First Day of Art Class

Ahhh…the first day of school. No doubt you’ve already been into your art room putting new art supplies into pretty bins, throwing out all the junk that you stuffed into drawers last June and dreaming about all the perfect students you’ll be teaching. If you’re really ambitious you might create stations in your art room where kids can go to free draw, or to flip through art books or perhaps examine a color wheel at length. Images of children working on projects, cleaning up their work area (without being asked) floats through your head as you sip coffee while planning your art curriculum.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I admit, I’m a bit of a idealist but I truly believe a few solid strategies will help you realize your dreams of an organized, fun and balanced classroom.

For me, my first art class begins like this: the classroom teacher peeks into the art room before she allows her students to enter. She checks to see where I want them to sit (on the floor, at special tables, etc) then once she knows, she asks the children to enter quietly.

Usually if they are excited (which is surely the case) and are talking a mile a minute, I stand at the front of the room and smile. I stay smiling until the kids look at me as if there is something wrong. When they’re convinced that I’m weird, I welcome them. I talk fairly low so that the kids are forced to zip their mouths (I don’t want to be a yeller). I’m tell them how excited I am that they are here (and this part is no exaggeration. I do love seeing them after a long summer) and I ask if there is anyone who doesn’t know who I am. I meet the kids that are new and explain my “rules”.

My Art Rules:

1. Have fun and don’t stress. This is art class, for Pete’s sake

2. Do your best work.

3. It’s okay not to like your art, but keep working. You never know what might happen through the process.

4. You can talk all you want…but not when I’m talking (BIG one for me).

5. When I ring my bell; stop, look and listen. 1) It’s time to clean up or…2) It’s time for more instruction or…3) Someone just did something totally awesome and I have to share it with everyone.

That’s it.

After I tell them these important things, I move right into my first lesson. No wasting time talking about supplies, clean-up duties, table responsibilities, what bugs me, where to sit, etc. I get on with the fun.  There is NO kid on this planet who wants to sit through forty minutes of rules and procedures.

They want to do art.

Of course, I’m with them on this point and it’s because I have a very good reason. I have  little time with my students. I only see them 15 times a year. Most art teachers see their students 32-36 times a year. So you could argue that you have the time to devote a whole class to the rule stuff. I still disagree. You want your kids to come into art class excited, not worried about remembering the art teacher’s rules. Let’s face it, between the homeroom teacher, the science teacher, PE coach and the librarian (and we all know how many rules they have), the first few days of school for kids is basically rule week. And who can remember them all?

Rules can be explained as the month progresses but I know from raising three kids that in order for anything to be carried out with routine, behavior expectation needs to be consistent. I never allow students to talk when I’m talking. I’ll stop what I’m doing and not proceed until the kids figure it out. This includes parent helpers or even classroom aids. If a parent talks, I ask them to take it outside. Don’t have to do this very often and I do try and be as pleasant as possible, but I’m pretty self-centered and I want the floor all to myself. This doesn’t mean that the kids always follow this rule, but I stay consistent and hopefully it sinks in by June.

So plan a lesson for your first day. Shock the heck out of the students and teachers by doing a painted paper project on the very first day ( just make sure it’s not Picture Day!). Think of the bright side; you’ll have all that pretty paper to use up for the rest of the year.

 So temper your excitement about starting the year off fresh by holding back on all those fabulous rules. They can wait. Unleash them gradually and consistently. Enjoy your student’s energy and enthusiasm.

For those of you who are starting school this week…enjoy!!!! For everyone else who has another week or so, enjoy those last few days of summer.

26 comments

  1. Annette Bernardi says:

    Great advice! Thank you.

  2. Kim says:

    I love your simple rules! I’m going to use them! Hope your year starts off great!!

  3. Erin says:

    I love them all…. especially rule number 3!

  4. Kathy says:

    I love painted paper! We make a big batch of it each year to use in collages and mosaics. Your rules are great and rule 3 is very positive!

  5. Lauren says:

    I love this advice! It’s so funny because it’s exactly what I did last week when we started back. We dove right in! And, I started with paint just to see the shocked look on their faces. You’re so right, we have to make every moment count!

  6. phyl says:

    I have one really important rule that the kids all know: NO WHINING! (or no complaining). After all, this is the ART room, where the sun always shines (true in my room as I have a sun on my window shade) and everyone is happy. If something goes wrong, laugh and say “oh well, it was only a sheet of paper” and then turn it into something unexpected.

    I do something fun the first class but leave the messy stuff for the 2nd art class. My students all bring their own art shirts to school and I give them a day to get them into their cubbies in their classrooms.

    But yes, I see my students a LOT more than you see yours, maybe 50-60 times over 40 weeks for grades 2-6, and 30 times for K & 1. Lucky me – it means we can create a LOT of stuff!

    Oh – I agree 100% with your rules, especially the talking one!!!!!

    • Patty says:

      Yes!!! NO whining! That’s a biggie for me. I find myself not responding to the whines. Just can’t deal!
      Do art shirts work well? I’ve been getting lots of questions regarding how to manage art shirts. I don’t use them at all.
      I’m jealous of how many times you get to see your students. Twice a week is a real rarity today.

  7. Tobie says:

    I simplified my rules this year also. It has made the class run so much smoother. I am at a private school we started school 3 weeks ago (a very short summer for me!)

  8. Cathy says:

    I love this post! I have been stressing and jittery about what I want to do the first day. This helps a lot…..although my first project will probably be something a little less involved than painted paper! I have my whole year planned, etc. but have still stressed about this first day….and being a first year teacher, first impressions on the first day make a big impact!

    I am similar in that I don’t see my students often but another problem for me is that I am an “art on a cart” teacher…..going from room to room. So that makes things more difficult in planning, etc.

    I have 4 kids and totally agree…..routine is important!

    Thanks!

  9. Amy says:

    Hi Patty,
    I just stopped by to let you know I love your lesson plans and started my first day with them. I loved your post about the first day, and could not agree more. I too like the floor to myself and talk low.And as for the rules, I felt like I was reading from my own list. I want to thank you for taking the time to share with all of us who rely on your lessons and your blog. I know my students are thankful.

  10. Kenneth says:

    I do agree that we need to keep rules and procedures to a minimum, especially for the first day of school. I did explain my rules and procedures the first day followed by a “mini” art lesson the second half of class. I like your tree painting lesson with the stippling technique. Thanks!

  11. Great advices, thank you

  12. chrissybozz says:

    Hi there! I am currently teaching grades 4-5-6 and have a question for you….how do you handle the talking during Art class? This has been a thorn for my 5 years of teaching Art. My principal seems to want them quiet and ‘in line’ during class-but I feel the Art room should provide a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere. I have the kids using the A.R.T method (everytime the room becomes too loud a letter is removed…then when all three letters are gone, it is “quiet Art” class…it has really been a sore spot for me. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated…

    • Anne says:

      I tell them they can whisper as long as they are working and when I want there attention I say class class class and they repeat yes yes yes but the whisper keeps the noise level down

  13. Carol Vincent says:

    I love your website. Your ideas and projects are fresh and so much fun to create. My question is this, do you have a standard course of study that you follow? Is there any order to the way you teach art by grade level? I look at my standards and then use some of your projects to meet the objectives. Do you integrate your lessons? How about collaborative efforts? Thank you for your realistic approach to teaching art.

  14. Lauren C. says:

    GREAT!!!! Thanks. I totally bored my kids with the same old expectations today, but now, thanks to you I won’t tomorrow.
    Thank you!

  15. [...] the art room-my happy place-with three classes of adorable Kinders. As I suggested back in my post “First Day of Art Class” I started the year with a Painted Paper project. My Kinder teachers asked me if I could do an art [...]

    • Ms. G says:

      Thank you so much for this! Monday is my first day as an art teacher besides student teaching and I am so overloaded w a million other things concerning the school at wide, I need this to be as simple as possible. I feel like I can now give myself permission to do so.

  16. Laura says:

    Do you have any ideas for 3-5 art clubs? We are having three day a week program for one hour after school.

    • I would click through the art lessons in grade 3 through 5. I have hundreds so it would depend what medium you prefer and if you are teaching any themes, etc. I love my watercolor lessons for grades 4-6 and even Modern Masters for grades 4-6.

  17. [...] the art room-my happy place-with three classes of adorable Kinders. As I suggested back in my post “First Day of Art Class” I started the year with a Painted Paper project. My Kinder teachers asked me if I could do an art [...]

  18. Adriane says:

    I loved your post- it was very inspiring!
    I am a first year art teacher and was planning on making a “back to school rules day” the first week but you have shown me that we are a special curriculum as the art class- I want my kids to have a great time and appreciate their time with me! I now have art making lesson plans ready to go for week one :)

    Thank you!!!!

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Yay! I totally understand the need for rules, yet it’s fun to rethink how we introduce them. Good luck this year!

  19. Robby says:

    Thanks. Great back to school inspiration.

  20. Dawn says:

    What grade level do you teach Patty? I teach HS. Do you think that teaching HS students classroom rules gradually will work? Your approach sounds intriguing. However, on the first day I usually show them what the class is about by showing artwork by recent students and the second day usually involves rules and procedures to “nip it in the bud” early.

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Hi Dawn,
      I teach K-6 so I suppose that my first day rules would be far different than yours! I think it’s a great idea to do what you do: get them excited about the project and then talk about your classroom rules.

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