elementary art education

Tried and True: Elementary Art Management Strategies

Okay y’all I mentioned before that the past year in elementary art has been a “guinea pig year,” because I have used SO MANY different management strategies this whole year! I think I actually tried everything I found online regarding elementary art management.

As a former high school teacher management in elementary school is a whole new ballgame! Holy guacamole! High schoolers know the drill! and VERY FEW of my high schoolers didn’t toe the line because they know the consequences (disclaimer I did teach at a Title 1 school, and although I don’t think that has any reflection on how awesome my kids were I thought you should know that I didn’t teach geniuses from multimillion dollar families that were delightful angels 800% of the time…am I being too real? haha okay done with my internal dialogue…). As a friend of mine (@biggirllipstick on the Instagrams) once told me, the most effective management solution in high school is “call yo momma” day. Where if you are failing art, you have to get out your cell phone, join me in the hallway, call yo momma, and tell you that you are failing art because you aren’t doing your work or being obnoxious. So easy, and you don’t have to do any calling all by yourself! It also helps the students take responsibility for their actions! ….However when you teach elementary school your kids don’t exactly have cell phones….so now what? Oh and BONUS! You teach 700+ students… 😦

I thought elementary school was going to be straight up rainbows and unicorns and sparkles because the kids are so cute and would be so excited because they are young and get to have art and get to be creative……you see where I went wrong here? About three weeks in I went “oh crap” and needed to figure some stuff out! So I set to googling. There are some awesome ideas out there! But, I’m a self admitted scatter brain, and some things just didn’t work for me. At the beginning of the year, you should have some sort of clue as to how to get the darlings in order…from day one! But maybe you need a “guinea pig” year too! No shame in that . My first mentor was a genius and said teaching was a learning curve…and you’re always going up…even if you are down at the bottom right now! I digress,  Figure out what works for you! Because YOU have to stick with it. I don’t even feel a little bit bad about trying out so many things because now I KNOW what I’ll do next time and what works with my students. Also, I’m being pretty honest, don’t judge me too hard!

  1. Vincent….VAN GOGH

Okay I saw this somewhere on Pinterest. I called it our call signal, you might have a different name, but when I said “Vincent” the students were supposed to FREEZE, LOOK AT ME, AND SAY “VAN GOGH” so that I knew I had their attention. This worked about 50% of the time. Now I say 50% because I feel VERY STRONGLY that if I had practiced this every single class until Christmas it would have been FLAWLESS! But, I thought (as a high school teacher would) that they would have it down the following week…so I didn’t need to practice right? And so some classes were better than others, but generally as a whole I think next year I’ll beat this horse until it’s stuck in the kiddo’s heads! I

Just remember to model, demonstrate, and practice over and over! Also, I didn’t add the “FREEZE” part until about Christmas…trust me just go ahead and make that a thing!

2. The Sticker Chart!

Okay I’m sure everyone is familiar with the whole sticker chart idea. The class is good..they get a sticker on the chart…the class with the most stickers get a reward.

I started my year with this. Got a cute sticker chart, got some stickers and thought “I’m ready!” Oh boy…if I could go back and give myself a talking to. Sticker charts are great! HOWEVER! There happen to be some conditions here to make it work!

a. Set some quantifiable rules for the students to understand and SEE! I was loosey-goosey with this. Write A-R-T on the board and if they have all three letters at the end of the class they get a sticker. Or if they get x amount of points on the board at the end of the class they get a sticker. Make it visual and quantifiable. That way you have some way to SHOW them that they did or did not meet their daily goal.

b. Keep the charts in a location that the students will not find easily accessible OR make your charts sneak-proof! I had some very clever darlings discover that they could take stickers off of another class’s chart and make it look like their class was winning. So I recommend permanent markers…and not stickers generally.

c. REMEMBER THE STICKERS! This was honestly my downfall. I forgot to give stickers SO MANY times…make it a ritual or make sure the kids remember to MAKE you put the sticker/mark on the chart so that it’s fair. Contrary to your judgement during that point in time, you will not remember, and the kids will get sassy!

d. DO make the rewards free and easy for YOU! Free art day, movie day, lego day, free clay day, extra recess, and so on. Don’t do something that will make your day more difficult and add extra planning! My first idea was to let the darlings do some sort of cool art project…but it was a stressful amount of prep for one day!

3. The Clip Game

Okay this is a not-so-glamourous title, but it was what we called this game when I literally dreamt about it one day during Thanksgiving break. The kids had a cheap-o dollar tree bowl on their table, and if their table was quiet, working hard, responded to our call signal, and cleaned up the right way, they got a clothes pin attached to their table’s bowl. Thus, it became the very competitive clip game! The table winners got to line up, got a sticker, or one of our school incentive “bucks.” I upped the prize the more competitive it got.

This was when I found out what worked for my kids! They LOVED this! Kindergarten didn’t quite get it, so I didn’t really use it for them, but 1st-5th was down!

As the months went on I changed it up a bit an turned the game into Paintbrush Points! I made these paint splats and little paintbrushes for points for each table. (Each Table in my room was color! ) Pictyah’s below…the paint splat one isn’t very good, but I’m locked out for the summer!

Table colors with pom poms 🙂 
Paint Splats and Paintbrushes as “points” 🙂 

4. Boys vs. Girls

Never underestimate how much elementary boys and girls will team up to beat each other! No joke, the competition is so REAL! …and if I think back hard enough I can remember the same sentiment when I was in elementary school.

When all else fails! Pit the boys agains the girls in a game! Quiet game, clean up game, oh man it’s genius! Lining up. It all works. Why did no one tell me this in August?!? Now you know.

5. Art Teachers in Training

If you saw my badges up there on the board…well you know I did Art Teachers in Training at the end of the year. This was SO AMAZING! WONDERFUL! BEAUTIFUL! GENIUS! And obviously it came from the ever amazing and inspirational Cassie Stephens…no joke I’m a total Cassie Fan Girl…Cassie, if you read this…it’s a thing. Will you be my frand? Because I love you! Okay I digress…but here is a link to her blog post and her youtube video that talks this out. WATCH IT! It’s wonderful….just Genius…I have no words.


This isn’t exactly a strategy, but when you find something that works STICK TO IT! I’m so scatter brained! Do the same thing with every class, follow through, pick one thing and go for it! That way your students know what to expect in your room. Our school is also a PBIS school so we are highly…incentivized…but don’t forget consequences. Nip negative behavior in the bud as soon as you see them, follow your school’s discipline plan, and reward positive behaviors. I found that PBIS is great and all, but what the littles really like are GAMES and competition! Use it to your advantage!

I tried ALL of these in one year…guinea pig year…but next year I’ll be doing Paintbrush Points and Art Teachers in Training, because that’s what works best with my students! At the end of the day that’s all that matters!

Do y’all use anything else in your art rooms that you’ve found to work well? I’d love to hear more about it! Comment below and follow me on the social medias!

elementary art education

5 Things That Will Make Your Art Show AMAZING!


Okay y’all I just finished cleaning up my first elementary art show! And y’all I’m tired! After completing this enormous feat with many student helpers, a couple of parent volunteers, and some awesome staff members. I feel like I’m an expert on what to do and what not to do when it comes to these amazing events!

We all know that art show time is the best and last part of our year (for some of us) and it brings so much joy, excitement, and STRESS! Here are five things I found that made my general art show experience better!

1. Plan! Plan! Plan!

I don’t actually think I can stress this enough! Here’s a list of things that you should do before you start getting the materials and art ready. Note the timeline on these things y’all! You should be PLANNING for this event as you walk in the doors on the first day of school! It doesn’t need to take up a huge amount of your brain space, especially at the beginning of the year, but it needs to be something of which you are cognizant.

*Disclaimer: We only have one art show a year and I was adamant about having at least one art work PER STUDENT in the show. That meant at least 750 pieces of art work in this show.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 7.51.45 PM.png

2. Become a PR Expert for Your Program

I know we all hold art shows to show off our student’s amazing work throughout the year, but its also an opportunity to promote our programs! Sometimes the community isn’t really sure what you do in your classroom throughout the year, and if they don’t you have to spread the word! There are so many ways to do this, that I wont get into them all, but here are a few ideas:

  • Classroom Social Media Pages (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat)- These are great ways to get parents involved in what their students are doing in the art room! Share your Social Media handle at Open House and get parent’s watching what you’re doing! Also posting to these networks is getting so easy to do that it won’t take up much of your valuable time!
  • Monthly Newsletters- There a variety of sites out there that make this email based newsletters so easy with free formats that you can send these out to parents each month quickly to let your parents know what’s going in your room.  It’s not free, but I’m a big fan of Smore  they have an Educator’s special and it’s SO easy to use for us not-so-technologically-savvy individuals. (P.S. I’m totally not sponsored by them ha!)
  • Printed Newsletters: Need I say more? Unlimited copies? Do it!
  • Presentations at PTA meetings! Show a few slides and put up some art work!
  • Other school programs? Plays? Concerts? Put up some art for more visitors to admire!
  • Keep your displays up and new all year! It’s great PR for visitors and admin!
  • Enter art shows!
  • Brag about your program to everyone!

If you establish a community with your parents, students, and faculty, when the art show comes around you will have an active audience that will be anticipating the show!

2. Make it Pretty! 

Okay so making it pretty. I know there is a big difference between elementary and high school art shows. When I taught high school it was a very dignified affair with black pedestals, black and white mats, classical music, and grape juice, but when I did my elementary art show this year it was more along the lines of cupcakes, rainbow colors, and balloons….and not to mention a walkthrough Van Gogh Sunflower Garden. Big differences here!

No matter what kind of theme you’re going for here I think you should at least decide on A theme. If it’s high school maybe you are going for high end art gallery, but if you’re elementary school it could be whatever you’re little creative mind can conjure. Also, gauge the mood of your school would they be more excited about a serious show or an obnoxiously cutesy one? It’s up to you! I went with rainbows this year because it was our first ever art show and it took place in the BEIGE gym…So All I could think was”COLOR!”


This past year I also focused on creating large scale collaborative projects, so I tried to display those in the gym as well! I guess that was part of my “theme!” But I found that having a theme made delegating and getting materials so much easier! I could tell the volunteers “make the tables look colorful and spread out the table cloths,” “wrap pedestal boxes in rainbow colors,” and “make the walls a rainbow pattern!” And they totally got it! It’s also important with volunteers to make sure that they feel like they have a say in what goes on! Let them decided where some art work goes!

If you are looking for some other elementary PROS who are amazing at art shows I’d definitely check out the amazing Cassie Stephens or Laura from Painted Paper Art! These two ladies have been my spirit animals this year y’all!

4. Extras

  • FOOD!- Not going to lie here, I got so many more kids to come to the art show because I said there would be FREE CUPCAKES! I asked teachers to volunteer to bring me 1-2 dozen cupcakes and then I iced them the day of the art show! We also had our lovely cafeteria staff prepare us some water and lemonade for the event as well!
  • Music- It fill’s the silence y’all. In high school I used a boom box (yep, the good old fashioned CD player boom box with good old fashioned CDs!) but here at our elementary school we had a lovely teacher with some serious sound equipment! GO for funky tunes or classical! It really does make for a more festive environment! OR…if you have the hook up… get some live musicians!!
  • SLIDE SHOW- Our UHMAZING media specialist suggested pulling in our huge interactive panel (but you could use a projector) to display pictures I had taken of the kiddos all year and the parents and students LOVED IT! Because they got to get a sense of what the art room looked like while we were busy making stuff!
  • Activities- In my grand scheme of things I had planned on finding some face painters to come help out and face paint, but y’all I totally dropped the ball on that one…next year! I also bough these HUGE 4’x 5′ poster coloring sheets from Five Below and hung them up at the entrance with a huge bucket of crayons to color! Next year I think we should bring out some of our booths from Fall Festival for giggles!
  • Raffles- Raffle stuff! Door prizes! Make it a big deal!
  • Awards- If you want to add some awards you could find a guest judge and some cute ribbons! The kids will love it!
  • School Wide Visits!- I ALWAYS leave the art show up the day after the event for teachers to bring their students around to the show. This way, the students that couldn’t attend the previous night still get to enjoy it! You could make a schedule or sign up teachers at specific times if you need to! Then I usually have little pieces of construction paper out for student visitors to leave notes to their favorite artists that congratulate them on a successful art show! (Can you say cross-curricular writing assignment?! whoop whoop!)
  • Display by class? or random?-Okay in high school I was ALL about random. I did a random display this year. I have conflicting feelings about this. I feel like sorting into classes would have made takedown much easier, however I could have gotten into a bit of trouble! I, despite my very best efforts, had some students who did not have art work at the show…and then of course I got cornered at the show and was angrily asked where a respective parent’s student’s art work was…..and I said “It’s all mixed up! It’s out there somewhere!” WHEW! And in my defense that student did have art work…in the collaborative pieces. But do you see how mixing it up has it’s benefits?…and drawbacks…

5. Clean Up!

Okay, you’ve had the best art show ever! Now what? You have to take it down! I think this is a CRAZY important part of an art show because it can go so smooth or so wrong real quick!

Alright folks, lets talk about my cleanup CATASTROPHE this year. On the day of the art show I got taken out by a vicious, vicious stomach bug that made getting the art show together ROUGH! So, unfortunately, I had to take three days off after the art show. What happened to the art show you ask?….well….someone…I actually don’t know who…I heard conflicting stories….came into the gym and piled up EVERYTHING! One BIG pile of 3000 works of art…and paper….and trash…and wrapped boxes.

My soul was crushed….okay enough drama…so I had to sort, send home, and detangle this pile.

I could not have done it without my army of student helpers! LOVE THEM!IMG_0045.JPG

So I’m going to give you the perfect scenario here! 

  1. Get some boxes. Write the home room teacher’s names on the boxes. Have students go around the art show with the boxes and collect all the art works from each teacher’s home room. (High school: I used to sort by project and by class period!…but used the same box method) Boom! Everything is sorted by home room teacher. (High school: get your students to find their own art and TAKE IT HOME!)
  2. Return everything back to normal: Take down paper, throw away trash, move technology, fold table cloths, return tables!
  3. Go back to the art room. Have student army sort each homeroom class into piles of student names. Make a paper folder (using recycled bulletin board paper, or whatever you can find) for each student, insert art work, send student to deliver to homeroom teacher, and SEND HOME!
  4. Go home, relax, take a deep breath, then return to your regularly scheduled art world!

Now in my situation this took two weeks…not joking…BUT if you can take it down yourself with your handy dandy student helpers I think it would take around 3-4 days to get it all sent home and taken down the right way!

***BONUS**** (After you’ve rested your brain) Write thank you notes to parent and teacher volunteers!

Are there any other big tips you would give your fellow art teachers about art show time? I know it’s a stressful world out there and we all make these events amazing in different ways! Comment below!

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!