Two Cool Ways to Display Your Kids’ Treasures (aka the crap they find and insist on bringing home)

Kids are incorrigible collectors. On the desks and window sills of our sons’ room, there are, among other things, the jawbones of a deer and a wild pig, multiple wasps’ nests, the tiny fur-lined cup of a bird’s nest, piles of dead and dessicated insects, the skull of a hedgehog (some skin, sinew and quills still gruesomely intact), various interestingly-shaped sticks, seed pods, and stones, a jar of sea glass, and feathers, lots of feathers.

Hedgehog skull (Hungary) and cicada (Costa Rica)

This is only a very partial inventory. Now, to be fair, I love that the kids collect these things, that they are fascinated by the flotsam and jetsam of the natural world, and I have certainly done my part to encourage their packrat ways. Indeed, other tables and windowsills in the house are crammed with my own fossils and pre-Colombian artifacts, my Mexican mirrors and geodes and jawbones, the varied detritus of our travels. Come to think of it, I found the pig’s jawbone and brought it home to my son. (One of his good friends thoughtfully brings our eldest son dead creatures whenever he visits our home. I guess he’s too young to bring a bottle of wine, even though I’ve dropped hints.)

All of this hodgepodge is great, but the problem becomes where to put it, how to display this debris to best advantage. Martha Stewart is strangely silent on the matter of artfully arranging moth carcasses. We’ve come up with two ways to make these treasures look more like found art and less like the litter left by a tornado hitting a natural history museum.

Sea life display with sand box

The first involves beach combing finds – shells and sun-bleached bones and crab carapaces and such.

You’ll need:

  • A shallow box or tray
  • Sand (DIY stores will have buckets or bags of the stuff)
  • Crap from the beach
  • A kid (optional)

I picked up an old discarded wooden case from a trash heap during our city’s biannual cleanup days. (If your town has spring and/or fall cleanups, when people can toss out just about anything, by all means don’t be too proud to cruise around and grab things that interest you. If folks look at you askance as you probe their rubbish, you can always calmly explain that you’re looking for things for your kids’ craft projects, or, alternatively, shout “Reuse, Reuse, Reuse you consumerist pigs!” In hindsight, I’d suggest the former.)

Take your tray (I removed the lid on the box and used that), fill it with an inch or two of sand, and then let your kids arrange their beach finds as they see fit. The cool thing is that they can rearrange items as the mood hits them or when they find more treasures. It looks great, forces them to sift through their things, choosing only the best, and limits the sheer spatial spread of their stuff.

The second project involves finding an attractive way to display feathers.

Artfully arranged feather display

You’ll need:

  • Play dough
  • Feathers

That’s it. Take your dough – this time we used some of our own homemade – and roll it out into a fat sausage. Flatten the sides until you have a roughly elongated rectangle. Select your feathers, and stick them into the dough. Place the arrangement in a protected spot and let it dry, a process which will take a week or so. When dry, the feathers are securely cemented into your matrix and you have a portable, permanent display.

The feathers for the particular arrangement my son made today came from both our hiking trips and visits to the zoo. Birds represented here include: greenfinch, jay, flamingo, scarlet ibis, black vulture, guinea fowl, glossy ibis, and cassowary. Can you identify them?

Our newest feather display

19 thoughts on “Two Cool Ways to Display Your Kids’ Treasures (aka the crap they find and insist on bringing home)

  1. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after checking through some
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  2. Love the feather idea! My son has tons lying around and I have been searching for a feather holder and havent found many. This is a great idea. thank you


  3. Neat stuff! Thanks for sharing the ideas, especially since our three-year-old daughter is now bringing home leaves and twigs, etc., after we head out to parks and such. Perhaps the Play-Doh option will work! Thanks for also reading Synchronized.


  4. The feathers look great. Is it too much to expect the kids to respond to a “Let’s make a cemetery with real flowers and have a real burial for the dead animals” suggestion? There comes a time…And it can be quite soon if they’re smelly. Actually, just a few days ago, I threw out some disintegrating insects from my own collection. If half the centipede is powder, it’s time to let it go.


    • I love curbside pickup days, and there’s an interesting custom here in Budapest. People go very early and stake out a particular pile, laying claim to all the best stuff. You can then buy these things from the ‘owners,’ generally for a very small fee. To give you an example, I picked up a bench toy chest for about $5 from the guy who had laid claim to it, cleared the gunk out of it and gave it a new coat of paint, and it sits in my boys’ room. I just wish I had a workshop so I could take more stuff and do crafty things with it.


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