What really happens with the artwork that comes home from preschool


Like many a proud preschool mama, I receive backpacks full of exquisite art projects on a weekly basis.  The mediums range from finger paint on construction paper to colored shaving cream on tin foil; and the subject matter spans ‘my family’ to ‘the dead raccoon I saw on Highway 80’.

While I enjoy looking at each masterpiece and hearing about my child’s creative experience, I would be lying if I said I treasured each picture.  My pants would be alight if I even said I cherished half of what is brought home.  And because I am the opposite of a packrat (an unpacked mouse? An empty cat?), I live for getting rid of extraneous clutter.  Therefore a significant percentage of the artwork has got to go.

My directive for what to keep and what to toss is fairly clear. Creations that are meaningful get saved. This includes:

1) Pieces where my child writes his name semi-legibly for the first time 

2) Pictures with a descriptive quote, such as ‘this is me and my mommy baking cookies. My mommy is so pretty’.

3) Self –portraits, especially if they include the belly button.  (I am a sucker for belly buttons.  I am starting a letter-writing campaign to get it included in the head-shoulders-knees-and toes song.)

Things that get thrown out largely include that which my child can’t remember making.  ‘What’s this a picture of, sweetie?’  ‘Um, an anteater. No, wait, maybe it’s Grandma. I don’t know.’

Projects with quotes that paint me in an unflattering light are definitely garbage bound.  ‘This is me crying because my mom ate all the cookies we baked’.  If this picture includes a belly button then I have a real quandary. 

It used to be that all drawings with personal messages got saved.  But now that I have more than one child who can write, I have amassed several pieces that say ‘I lov you, momy’ or ‘you’re the best mommy’, or ‘mommy, I love you, and that’s why I am staging this cookie intervention’.

First off - yay! My kids think I am all that.  Bless them for not having a control group of laboratory mommies with which to compare me.  However, the giant tupperware I bought to hold all of the lovely projects is only so big and the space within must be prioritized.  If I have 7 ‘I love you, Mommy’ originals must they all be saved?  If I throw out a ‘You are the best Mommy’, does it become clear that I am not?

The new fad is to take pictures of the artwork so that you can keep digital galleries of your child’s entire creative career that don’t take up any space.  But if you have the reading comprehension of a third grader you will know that I would much rather be eating cookies and looking at small belly buttons than organizing the digitized art portfolios of my children. 

And so I continue with this charade of marveling over their masterpieces and then stealthily stuffing them in the recycling bin while the artists are in bed.  I’ve been caught a few times – those clear blue recycling bags have revealed my non-hoarding ways, and I have had to come up with some on-the-spot explanations as to how the anteater/grandma ended up on the lawn on garbage day.  (Your father must have thrown it out.  You know he lacks art appreciation!) 

But I hope I get recognition for the things that do get saved.  I appreciate my children’s talents.  I am diligent about labeling the keepers so that the credit is attributed to the correct artist.  On occasion I even break out the giant tupperware and we all have a good laugh over the old self-portrait with a head attached to three giant arms, the names written backwards, and the lovely pictures of roadkill.  I may throw out a thing or two, but I am a good mom.  I have 27 papers by 4 up-in-coming artists which tell me so.

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Jean Dubail April 24, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Kally, I love your columns. Keep it up!
Jen Cannon April 24, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Very Entertaining. I'm with you. I save some meaningful or milestone artwork. I also save the cute holiday ones. Just a couple. I have a folder started to eventually laminate them. Instant holiday decorations! Christmas? Check. President's Day? Check. Now, where did I put that folder...?
Tricia Hodson April 24, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Haha great article! I just sorted an under-the-bed dusty box of things. My son is graduating this year. Time flies!
Hannah April 24, 2012 at 06:45 PM
When my kids get married, I give them their memory boxes with the things I have saved. I hope they spend the same time going through them as they did when they were younger (looking back at their "baby-ish" pictures....


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