Saturday, April 13, 2024

Earth Day Resources for Art Teachers

In the colorful world of art education, every stroke of paint and every sculpted form carries not just the weight of artistic expression, but also a commitment to environmental stewardship. While Earth Day may serve as a poignant reminder of our collective responsibility to protect the planet, art teachers embody earth consciousness every single day, weaving sustainability into the fabric of their classrooms.

In this post, several of my favorite art teachers share their best practices and classroom-tested lessons as we we explore the benefits of recycling in the art room. From repurposing materials and fostering creativity to instilling a sense of environmental responsibility in their students, these educators exemplify a dedication to preserving the Earth that extends far beyond a once-a-year celebration.


Art supplies can be expensive, especially for schools with limited budgets. Recycling offers a cost-effective alternative by utilizing materials that are readily available at little to no cost. From cardboard and newspaper to plastic bottles and bottle caps, the possibilities are endless. By creatively repurposing these materials, educators can stretch their budgets further and ensure that all students have access to the materials they need to unleash their artistic potential. Amie from Glitter Meets Glue is ready to share how she incorporates this in her classroom.

"My absolute favorite way to get the best bang for your buck in the art room is to implement a yearlong artist trading cards project. They’re miniature art projects the size of a playing card. And they cost nothing to create!

After every art project, collect the “good scraps,” as I call them, in a garbage bag. Think: leftover painted papers, bits of construction paper, gift wrapping paper, feathers, beads, felt, fabric, etc. Basically, any project remnants you considered tossing or don’t have enough to use for even one class, toss in the bag. 

After I’ve collected a big bag of random materials, I fill large bowls with the scraps for students to create artist trading cards. They cut, glue, color, and paint unique artworks that they can trade later on in the year with friends. On the last day of school, I do an all-day ATC exchange. The kids love it and it’s always such a huge hit at a very chaotic time of the year!"

If you’re interested in getting started on artist trading cards, check out her complete teacher guide, lesson plan, worksheets, and PowerPoint slides. She'll walk you through the entire process.


Limitations often fuel creativity, and recycling presents the perfect opportunity for students to think outside the box. By repurposing materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, students are challenged to find new uses and innovative ways to incorporate them into their artwork. This encourages resourcefulness and cultivates a mindset of creative problem-solving—a valuable skill both inside and outside the art classroom. Whitney from Look Between the Lines has some impressive 3D inspiration for us:

"My favorite Earth Day project is my found object assemblage project. This is a great way to bring sculpture into other art classes or focus on a found object-style sculpture in your sculpture classes. This can be introduced on Earth Day, with a focus on what materials can be reused and turned into a work of art. My favorite found object artists are Tara Donovan and John Dahlsen, I use them as artist exemplars to inspire my students before they start their project. Students are responsible for collecting their materials. While waiting for materials to come in they prep wood panels, where they attach their materials, brainstorm and research ideas, and sketch out designs. Experimentation and thinking ahead are key to creating a successful work of art. I also recommend having an in-progress and final critique with students as they work on their assemblages. 

This project can be taught to students as young as 5th grade, I recommend working on one piece as a class project. For middle schoolers, I encourage small groups of students to work together. In high school, students can pair up or work individually."

Read more detailed information about Whitney's Earth Day assemblage project here or hit the easy button and get the lesson pack with everything you need to teach the project (minus the supplies) here


"Embracing recycled materials as art supplies in an elementary classroom is not only cost-effective but also instills a sense of environmental responsibility in young students. Sorting bins for various reusable items such as cardboard, scrap fabric, colored paper, string, and containers transforms waste into a treasure trove of creative potential. This approach encourages children to see the value in everyday items, fostering a culture of sustainability and innovation. For instance, cardboard pieces can become the canvas for a collage, string and fabric scraps can be woven into a textured tapestry, and old containers can be transformed into whimsical sculptures. Such activities nurture creativity, as students learn to work with what's available, adapting their artistic visions to the materials at hand. This method is particularly beneficial for schools with limited budgets, offering endless possibilities for artistic expression.

Directed drawing activities, like the Earth Day Themed Directed Drawings, provide a structured yet flexible framework for art projects. These guided exercises can be adapted to whatever materials are on hand, allowing students to choose from a variety of mediums or work with specific ones based on current supplies. This not only enhances their drawing skills but also teaches them to be resourceful and imaginative, key qualities in both art and life. "

If this sounds like the perfect activity for you, visit her website to plan quickly and teach confidently.


Recycling in the art classroom provides an opportunity to forge connections with the broader community. Partnering with local businesses, recycling centers, and environmental organizations can enrich students' learning experiences and expand their understanding of sustainability initiatives in their community. Many times art teachers are the recipients of large scale donations of random materials from community partners. Next, Sabrina from A Space to Create Art shares an example of how to use donated boxes or containers to creating meaningful artworks.

"In this assemblage piece, high school and middle school art students learn about artist Joseph Cornell and create a mixed-media sculpture inside a mint tin. Their art is based on a famous novel’s quote or theme. By marrying visual art and literature, they delve into the nuances of storytelling, exploring themes, characters, and settings in a tangible and tactile form.

Joseph Cornell was known for his pioneering work in assemblage art. Cornell's distinctive style transformed found objects into captivating compositions housed in shadow boxes and glass-fronted cases. His pieces often evoked a sense of nostalgia and wonder, blending elements of surrealism and collage to create dreamlike worlds.

As students breathe life into their sculptures, they embark on a personal and introspective journey. Each sculpture becomes a testament to the power of imagination and the transformative nature of art. Below is an example created by a student based on the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald."

You can find this lesson ready to teach at A Space to Create Art on TpT or on her website: www.aspacetocreateart.com


Exposure to Earth-friendly art-making approaches can encourage our young artists to think in a globally conscious, macro beneficial way. By being environmentally-thrifty and eco-aware in our art teaching, we potentially seed future creative solutions in our artists, while providing them with some ‘food for thought’ regarding their own use of the earth’s limited resources.”

In her blog post hereStephanie shares a few practical tips for earth-friendly (and budget- conscious!) art materials, equipment and supplies. Check out her TPT store here here.


Integrating recycled materials and sustainable practices into your art room offers a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond the school day. Changing a few habits or lessons each year can have a monumental impact over the course of your career.  Need help getting started? My previous post on Earth Day lessons has several project ideas you can incorporate easily.  By embracing recycling as an important part of the artistic process, educators have the power to inspire future generations to create positive change—one masterpiece at a time.


Stephanie from Picassa’s Palette
Amie from Glitter Meets Glue
Whitney from Look Between the Lines
Kathleen from Ms. Artastic

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Making the most of paper

After my first year of elementary art teaching I noticed that students rarely filled the paper they were given. To save my meager budget I would crop down the unused paper and developed quite a large pile of colorful scraps next to my paper cutter and was determined not to waste a single bit. This is what I call the hierarchy of paper.

Students pay little attention to the size of the paper you give them. If I gave them a full sheet of 12x18 or I stole a 1" strip off the side they did not notice or care. I started pre-trimming the paper which did two things. It allowed me to neatly mat their work onto a standard size 12x18 for the art show and it gave me a clean 1" strip to save for a variety of things like 

low relief paper sculpture collaborations

and weaving

At the end of our weaving project, I still had piles of these precut strips that I had been hoarding all year. Those strips became the inspiration for the "paper loop" installation. 

Wow. There were still strips left. Early finishers cut those strips into 1" squares for paper mosaics.

And when the mosaics are finished what about a Hans Arp inspired collage of chance?

 Did you ever notice that some colors are more popular than others. I don't know why these kids are always giving orange and brown the silent treatment but that's ok because those sad unused tiles will become paper pulp. If you worry like me about your supply order not arriving to school in time for the first week of school, save your scraps and start with a dot day pulp painting.

Let's not limit our paper saving to the paper cutter, shall we? Whenever students are cutting things out of paper (and you know they are gonna cut right from the center, aren't they) you can save those scraps as well. 3-5 pieces of tiny scraps are a great way to introduce something like an Alexander Calder Planar Sculpture. 

My students usually do this activity in stations and eventually work up to something more complex

If you're looking to maximize your budget many of these lessons are part of my Earth Day bundle. You can check it out here.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Women's History Month

I love to share the story "The Drum Dream Girl" with my classes in March for Women's History Month. This lesson is packed with interdisciplinary connections. Divide the drum into section. Apply patterns. Write a haiku to describe your drum.

Original post here.
Download the complete lesson plan with time lapse video demonstration here.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Free Art History Bell Ringers


If you've been following me for more than a minute, you know I'm a huge fan of sneaking art history into my classes in 5 minute chunks. Have you been wondering what that looks like? Now's your chance to "try before you buy." I just shared 4 FREE weeks of bell ringers for black history month. 

If you need more info on how I use these in my classroom, you can check out the original post with all the details here.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Paint Organization and Distribution Tips

 Here are some quick tips to make paint distribution and storage easier in your high school art class. This system has worked for me in a 41 minute period setting and a 78 minute block setting. For reference, this is a small classroom (no walk in closet) and another teacher uses my room during another block as well.

Option 1: Individual palettes. I have a shelf for students to keep their palettes on. Assigning a numbered spot let's them know that I know who's being messy. I can fit 20 of the 7" round palettes with wells on each shelf. 

Pro: cuts down on waste. Easy to save mixed colors

Con: have to mist with water and wrap palette daily. 

Option 2: Cups of paint. I have a tin of each primary, secondary and neutral color. Each pair of students gets 1 cup of each color to share. They access it from a communal table. At end of class they return the cup. I mist all tins with water and put the lid on. You can also add a wet sponge to keep paints moist over a long weekend. For my upper levels I have two kids share one of these tins for the duration of the project.

Pro: These stack neatly and take up less room than traditional palettes.

You could also use cheap dollar store pencil cases

Con: Students will need palette paper, you need to buy and replace the cups or trim the palette paper to fit the size of the box.

Tip: I keep the wax / palette paper in a readily accessible location for quick self service.

For paintbrushes you can try the over the door shoe hanger. I number each kit and each pouch space. 
At the end of class I can scan quickly to see who's missing. Also, I don't have enough for every student. Student #5 in my first class shares with Student #5 in my second class. I tell them to let me know if the brush is dirty at the beginning of class. Then I make a note to speak to that student the next day. It only takes 1 or 2 kids for them to realize that they can't get away with not washing brushes.
Pro: kids check brushes instead of you, saving time.
Con: brushes not cleaned last period of day will be gross the next day
Fun Fact: sometimes students tell on themselves. I had a kid show me a horrible brush. When I looked to see who shared the set, the student in the other class was absent. So he was the last to use (and not clean) the brushes.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Love is in the air

One of the largest differences between teaching elementary and high school is the dominance of seasonal art at the elementary level. I frequently hear the kids complain that we don't do anything "special" at this level for holidays. This year I may try slipping in some seasonal-ish work with my older students and see how it's received. It would be interesting to simply include some love themed works with my samples but not necessarily pitch them as "valentine" projects and see if the kids run with it. When I look through my curriculum there are already many assignments that could fit the bill. 

First up we have the composite shape lesson. This is a budget friendly lesson that can be completed with ball point pen on any type of paper. I normally give my students free reign to use idioms, oxymorons and metaphors to create a visual pun. With a little tweaking, the shapes or puns could be love themed. Here are two examples:


"Change of Heart"

This next lesson is already a favorite because it checks so many boxes. Color theory, paintbrush practice and control. Symbolism. Abstraction. Students normally pick a lyric from a song. Simple enough to change it to be a love song.

This lesson was done with my 5th grade students and is a great one for middle school. Another low budget option. This was an old dictionary that was sitting on my shelf for ages. Students illustrate a quote on top. A great intro to design concepts, symbolism, calligraphy and/or typography.

And of course the pop art word sculpture, which is always a crowd pleaser with my art 1 students. What if they redesigned the Robert Indiana Sculpture instead?

What would you add to the list? Could you see your students having an interest in holiday / seasonal themed work?

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Elementary Art Winter Lesson Round Up

I'm not sure why the month of January seems to have 300 days, but if you're feeling the post holiday slump, here are some of my favorite winter themed elementary art lessons.

 My K-5 budget at one of the four schools I taught was exceptionally low, so I intentionally included lots of low budget options like collage and marker printing to help you stretch your supply budget. Beneath each image is a link to the original blog posts with more photos, samples and details.

Grade recommendations:

Clay snowmen: Grades 1-2
Read the original post with more photos and info here.

Original post with fun "snowman charades" activity here

Original post with more details here

Original post for this lesson here

The original post and book recommendation are here.

Arcimboldo Snowmen: all grades
Original post here

Original post can be found here

Original post for this lesson here.

Original post can be found here.

If your New Year’s Resolution was “working contract hours” you can snag these from my TpT shop and get back to Netflix over this long holiday weekend!