End of the year clean-up strategies


For many of us, the end of the school year is fast approaching. For me, it ended this week and if your art room is anything like mine, it can be overwhelming to think about cleaning up. There are some things I need to do, like get boxes and supplies off the tables and clean up the sink area–things that the office manager assigns in a checklist–but the boxes of dried up clay, the mismatched markers and the boxes of paper scraps just make me want to run away and hide. In fact, I tend to be in the same boat as DSS Facebook reader Leah Keller, when asked what her advice is for the end-of-the-year-clean-up, “Drive away and don’t look back until August!”

Actually, there is a lot of truth to her statement. Sometimes, doing the basics is enough for now and when you come back in August–rested and motivated and with brand new supplies–you can really dig in and organize with ruthless abandon.

Here’s what I do at the end of the school year:


Organizing artwork and returning it to the students is priority number one. Sometimes, I have the students organize the last pieces of artwork into their portfolios, sometimes I do it myself between classes and sometimes the classroom teacher steps in and helps while I teach the class (love my co-teachers!).



Because my ceramic unit falls at the end of the year, I have some things that require attention.

  • Wiping the dry clay bits off my mutli-slab tile cutter, because if I don’t, the clay will rust the wire.
  • Combine underglaze colors together into small condiment cups. Write color name on side of tub. Often the underglaze will dry out, but when you use them again in the fall,  just reconstitute by adding water.
  • Separate clay tools and place in individual trays or containers
  • Put plastic bags of extra clay into large buckets and add water to the bags. In the Fall, I’ll have some students wedge the extra clay into cubes.



This is one category of clean-up that I leave until Fall. Students help sort markers but I leave pastels and chalk alone. It’s just too messy and overwhelming. I’m far more excited to organize this stuff when school starts back up.

Paints are the same. I throw out empty bottles, I clean a few plastic tubs, but mostly I don’t worry about it.


Brushes are quick to organize as I organize them daily. Having brushes sorted and ready to go is part of my prep system so I am a stickler for brush organization. Same for the other things I use everyday like Sharpies, black oil pastels, glue and paper.


  • Deanne Lawder takes scissors home and runs them through the dishwasher
  • Laura from Painted Paper uses up leftover paints by having each class make painted paper using different analogous colors
  • Doris Canfield Bottoni sorts pastel colors into clear acrylic boxes
  • Mary Rutherford turns old markers into liquid watercolors by soaking the tips in water.


List your tips for art room clean up below. Personally, I would love to know how you all handle the boxes of paper scraps and oil pastels. My achilles heel!

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  • Michelle East

    As a fun treat for my 5th graders, we have a shaving cream on the tables party! I clear the tables of all supplies & lables (which I have to remove at the end of the yr anyway) and I have 2 responsible students give each student some shaving cream directly on the table. I set the ground rules first: no shaving cream on anything but the table & your hands! They are not allowed to touch each other either. We also have sculpting competitions- it is great fun & an awesome way to get your tables clean for the end of the year!

  • Monica Talley

    I purchased disposable clear food containers from the Dollar Store to store my used oil pastels in. There are at least two of every color in each container. I have 24 so that each student per class can have one container of their own. I also like to keep chalk in the larger casserole size containers. Chalk is my personal favorite so having lots and lots of little bits make me happy!

  • Tom

    I’ve had a big problem to organize my color pencils. When I get new color pencils the boxes rip, destroy, and the students mix their pencils. I tried to use cups and also rubber bands but the students still mixed up their own color pencils. What do you organize color pencils?

    • Patty Palmer

      I don’t even try to keep them in their original containers. I place mine on plastic trays and the kids select their choices.

    • Tammie Clark

      I use pencil boxes. They stack well! Sometimes you can get students old ones at the end of the year. Everyone wants a new one for next year. I also use baby wipe containers.

  • Deb T.

    At the end of the year I have kids go through all the baskets of crayons and sort out the peeled ones. We keep them in separate containers for projects that require using the side of the crayon for coloring in large areas. We also test the markers, tossing out the dry, or headless ones!

    • Ann

      We send useless markers to Crayolas recycled marker program. I sent 3 boxes yesterday! Postage paid by Crayola. Google it..

  • Martha

    This is really the end of the year for me. I am ending a 40 year art teaching career and I am hoeing out the most incredible memories. Odd, that at his point in my career, I find your site. It is so much fun to follow and feel your enthusiasm for teaching Art.

    • Kathleen

      You may want to look at Crayola’s marker recycling program. It does not cost anything and it keeps plastics out of landfills. See http://www.crayola.com/colorcycle.aspx

      • Patty Palmer

        Great resources. Thanks!

  • Martha

    Oh and cleanup ideas…throw out sponges. Sort brushes….bring old construction paper to the front…..wash lids of watercolor sets…..give away old crayons and paper scraps to kids to take home….give away old glue or glue sticks…..they take such joy in getting STUFF. Use up all partial bags of clay for one last firing….color sort glazes. I hate yarn. Nightmare.

  • Ellieu@comcast.net

    I am teaching and art class at church for students of all ages (5-12) during second service. God’s Creation and bible based. At the end of the year I brought out all left over art/craft supplies that we have used during the last year (it seemed to be a bit of construction color paper, beads, glue, pom balls, pop sticks, ribbon, all kinds of stuff a little this and that.
    They were free to create whatever they wanted. Some did mobiles, decorated boxes, paper towns, you name it, it was a lot of fun and the kids loved it. I called it a “Free Create Day” In fact we had two of those days. They screamed with delight. Who would have thought. Thanks for everything. Ellie Unterbrink

  • Kristin

    I’m looking for the simplest way to return a large amount of artwork back to my students who are in grades K-2. Do any of you have suggestions to make this process go smoother?

    Currently, I allow kids to decorate art folders while returning artwork to each students but to do this for over 450 students is draining. How can I empower them to help in the process?

    • Janine

      It’s a loud and busy time but I put piles of work in tubs all around the floor and ask kids to take one and find it’s owner and deliver it to them. Each child has a large plastic bag (folio type) and they carry it while they do this and put their work in it. It doesn’t take very long.
      ‘No name’ work gets left in the tubs and children can check if they are missing something and see if it’s theirs.

  • Carol S.

    I teach 7th and 8th grade art. My solution to oil pastels is to buy the classroom pack and divide it up into small Ziploc bags. Everyone gets one of each color to start with. If they need an extra blue or white that’s ok. Make sure you write their name on the bag with a sharpie.

    The real trick to keeping the mess down is to let them know that these pastels are now theirs. At the end of all the pastel projects they can take them home with them. Ownership does wonders!

  • Beth

    Hi! The Year End Review workbook link (click to download button) takes you to a broken link/error. Thanks!!

    • Bethany

      This is Bethany from Team Sparkle. We are working on getting that taken care of, so please try again shortly. Thanks!

  • Jenna

    I have always used the method of getting containers (with our without lids), and I just load them up with mixed colors of oil pastels (save the black ones aside for outlining, etc.) This way, when they do oil pastels, I just put the container on each table and they can dig around and find the ones they want. Sometimes, I have them pour them out onto a laminated mat so they can see the colors easier. We just fold up the mat and pour the oil crayons back into the container at the end of class. As for scrap paper, I have a bin of scrap colored paper and another of pre-cut shapes out of colored paper. I will use these to load up paper plates or containers to be used for things like paper mosaics, etc.

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