Displaying Children’s Artwork: It’s more important than you might think!

Like many other 3 year olds, Nate constantly gives me his artwork. He’s still not quite intentionally choosing what he wants to draw (i.e., he’s still pretty much in the “scribbling stage” and not quite in the “pre-schematic stage”, which children typically enter around this age), but he told me quite clearly, in his own way, that I’d better value those hundreds of pages of colorful scribbles and squiggles that he so generously bestows upon me.

A couple of months ago, he was hard at work creating “green designs” with a marker at the counter. “Here, I made you this” he’d say over and over, and pass me page after page as he finished them. Each paper had a large, loopy green scribble in the middle of it. I was busy making dinner at the time and piled the drawings on top of the fridge, safely out of our almost 1 year old’s destructive path. I thought nothing of it, and simply said “Thank you! Wow!” every time he handed me a page. Earlier this past week, months after he’d made these drawings for me, he got out of his car seat at preschool and asked, “Did you save all my green designs I made you while you were cooking? Where are they now?” Enter the horrible, wrenching pangs of mom-guilt. Did I? I didn’t know! I cannot possibly save every single piece of artwork he ever gives me! Our fridge is only so big! I answered “I’m sure they’re somewhere…we’ll look after school”…my horrible attempt to not lie…because everything is somewhere, right?! Fortunately for me, I’m a terrible housekeeper, and Nate’s drawings were still right on top of the fridge in a neat little pile, under a loaf of bread when we returned home. Bullet dodged.

This panic-inducing moment made me remember something important from my art ed student days about kids and art and what we do with their work: It’s important- really important- to show your children that you value their artwork. I’ve been waiting so long for Nate to draw me a person, the stereotypical giant, smiling head with arms and legs coming out of it that preschoolers and kindergarteners often draw, that I forgot to show him how much what he creates means to me. At preschool, he makes projects with teacher help, following their directions of where to cut and what colors to use so his paper duck will look like a duck. Of course, there’s value in what he does there, in learning to cut carefully, to glue, and to follow multi-step directions. But this is his work…made totally without anyone’s input but his own. And I need to give it more of my attention than just a pile on top of the fridge.

Here are some ideas, dug up from my days as an art teacher, of how to show your children that you value their artwork without having to save every single paper…

  • Create a gallery wall in your house with several 8.5×11 inch frames to hold your child’s artwork. Just like a real art gallery, change the exhibited work frequently. Have your child title his pieces.
  • Scan really important work at a high resolution (first self-portrait, first house drawing, etc.) and save them to your computer. Use an on-line photo service to have them printed on mugs. Use them for your morning coffee. How neat would it be to have a set of 6 coffee mugs with your child’s self portrait, drawn on his or her birthday, for 6 consecutive years?
  • Save larger drawings for your child to use to wrap gifts for friends and family members.
  • Create a “portfolio” for your child of important work using a 3 ring binder or bound scrapbook. Allow him to manage it, deciding what he wants to keep in it and what he doesn’t necessarily want to save.
  • Take digital photos of artwork you might not necessarily keep forever but want to remember. Offer to photograph him with his work. Keep the files in a desktop folder on your computer (and of course, back up the files periodically!).
  • Give your child chances to paint on canvas to make “real” wall art with acrylic paints. Don’t dictate what or how he should paint…just let him decide and display it. He can decide to paint over it later if he wants to change it!
  • Take a cue from Eric Carle or Lois Ehlert and inspire your artist to use his work in collages later.

How do you display your child’s art? I’d love to hear your ideas! 🙂

Nate, age 3, posing beside his work entitled “Circle with all different greens inside it”. 

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