elementary art education

Moving from High School to Elementary Art

In the past year I made the move from being a High School Art Teacher to an Elementary Art Teacher. At the beginning of the school year I googled, searched Pinterest, googled some more, and called friends to figure out what I needed to know as I prepared to teach the littles. Sadly I didn’t find much information out there in the world for those of us making this downward grade level shift!

Since I’m SURE there are some of your out there in the same situation that need some help, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve discovered this year and things I wish someone had told me!

1.Make your life EASY! Combine Preps! 

What I mean by this is to combine your preps! I started the year with a different project for each Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. WHAT WAS I THINKING?! While I don’t think that you should do one project for all grade levels (because you want some project variety) I would recommend doing the same project for K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 OR perhaps doing K-3 and 3-5.This reduces your prep and lesson planning from six preps to two or three. Way easier already!

Bonus: Try to use the same materials for each lesson plan at a time. For example, if you are doing chalk pastels with 2nd and 3rd try to create a project for K-1 and 4-5 using chalk pastels. This way you don’t have to worry about switching materials in between classes!

2. DO NOT assume what they know! 

This was the absolute hardest thing for me this year! While I student taught in an elementary school, that was five years ago and those students had, had art since starting elementary school. This was my school’s first year with art since they opened! So ALL of my students were developing BASIC skills.

There are things you think you DON’T HAVE TO SAY, but then you set the kids loose and chaos ensues. And I mean little things y’all! “To open a glue bottle you twist the orange top and make sure your glue bottle breathes!” was something I had to say to 5th graders! Not kidding!

Just be aware you high school veterans that THIS IS A REAL THING! It will boggle your mind and make you roll your eyes when you turn away from your students more than once! Take a deep breath and make sure that you think about every single detail when planning your projects. I found it helped to write out EVERY SINGLE STEP on a sticky note and putting it on my clipboard so that when I explained the project I didn’t skip anything! Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 11.28.57 PM.png

I know that with high school kids you can say things like “Okay, glue this piece of aluminum foil on top of your cardboard and write your name on the back!” BUT YOU CAN’T DO THIS in elementary school! They need you to BREAK IT DOWN!

3. Don’t Smile Until Christmas (routines, management, and discipline) 

Okay, maybe not until Christmas, but keep your serious face on for a month or two to get your routines down. In high school routines take a week or two to get down because you see your students, in most cases, every day! In elementary school you see them once a week (usually) so it takes WAY longer to get those routines down. This goes along with #2 don’t assume they remember how to come in and sit on the carpet; you will need to constantly demonstrate, remind, and praise those that do it correctly! Believe me, it’s May and I’m still reminding some classes. (Sidenote: you will need to review routines after any break lasting longer than a week because they magically forget everything after more than five days out of school!)

Management and Discipline…where do I start? I’ve found that I have to be 8000 times more strict with elementary schoolers than high schoolers. I have a theory that when high school students make it to high school they’ve started to figure out “school.” They know what to do and what not to do. Elementary schoolers are still working out the system. You have to be consistent with routines and swift with consequences. I found this out the hard way.

My high school management centered around building relationships with students and earning their trust. With elementary you don’t have that much time because you are doing great if you remember their names! You need to have rules and consequences. Write referrals, notify teachers of behavior, and call parents if you notice a recurring problem. The students need to know that there are consequences to misbehavior in art! It’s not recess! Start this out early! This was SO hard for me, I’m pretty laid back and have a high tolerance for organized chaos, but starting out strict and ending up more relaxed at the end of the year is NECESSARY in elementary.

Also, seating charts. Yes it’s a pain. Yes, just do it anyway. Yes, I know you have around 700 students, but you need them. No, I agree, I totally thought it wasn’t necessary…until I realized it was. Worst case scenario start with them, if you don’t like it take them away….or use it as an incentive.

4. Management Strategies

So sometime before Thanksgiving break I came up with a genius idea called the “clip game.” Glamorous right? Basically, I had these cheapy bowls from Dollar Tree and if I noticed that a table of students were doing the right thing I would put a clothespin on the rim of their bowl! It quickly became a hit and competition. The table with the most clips at the end of the class got to line up first, or got a sticker, or got to draw on the Smartboard for two minutes. Find out some kind of motivation and reward for your students and stick with it. It’s hard I know because we just want to ART, but with the littles they need this kind of motivation to keep their head in the game. (Maybe I should write a pro/con post about all the strategies I tried out this year. Because I tried A LOT and I changed it a LOT I don’t recommend this, but hey it was a “guinea pig” year!)

5. Organization

This is necessary! I know we are art people. I know we are creatively messy and have our quirks. I’m pretty OCD about certain things like inventory, paintbrush cleanliness, and clean sinks, but being organized for high schoolers and elementary students is a whole other ball game!

First, EVERYTHING NEEDS A PLACE! Figure out where students will pick up supplies, or where you want them to return things and keep it the same all year! Remember it takes MONTHS for them to follow your routines correctly.

Second, FIGURE OUT WHERE THEIR PROJECTS GO! I picked up one of these lovely shelves from Walmart and used it to organize my projects by DAY. So the top shelf contained all of Monday’s classes, the second shelf had all of Tuesday’s Classes, etc. Then I wrangled 27 copy box lids from around the school and used the lids as trays to hold projects! I labeled each lid with the teachers name, and at the end of class I put all student projects in the box lid and put it on the correct shelf! Then they are safe until the next week when your students need them! (P.S. Make a No Name box…for those unfortunate little souls that never put their name on their paper to dig through.) I did this at the beginning of the year and it saved so many headaches!

6. Find a Community of Fellow Elementary Art Educators

Google. Google. Pinterest. Pinterest. Pinterest. Art of Ed. ANYTHING! Find people in your district to talk to. Facebook groups. Blogs. Instagram! Friends? NAEA. State Art Ed Association?

Find people to bounce ideas off of and to get ideas from! Trust me you are going to need it! Really. Just do it. Use google. It helps with the feeling of isolation and help keeps you balance the stress!

That’s all I can think of for now, but maybe I’ll do a volume #2, this was my top 6! I hope someone out there finds this useful! Follow me on the social medias!


2 thoughts on “Moving from High School to Elementary Art

    1. Thanks Holley! You are awesome for teaching such a broad grade level range! I bet you really had to adjust to different skill levels! Do you have any other tips? I’m sure you have a wealth of knowledge!


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