Buster Ware by
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Who would spend $1,000 on a serving for four of plastic dishes and mugs adorned with a photo of the class guinea pig, Buster? Some slightly inebriated, very generous parents who got caught up in a bidding war for this priceless dinnerware, of course. Part of the fundraising for the preschool I directed, Cherry Preschool, was a live auction of classroom projects created by the children with the help of their teachers and parent volunteers. The budget to produce these treasures was small, calling on the ingenuity of the adults to come up with something parents could not resist buying for their child.

Who would spend $1,000 on a serving for four of plastic dishes and mugs adorned with a photo of the class guinea pig, Buster?

Anything decorated with the children’s handprints was generally a winner. The first step was to scour alleys for discarded furniture. Rocking chairs, toy chests, mirrors, and night stands were highly desirable. A bit of soap and water, followed by a couple of coats of white paint, and the object was ready to be covered by colorful handprints of members of the class. Who wouldn’t bid $200 for a quilt decorated with handprints of their child and her classmates?

Page from a scrapbook every parent wants

A scrapbook filled with photos of the children in a class could be counted on to set off a bidding war. Other highly coveted auction items included a huge weaving made by the class over the course of the year out of strips of old t-shirts. I actually won that from one of my granddaughters’ classes, but it was too big for her bedroom and ended up in basement storage.

Huge weaving I won

There were two important keys to eliciting ferocious bidding. First, the teachers had to hawk the items, instilling guilt in parents who wouldn’t spend big bucks to make their little ones happy. Second, parents needed to be a bit drunk to keep the bidding going. Once, a couple was so loaded that they bid against each other from opposite sides of the room. Of course, their child was the winner.

There were always a few misses in this auction. One class had created stepping stones by pouring plaster into molds and decorating them with paint and colorful objects embedded in the plaster. They weighed a ton and the bidding was lagging. One of our staff member’s husband decided to try to bid up the item, and he won. I’m pretty sure those stones are still somewhere in the school’s basement.

We also had a silent auction filled with treasures donated by local merchants and school families. Sometimes, no one bid on some of these items. I especially remember an incredibly ugly vase that no one wanted. The staff decided to turn it into the Fallopian Award (that should give you an idea of its shape) awarded every year for best attendance by a teacher. We kept this tradition until I retired, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it still exists.

While these auctions were an amusing way to raise much needed revenue for the preschool, we also held a reverse auction at the end of the evening in which parents donated money to support our Inclusion Program. The generosity of parents who made sizable donations to pay for classroom aides to enable children with disabilities to succeed at preschool never ceased to amaze me. Marian Wright Edelman captured the essence of the Cherry Preschool community when she said, “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.” The spirit of good-humored bidding in our auctions and the amazing contributions to our reverse auction for the Inclusion Program reflected the Cherry Preschool’s commitment to Edelman’s words.

Handprints of our first year of children preserved on the wall




Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wonderful story of commitment, dedication and ingenuity, Laurie. But you’ve shown us these traits over and over again. This is just a tale you haven’t shared in all the ways you made Cherry Preschool such a precious place for those toddlers.

    Of course every parent would want something with their kid’s handprints all over it (and yes, it helps if they are slightly inebriated). Your “Fallopian Tube” award made me laugh out loud. I can just picture it. I confess, the plaster footprint had me thinking more darkly than just the heaviness. I thought it might be a tripping hazard. Glad it was merely a matter of being too heavy.

    You never cease to impress.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. We had fun with those early auction efforts, especially the class projects, even though they didn’t always raise as much money as we hoped for. The teachers were a hoot in their efforts to sell these “precious” creations.

  2. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I love this idea of auctioning off children’s artwork to their own parents! Of course it would be impossible to resist! What a perfect fundraiser for a preschool. Thanks for a great story and adorable pictures!

  3. Marian says:

    It’s gratifying that your auctions were so successful (and cute), Laurie. The drunk couple bidding against each other is hilarious. All for the best cause, and I love what you did with that vase.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I wish I had taken the vase when I retired. I hope they are still awarding it, although I hope that perfect attendance is no longer prized in this Covid era. Even back in my days there, no one should come to work or go to school sick. I guess even joking awards like this were not really that great in retrospect.

  4. Laurie, What a wonderful idea to auction artworks by the kids and lay a bit of a guilt trip on the parents to buy them!

    I don’t remember my son’s nursery school doing anything like that, but of course during those years we had lots of his artwork on the fridge!

    But we did frame one very large watercolor he made, and to this day it’s delightful to see it on our wall!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I also framed one of my daughter’s “masterpieces” from preschool, which her teacher praised as a great rendering of fruit in a bowl. Turns out my daughter hated the picture because the teacher snatched it from her before she was finished and it was never supposed to be fruit. Glad I didn’t pay for it!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    This was a delightful story, Laurie. I certainly could identify with trying to bid up things that weren’t moving and hoping someone else would overbid–then taking home the prize after all. I bet those handprints were cherished. Lots of fun for a good cause–and your advice about getting the bidding parents a bit tipsy priceless. As is the advice from Marian Wright Edelman.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    What a terrific and joyful story, Laurie. And how consistent with Cherry’s purpose. Frankly, I’m also kicking myself. Bank Street, as we discussed, is very Cherry-like? Why didn’t we ever think about auctioning off the kids’ delightful creations? And I’m sure the teachers would have loved to hawk them.

    That said, I can actually see the objections (through Bank Street-like eyes). This could be viewed as exploiting child labor. Also denying parents their inherent right to receive their own children’s creations (without having to out-bid others). So how did you avoid these contentious issues at Cherry?

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Actually, the whole class participated in creating these, so the projects were not any individual child’s labor. I guess there is some inherent unfairness in any auction of this type, as people with more personal wealth can outbid others. We found that this was not always true, however. I know families who could not afford to bid at live auction generally bid on silent auction items that were bargains, going for below their actual value.

  7. Now I know you were not only a wonderful early childhood educator but a very inventive and resourceful fund raiser. (Not to mention, a very expressive and engaging writer.)

  8. Jim Willis says:

    I enjoyed your story of the auctions for the preschoolers’ handicrafts, Laurie. What a great idea for a fund-raiser. These items were sure to become great memories down the road for their buyers.

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