Hot Tips for Art Educators: Materials

I have been teaching art for many years,  having started when there was very little written to guide me in my work. I found that it was the little things that made teaching art to young children difficult, not the big things. My pet peeve was those papers around crayons.  Children used the crayon points as they would use pencil points, and needed a “new” crayon as soon as the point was gone. Exploring textures using the broad side of the crayon was not an option. Crayola wrapped those crayons for only one reason; advertising! It was infuriating. Peeling them with fingernails or tools was nearly impossible, until I discovered that if you soak them in warm water for just a few minutes, the paper comes right off and the crayon is unaffected.

Supply storage and distribution to 425 children 5 periods a day every day for a week required organizational skills that I didn’t start out with. A harried art teacher learns pretty quickly that you can’t teach children how to paint if you can’t find the brushes! When I transferred to the school I now teach at the art room closets were in shambles. My predecessor was famous for being disorganized, and there was no rhyme or reason to how things were put away. I emptied every single closet in the room,  piled everything in a huge mountain in the middle of the room, and started sorting. I’ll never forget the look on my new principal’s face when he walked in and saw what I had done with the room that day. It was an overwhelming job and to this day I remain grateful to my son, who drove five hours from the town in Vermont where he was in college, to help me. There was so much colored paper that I didn’t need to order any for five years. We sorted them by both color and category; and put them on open shelves where my paper supply remains today, labeled  warm colors, cool colors and neutrals. I now even keep three scrap boxes, one box for each category.

Closets were separated by category as well. One closet holds anything that attaches things to each other: Glue sticks, white glue, masking and scotch tapes, staples etc.

Once the principal saw what I was doing, he offered to buy shelving units for the art room. He somehow managed to get them delivered within days, and instructed the building custodians to wash the insides of all of the closets. This got me off to a great start. That was ten years ago and the closets remain easy to use, but it took me until last year to figure out how to hand out materials and collect them every period without losing track of any of them. The media teacher was discarding all of the video tapes as they became more and more obsolete, which left her with a few hundred clear plastic cassette boxes. She asked me if I could find any use for them and I sure could! I bought a plastic bin in the color of each art room table and keep a full set of cassettes in each. Labels for each cassette box were color coded as well. Four children sit at each table, so there are four pairs of scissors in the scissor box, four pencils in the pencil bin, etc. Multiple materials that are shared are stored in the cassettes as well, as in the photo above.

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