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When Did My 5-Year-Old’s Art Career Take Over My Life?

flickr / Valentina Yachichurova

The following was syndicated from LeftHooks for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at

At first glance, drawing, painting and otherwise making art with kids is a win-win. It’s good for them, it engages their creativity and it’s fun to do. Like many parents, I’ve got a big box of adorable art pieces created by my kids over the years. But for every irreplaceable Father’s Day or Mother’s Day card with their adorable little footprints marked in ink, there are dozens and dozens of sketches in crayon or marker or colored pencil. And let’s be honest, in some of them, everyone is frowning or strangely missing a limb or the scene is so jumbled and confused it’s enough to make you think your child is experimenting with cubism for the first time.


All of that art adds up, because it accumulates faster than plastic bags at the bottom of the Pacific. Soon, your house, your car, even the diaper bag are inevitably overrun by children’s art. Eventually, you find the remnants of that Santa Claus drawing — the one with the cotton ball beard — in mid-August. (But not all of it, just a cotton ball or 2, and it’ll take all afternoon to figure it out). The problem is, disposing of children’s art is harder than getting rid of hazardous waste. The reason is simple: children are art hoarders.

Every Piece Is A Masterpiece

If your kids are like mine, they treat every piece like it’s a masterpiece. And when they’re young, it’s hard not to indulge them. I mean, it’s technically true. Every time my kid draws our randomly proportioned stick family, it is usually better than the last one. That sense of parental guilt is the gateway drug, and your kids pick up on it. They have no conception of supply and demand, and they hone in on every variable.

Kid: Dad, can we keep this one, too?
Dad: It’s the same as the other one; let’s just leave it on the table.
Kid: But it’s blue!
Dad: Okay, that’s true. But otherwise it’s mostly the same.
Kid: (Shuffling papers). What about this one? I used marker instead of crayons!

And whatever you do, don’t let them notice that you can hang artwork up on the wall or the fridge, or they’ll want to hang everything up. When our fridge was full of artwork, our kid suggested that we needed “another fridge” to hold more art. (Okay, that’s not true, but it could be!)

Exponential Growth

And I haven’t even mentioned the art they produce at daycare or once they start school. Every time I empty the file folder full of art projects from my kid’s daycare cubby, the environmentalist in me feels guilty. I mean, other than playing tag and singing songs, killing trees is his primary occupation. Now, you can get quite a bit of paper out of one tree — thousands of sheets — but my kid is not alone. His entire class of daycare pals or elementary students are using a similar amount of paper, and between all of them, we’re talking a veritable grove of trees. That’s a handful of uprooted squirrels, thousands of bugs, and maybe one very pissed off owl (and they’re crabby to begin with). All of them are likely mobilizing for their counterattack against their primary opponent: schoolchildren.

Wildlife of these forests, I am sorry for your sacrifice. Believe me, I understand your plight. My house is overrun with art. The back seat of our car is basically an archaeology site at this point: the deeper you dig, the older the art. At times, I find myself thinking wistfully about the useful disadvantages of the past — after all, when a kid came home from a one-room schoolhouse, they could only show you one or 2 scribbles on their slate board. After that, it was back to the fields.

Brett Ortler is the author of a number of non-fiction books, including Dinosaur Discovery Activity Book, The Beginner’s Guide to Ship Watching on the Great LakesMinnesota Trivia Don’tcha Know!, and several others. His writing has appeared inSalon, at Yahoo! as well as atThe Good Men Project, and on The Nervous Breakdown, among many other venues. A husband and father, his house is full of children, pets, and noise.