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Teaching Art at Home: Part II The Set-Up


This is my second installation in the series, Teaching Art at Home. Click here to read Part 1 and here for Part III

I remember when my children were young and I set up an outdoor art studio: rolls of newsprint, tubs of paint, texture tools, etc. I dreamed of my children creating, painting, exploring and then running off to Michaels to frame the resulting masterpieces. Um, not what happened. The art experience lasted about 5 minutes and all I got to show for it was a paint splattered patio and crying kids.

Can I remind you that I am an artist and an art teacher and this still happened to me? This scenario is fine if your goal is play time, but if you want to teach art, you need to set up a learning space.  This doesn’t mean you need to set up an elaborate art lab, but you need a few basic things…

  • You don’t need art easels but you do need a spot for each child to draw, paint and create. Kitchen tables are the best. Lay down a plastic table cloth or a large 18″ x 24″ sheet of paper per child. I use large sheets of paper in my classroom. They get a bit soggy after a paint day, but after they dry, they can be used again and again.
  • If you are teaching art to school-age children, it is imperative that you treat the art lesson like any other subject. To do this, you must develop a matrix of what works for you so that everytime you do an art lesson, the children know what to expect. Basically, establish a consistent schedule. Teaching at home is not unlike a classroom setting. For my younger students (K-3), the children sit on the floor while I read a book as a transition to my lesson, I show them a simple demonstration and then they go to their seats to do the art lesson. When the class is over, I ring the bell and we clean up. This happens every time they come to art class. Consistency breeds good behavior. Children know they can’t just get up in the middle of a project and run outside to play. They start to understand that there is a time and place to do all things they love.
  • Let the children be responsible for returning their own supplies to your storage system (more on that later).
  • If you are teaching to more than 3 children, your attention will be divided but don’t turn this into a problem. I teach between 20-30 children at a time and all I can say is that there are many, many developmental age groups in a classroom.  Try to simplify the lesson for the youngest but don’t teach to the youngest; teach to the middle. I’ll be honest, it’s not easy to adjust a lesson for a child who is overwhelmed without actually helping him, but let’s look at an example: Self-Portraits for a Kinder, second grader and a fifth grader. You can all watch the same video, read the same portrait lesson and look in mirrors, but when it comes time to draw, I would give the youngest an oval template, the middle can start with a letter “U” and the oldest can craft a more realistic face. You don’t have to do this, but it’s important to understand that a kinder won’t be able to follow the same set of instructions as the older kid. You need to adjust just like you would teaching math or language. This is why I break down my lessons into grade levels. They work better that way.
  • I approve of and love open-ended art projects but if you have children of various ages, projects that don’t have a certain flow encourages some children to lose interest faster than others. Although this can be said about any art lessons, the more structured you are about your lesson, the more likelihood that you can control the schedule. Keep in mind that I can’t possibly know the dynamics of every home-school environment but I do believe that a little structure is good for any type of learning.
  • I’ve had a question from one reader who was frustrated because her home-school art group was a nightmare to manage. Her problem was that the younger children would finish early and run off outside to play while the older kids continued working. After a few lessons, more of the group began abandoning their lessons so they could go outside to play. The problem I told her was that she opened up the option of playing outside. Don’t do that. When teaching to a group, it is very likely that all children will work at a different pace. Try to engage with all levels and provide “free-choice” activities for the children who truly finish early. This could be an art related activity that can be accomplished on their own. The trick here is to establish a set art time whether you finish the main project or not.

Now that you have your internal set-up underway, here are some logistics you may want to consider:

Teaching art at home

  • Reduce prep anxiety by encouraging children to share supplies. Place paint or coloring supplies in the middle of the table but provide a paint brush, marker or other drawing tool for each child. It’s helpful to keep general art related supplies together in a bin.


  • Don’t feel like you need to go “all out” when teaching art. Buy some basic supplies, pick a simple lesson that appeals to you and your children and don’t worry too much about the history of art, tying the lesson into your science unit or math lesson. Sometimes, it’s okay just to do art for art’s sake.
  • I couldn’t teach without a white board. I know many teachers are using only technology in their classroom, and that’s great. But for me, using the white board as a drawing space, a spot to hang art visuals and a place to post samples is critical to a rich visual space. I know you can’t have a huge whiteboard in your home, but try to find a magnetic whiteboard to hang on your wall. The bigger the better.
  • Print out art ideas and art lessons and place in a manilla envelope instead of keeping everything online. Sometimes, it’s easier to organize a lesson when you have something tangible. Keeping the manilla envelopes in a box allows you to add to the folders when you see a new idea on Pinterest or on one of your favorite blogs.

Big Tip #2: Be organized and offer a structured lesson

Try to embrace art as a learning experience and not just an activity. Art is not necessarily a craft project but a lesson in learning a technique, understanding how civilization has communicated through history and expressing one’s creative self. If it’s overwhelming teaching art once a week, try once a month. Baby steps!

Do you have any other set-up tips for Teaching Art at Home? Please share….


  1. Hi Patty

    I really how you set limits and create boundary for art lessons. I, too experience many of the frustrations you mentioned; kids running off, lost without instructions or generally lack of interest.
    Baby step is what I am taking by teaching once a month. I also incorporated your teaching method of adding story books to my lessons. I cannot thank you enough, this addition has been a God-sent. Kids are attentive and the lessons come alive with the pictures in the storybook.

    Thank you, Patty


    February 23, 2013

  2. I teach art to 10 children ages 6 and up every Saturday morning on my back patio in Trinidad. Perhaps for the most part it is easy and enjoyable because they want to be there – not because they have to be there. I divide the 2 hour session into 2 parts…today we started off with a lesson in Photography, everyone (who had) brought in a Coolpix type camera. We looked at the very basic parts of the camera, then discussed composition, perspective, focus and subject matter – basically how to look at things : ) Kids love to take pictures – and really excellent ones if they are guided to really look at what they are taking a picture of. Each child learned how to hold their camera safely and then off we went into the garden to take pictures. I was there just to remind them what they were looking for. They loved this!!! I asked the parents to save just a few and email them to me so I can print out a collage of the best examples of what we had discussed for next week. The second hour – we started off by looking at some books of Van Gogh’s paintings. They love to hear brief stories about each artist we look at – Van Gogh painted many versions of his “Sunflowers”. We look at the various techniques he used to apply paint – and then we are off! I handed out large precut pieces of paper and we quickly loosely planned in pencil our own vases (rectangle) on a table (horizontal line) containing 3 (circles) – our sunflowers. I use the styrofoam “plates” ( that come under fruits and vegetables in the grocery) as paint pallets – I squeezed some yellow and a touch of orange into everyones pallets and we “double loaded our brushes” (thanks Patty!), and worked from the center of the flowers outwards, letting our brushes flow outwards into wavy lines. Silence as we all work away…a few complained that they’d prefer to be using pink and purple instead….point taken and noted! – as for them it should be fun – and it did not occur to me that their color pallet (yellow, greens, browns was probably not as pretty as I thought it was.) I think planning out your lessons is key, and actually doing at least part of it yourself before hand is very important. Only the supplies you need should be out – pencils sharpened, tables covered, water containers for brushes filled, and I always keep their art journals close by those who finish early. The art journals they take home for the week and try to make at least 2 entries before bringing back to class every Saturday. We look at the journals together and they give me ideas about what interests them. I try to remember to take a few photos of the children at work which I email to the parents at the end of very lesson with a brief summary of what we did – and the kids love to see pictures of themselves and their work in the email. Libraries are a great source of inspiration as so many children’s books have incredibly creative illustrations – I place them on the art tables at the beginning of some classes where one of the children will read one aloud while we appreciate the art inside. There are a lot of great children’s books written about artists – which are great inspirations for lessons. It’s very helpful that I graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts and I am a practicing graphic artist for my company “Native Spirit”. Unfortunately I do not have a teaching degree, but love children…so I am really learning along the way. If you are not prepared or organized, there’s bound to trouble : ) ! that much I’ve learned for sure.

    Tracy Kaufmann

    February 23, 2013

  3. Hi patty. I need your expert advice. Would this be the right sequence in teaching art to 3 to 4.5 yrs old. .?
    Paper crumpling
    Paper tearing
    Pre cutting activities
    And then combination of different skills

    I really need your advice on this cause i am an art teacher (quite beginner)
    And i was asked to check out the right sequence for projects or skills thats developmentally appropriate
    Thanks so much.
    Teacher gen
    Nursery and kindergarten

    Gen gono

    May 8, 2013

    • Hi Gen,
      For the listed activities shown above, I really don’t think there is a necessary sequence. Children as young as three need space to explore materials and this can be done with little help from parents. That said, I don’t teach pre-school so I don’t have any hands-on experience in which to back up my advice. I think simple crafts are great for pre-schoolers as they help with some fine motor skills the children will need in Kindergarten. My suggestion is to step back on the instruction, but offer kids paper to cut, paper to paint and draw on, squeezing play-dough, etc.
      Hope this helps!

      Patty Palmer

      May 9, 2013

  4. I teach a small homeschool art group (6 kids from 2-8th grade) and have the same problem of kids being finished and running off to play. I like the idea of “free-choice” activities to keep everyone working. I’m having a hard time figuring out what type of “free-choice” activities to have available. Would these be activities that reinforce the lesson or just several activities to choose from? Thanks for your input!


    August 2, 2013

    • I don’t think it matters what type of free-choice activity you offer but I have a rule of thumb: it can’t be more interesting than the art project!

      Patty Palmer

      August 6, 2013

  5. Hi Patty, I found this all very, very helpful!
    My one question is, do you have insurance or specific zoning for teaching these lessons in your home? I’m trying to start teaching lessons in my own home, but I’m not sure how to deal with insurance and whatnot,


    July 15, 2014

    • Hi Olivia,
      I teach in a public school, so I don’t need to deal with the things you mentioned. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and they can guide you to the right source to answer your questions.
      Good luck!

      Patty Palmer

      July 15, 2014

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