Unholy Material Trinity?

When perusing art education blogs I feel some guilt, along with the inspiration.  There are many materials that I just don't use simply because I have a personal aversion to them. On the top of my list are:

  • Chalk Pastels
  • Tempera (any kind)
  • Construction paper

These may as well be the holy trinity of elementary art education materials... but I just can't bring myself to use them regularly (if at all!) in my classes.

Chalk pastels are messy, break easily, and do not last for the whole year. The work created with them is also so ephemeral, and having no classroom ventilation or convenient outdoor space to fix finished work means too much hassle. 

Tempera goes bad so quickly, dries to a chalky finish, and the dry tempera pucks seem so dull, without a full array of colors. 

Construction paper fades almost immediately once displayed, unless you pay for some really fantastic fade-proof stuff (and if you're doing that, why not spring for nicer paper anyway?) 

Taking a hard look at myself, these are silly reasons not to use materials... and I'm being a bit of a snob. I'm going to challenge myself to craft some lessons around those materials.... because they are FUN, and because kids love them. Maybe I'll even start to love them, too. We'll see how this goes.

Shopping List Life-Savers for Art Teachers

When I first started my professional teaching career in 2004, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mentor, Cheryl Foff at Ancillae Assumpta Academy. She was so incredibly organized that I originally thought ordering art supplies for the year was a breeze. Once I ran a classroom solo, I realized just how much Cheryl had her ordering on lockdown. I am in awe of those teachers who are naturally organized, it's still something I'm working on!

I have since learned a few things through a process of trial and error that might be helpful to the new art teachers out there:

  • Never skimp on construction paper. Always choose fadeless, or risk your students' artwork or your displays fading by the end of the school year. (Blick makes a great fadeless construction paper)
  • Buy good quality paintbrushes and teach students how to care for them properly (A nice set will last at least three years, while lower end brushes will fall apart more quickly- the ferrule pops right off!)
  • If you don't have a kiln (like me!), buy small amounts of air dry clay to test them first. All air dry clay formulas are different and you'll want to know how they behave before ordering 50-100 lbs!
  • Buy more drawing paper than you think you'll need- it doesn't deteriorate and you'll always be able to use it next year. (I always buy reams of 18"x24" so I can cut it to fit any project)
  • Water basins for painting projects prevent spills for young students, clean brushes in between colors more effectively, and require less frequent water replacing. They have been the single best purchase I've made recently.
  • Get a range of drawing pencils and organize them by graphite hardness, it will allow students to control how dark or light their sketching is, even at a very young age. My kindergarten students really appreciate how forgiving 2H pencils are!
  • Hand sharpeners make pencils last longer. Electric sharpeners chew up pencils quickly and are really loud and disruptive during class, too!
  • Use separate art erasers, students tend to avoid pencils with erasers that are worn down, but if the pencil didn't have an eraser to begin with, there's no pickiness! (This also cuts down on overall eraser use)
  • Opt for acrylics rather than tempera. Tempera is dusty, flaky, and just not nice to touch for kids. Acrylic paint is brighter, more lightfast, and can be used as watercolors. (Just have students wear smocks and roll up their sleeves!)
  • Get really nice, kid-sized sharp scissors and teach your students how to use them and carry them safely. I've learned that dull-edged "kid" scissors are just scissors that don't work well - which ends up causing more injuries than tools that work the way they should. 
  • Linoleum block printing is much safer if you wear a gardening glove on your non-cutting hand. Kids only need one glove a piece, so you only need a few pairs! Kristin Wickham, another stellar mentor, taught me this trick and I have been much calmer during printing lessons ever since! (You can probably send out a call to your school community and build a supply for free used gloves!)
  • Check with your local craft store or Paper Source for decorative papers that are on clearance to enhance your current collage materials. (If you have a color printer, you lucky teacher, you can print out some very cool textures to have on hand as well!)
  • If you have the budget, Ikea is great for material containers. They're usually durable, colorful and modular. I have a set of boxes for crayons that stack like legos!

What tricks or products work best for your classroom?