The Joys and Challenges of Student Gifts

Organizing the flood of special gifts and homemade artwork that constantly flows into my classroom is one of those crazy delights that comes with the art teacher territory. Although it warms my heart to know that students are excited to use what they’ve learned on their own art, it can be tricky to display and store all of that art. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to handle it all…

  • If possible, ask the student if they would like you to make a copy and return the original to them.
  • Keep a box of thank you cards in your desk. I don’t give these out for the routine drawing, but for sculptures, small gifts, and pieces that obviously took time, thought, and effort.
  • Make a file for the best pieces. Don’t feel bad about culling your herd of gift works at the end of the year. Throw away what isn’t outstanding (even if you have to cry a little bit), and keep those from memorable students or pieces that blow your mind.
  • Accept everything, even the strangest stuff! This article was inspired by a piece of broken shingle gifted to me by a student this week. They enjoyed the texture and thought of me! I was talking to another teacher in my building about this topic, and she told me that one year a student gave her a card with a food stamp in it. Just keep in mind those gifts, no mater how crazy, come from a special place.


Looking for more ideas to house handmade notes/drawings from students? Check out the “Love Notes” article right here.

What is the most interesting gift you’ve accepted from a student?

How do you keep art from home organized?

Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • K. Siler

    A student brought me homemade deer jerky. He brought it wrapped in a tissue in his pocket. I tried to be gracious about it until he told me to eat it. My student teacher at the time said he loved deer jerky and offered to eat it. He got an “A”.

    • Risk-taker for sure! Oh, the things we do to show our students we care.

  • Kate

    One of my first graders last year brought me a 7 inch rock slab that she had colored with colored pencils, complete with a non slip mat to set it on. It’s still on my desk.

    • Kate, wouldn’t you love to know their thought processes? How could you part with that treasure?! My piece of shingle is still hanging from my whiteboard and will remain there until I pack up for the year.

  • In our school (state, I think!) we are told not to accept gifts from students over a value of 2.99. So, you can imagine the awkwardness when a kid hands you something. What do you say “Is this valued over 2.99? If so I can’t accept it” haha! So basically you just take everything. We even had parents go as far as to send gift cards to a teacher’s house the first day of of summer when they were not ‘technically’ the students teacher anymore. By far, the homemade gifts are the most priceless of all!

  • AbiPG

    I keep everything making sure students put their name on it, so I can remember who it was from. At the end of the year after school is out I go through and save the best/most meaningful pieces. The rather large collection I have accumulated over the years becomes my “feel good” pile; on the days I question my teaching ability, impact or am just feeling blue I pull out a gifts and suddenly feel better. Some of my favorites have been the “best techer aword” and the stick figure portrait of me while I was pregnant with a baby stick figure in my belly from a kindergartner.