds of drawings of cats, keep the best one. If it’s a 3-D object take pictures of it or see if you can use it in a practical way. (as a pencil holder, storing hair clips etc. )

Storing their Artwork: Once you sorted through what to keep you need a place to store it. Get one of those cardboard art portfolios at art supply stores. Make sure it’s large enough to hold a poster board size to make room for school projects as well. Have a box or bin for the 3-D artwork you want to keep. When it gets full, make room for the new ones to keep. When the kids graduate from elementary school, you can have fun going through this with them to decide what to really keep now and what can be tossed. It’s a process, because in the end you want to ask yourself, “Is this something I want to see 5 to 10 years from now? What memories will it hold for you?” Usually saving artwork is more for you then the kids. But later they will appreciate it. Or their future spouses!

What you are role-modeling to your kids is that what they create has value. You are honoring their work, but also saying not everything is worth keeping. In the end, the creative process is about the doing, more than the end result. The lesson for them to take away from this is the process of sorting through things and making decisions about something that is important to them; their own creations. You are giving them the skills to decide what to keep or toss, a process they will be going through many times in their lives. The more practice they have with this, the easier it becomes! Easy peasy! Also, by involving them in this process you are role-modeling to them that their opinion matters, and in turn they matter. Because they do! As every parent knows, our kids are our most valuable creations!

Deborah Kawashima, C.P.O. a certified professional organizer, founded her company, Creative Organizer in 2004 after working in the fashion industry as a children’s wear designer. Growing up her parents owned Montessori schools, this natural sense of order influences her approach to organizing, Deborah specializes in working with parents and their kids, focusing on helping parents role model organizational and time management skills to their children. In addition to working with her clients, she is currently a life skills instructor at UCLA extension Pathway, a unique program for college age students who are developmentally challenged (autism, Asperger’s Disorder etc.).

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • LIsa

    During the pre-school years, we got so many flat pieces of art per week, we ran out of places to put it. We started using it as wrapping paper after it had had it’s moment in the sun. Everyone who got those packages loved them, so we recycled, and we spread the fun.

  • Jackie Houchin

    Excellent ideas, Deborah. I like that the kids help decide what to keep, especially ones that have meaning for them. (Of course there are those which are special to Mom too, for various reasons.) I’d add, that for artwork that will probably be kept to add the date somewhere. This helps years later – especially for those “spouses” who will see them – to appreciate them better.
    I also liked Lisa’s idea to use the larger drawings as gift wrap.

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