holding a child's artwork and wondering how to recycle it

"The World," by Drew, age 6

It’s a world that brings joy, but it will cause pain if handled without care. This world is made of a crayon-marked crumpled piece of paper gingerly held together by straight pins and a rubber band-as-equator. A hand-drawn American flag impaled by a toothpick marks the location of the creator’s home.

“My brother was making a globe in science class, so I wanted to make one too,” said six-year-old Drew about the inspiration for this piece when I interviewed him via his mother via e-mail.

His mother, my friend Barb, told me about this sweet creation and how she didn’t quite know what to do with it. On the one hand, it’s a moment in her son’s evolution of expression and creativity, yet on the other hand, it’s simply another piece of paper that needs managing. It requires decisions. It’s not flat like most of the other amazing creations that her two boys carry home from school on a weekly basis. She’s stymied by the constant influx of artwork that has no place to go, that piles up and disperses through the apartment, only to get buried by the next installments of art or incoming mail.

One of the most inherently organized individuals I know is overwhelmed. These items are precious, they are made by her children, and she wants to keep them all. What’s a parent to do? (It’s not like she can sign up to eliminate artwork like she can to reduce incoming junk mail.)

I assured Barb that she shares this quandary with every other parent I’ve met and, with the school year soon coming to a close, this is an optimal time to begin to put some parameters in place.

  • Set limits. Be realistic about how much artwork you can and are willing to store over time.
  • Designate one portfolio, folder, or (if space permits) box for each academic year for each child. Designate a shelf in a closet where these compilations will live…and grow!
  • Engage your children in the process of editing and curating their creations. What do they want to keep? Be sure to keep some of your favorites, too!
  • Repurpose some of your prolific artist’s 2-D pieces for wrapping paper or gifts. S/he can help you choose whose gift gets wrapped in which masterpiece!
  • Follow Barb’s lead (she beat me to my favorite suggestion!): “I actually just took the picture for posterity and – dare I say it – put the original in the circular file.”
  • When the school year resumes, consider having an inbox for collecting each child’s creations. At the end of each month or quarter, go through the pile together and determine what to save, what to photograph and recycle, what to recycle/toss, and what to recycle as a gift or giftwrap.

So, to recap, she had the whole world in her hand, and then she recycled it.