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Out with the Old: Lessons to Clean Out Your Art Classroom

Has your art classroom seen better days? Are your shelves, cabinets, drawers, and bins full of chaos and clutter? Are bottles that once held fresh paint, poured from clean nozzles, now empty, crusty, or clogged? Are the crayons formerly wrapped in crisp paper, shaped with a perfect, waxy point now unrecognizable nubs, too small for even the smallest grip?

Let’s face it. By the end of the school year, there are some old art materials that we just want to get rid of to make room for fresh supplies. Even when teaching on a shoestring budget, I found myself with an excess of collected, donated, or heavily used materials that I wanted to get rid of. And yes, as art teachers we can make art out of anything, but that does not mean we must. Are you looking to clear out clutter in your art room? Here are some lesson ideas to make use of some of your old art materials and make room on your supply shelves.

Painting like Pollock

Not sure what to do with your almost empty paint bottles? Use every drop to create a memorable painting experience for your students. Introduce abstract expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock, who used his whole body to create action paintings by standing and dripping paint over a canvas placed on the floor. Add water to old tempera or acrylic paint bottles. Shake well, until your paints have a fluid consistency like cream. Go outside with large papers (whatever you have available). Students can place papers on the ground and create action paintings like Pollock, painting directly from the bottles or using a paintbrush or other tool to drip and splatter colorful paints.

Paper Sculptures

Do you have trouble discarding your random assortments of tattered and torn art papers? Make use of your paper scraps by teaching your students how to curl, bend, accordion-fold, crinkle, and fringe papers to create whimsical paper sculptures. All you will need are some assorted colorful papers, scissors, and glue sticks to teach your students to explore sculptural forms in paper. You will be amazed how quickly tables full of paper scraps will transform into treasured works of art.

Crayon Encaustics

Do you have a collection of jumbled, broken crayons? Use these pigmented bits to teach a new process – encaustic (hot wax) painting. By heating old crayons with a heat gun (or leaving them in the hot sun), students can create a variety of novel textures. If you have unfinished or unclaimed artworks on canvas panels, reuse them for this encaustic project. The thick, opaque crayon wax will provide full coverage over a variety of surfaces. Students can create their composition by placing crayon pieces directly on a canvas panel. Introduce heat using a heat gun or direct sunlight, and see what happens when the colors begin to melt and blend. Students can use tools like forks or toothpicks to manipulate the texture of the melted wax. For a more sophisticated method, crayons can be sorted by color into glass jars and warmed on a skillet. Students can apply melted wax to canvas using old paintbrushes.

Found Object Assemblage

“I have a bunch of old _____. Do you want them?” If you’re an art teacher, you are probably all too familiar with this phrase. By the end of the school year, you may have acquired a few too many recycled or donated materials. Lighten your load by teaching a lesson on found object assemblage. Students can learn about artists who use found objects, like Louise Nevelson or Joseph Cornell, and combine found materials to create their own unique sculptures. This hands-on, sculptural project will engage your students and help you get rid of those jumbled collections of paper doilies, toilet paper rolls, silk flowers, bottle caps, or game pieces.

Take-Home Sketchbooks

Send your students off to summer break equipped with a sketchbook to capture some of their memories. Make use of your yellowed or faded papers to create simple sketchbooks for students to take home. Create books using any assortment of scrap papers cut to the same shape and size. Papers can be bound together simply by stapling.

Do you have old, worn out supplies that you are looking to get rid of, like sharpened-down pencils or watercolor palettes that have only half-moon slivers of paint left in their wells? Offer them to your students to take home and use with their sketchbooks. You never know what these humble materials could mean for a student who does not have art materials at home. Students will be prepared to practice art throughout the summer, and some may even surprise you with some sketches to share in the fall.

Teaching Stewardship

Let your students take part in cleaning and reorganizing the art room as you prepare for the close of one school year and the beginning of the next. For example, kindergarten students could use small sponges to wipe down tables, cabinets, and countertops. Second grade students are fantastic sorters and could help organize materials into bins for storage. Fifth grade students have an eye for detail and could give used paintbrushes a sudsy deep clean or wash muddied paint palettes. Middle and high school students are incredibly capable and can help with more complex tasks like cleaning the potter’s wheel or taking down wall displays.

I have found that students of all ages enjoy having a role in cleaning their classroom. Some of the hands-on tasks like pencil sharpening, scrubbing, and sweeping are surprisingly fun for children. Students also gain a sense of ownership and responsibility when they are taught to care for their learning space. Students will learn the value of stewardship while adding a little sparkle to their classroom.


Written by Danielle Dravenstadt

Danielle is an artist and art educator in Alexandria, VA. She specializes in student-centered learning, arts integration, and contemporary best practices.