Christine Park

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kids' Artwork: to Treasure or Trash?

So the other day... TVNewsMom... under the cover of darkness, grabbed a stack of papers off her nightstand... and furtively threw them in the trash can. Immediately, the guilt crept in... but was quickly pushed back. Better to be a little heartless than a hoarder.

So goes the daily inner battle of a mom who appreciates her child, the budding artist, but appreciates a tidy house even more. Apparently I am not alone. In fact, the dilemma has so permeated popular culture that the New York Times had to weigh in, in an article titled, "When Children's Art Takes Over the Home."

In it, a 36-year-old mother of a prolific preschooler says, "I do think my kids are awesome. I tell them how great they are. But we’re not going to build an addition on the back for every piece of crayon art they’ve ever done.” Another mom, an artist herself, describes how her daughter's artwork is taking over the home, "Some 20 paper grocery bags full of Josie’s art already occupy the storage room, the basement and the closet." I'm assuming, much like at our house, the coveted surface of the refrigerator is already full?

TVNewsMom is fairly new to this... Syd's only been in preschool for a year-and-a-half, and when she "graduated" last year, I sorted through everything, and saved one box of her most impressive work. But lately she's amped up her production levels. I mean, like at least 5 drawings a day. With each, she lovingly declares, "This is for you, mom, because I love you! I'm putting it next to your bed so you can see it every time you wake up!" Day after day, the little pile grows, pages of stick figures, upside down houses, and a rainbow of oddly shaped flowers... all evidence of her undying devotion to me and her crayons.

Somebody help! Apparently there's an entire book devoted to this topic. Dr. David Burton's Exhibiting Student Art. While this guide is aimed mostly at teachers, the author has some tips. He says, store the artwork in two boxes. One is a temporary file, the other, more of a permanent vault. Each piece can include a makeshift museum card. Write the title of the piece, the age of the artist and the date. He says to involve the child in the decision-making process.

Other moms swear the digital age has solved this dilemma. They either scan or take pictures of their child's pieces and create digital photo scrapbooks to document their kid's creativity. But I don't know if a photograph can quite transport you back to these tender times, like the smell and feel of the original can. The crooked lines, the imperfect cuts, the texture of too much glue.

What say you? Are you a keeper or a chucker? And how do you justify it? I take comfort in the fact that this is just a phase... but once she's in elementary school and the artwork subsides... then come the report cards, book reports, and school projects. And as I recall, those are a lot bigger than just a piece of construction paper covered in glitter. But at least they're a lot cleaner!

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