5 Rules to Simplify your First day of Art by Deep Space Sparkle

5 Art Rules to Simplify your First Day

5 Art Rules to Simplify your First Day

Ahhh… the first day of school

No doubt you’ve already been into your art room putting new art supplies into rainbow colored 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.

5 Rules to Simplify your First day of Art by Deep Space Sparkle

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 stop chatting (I don’t want to be a yeller).

I 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”.

Here are my 5 art rules:

5 Rules to Simplify your First day of Art by Deep Space Sparkle

That’s it. Those are my 5 art rules.

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.

No child 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. Many 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.

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 & expectations can be explained and put into action as the month progresses.

I know from raising three kids that in order for anything to stick, behavior expectations need 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. This doesn’t mean that the kids always follow this rule, but I stay consistent and hopefully it sinks in by the end of the month.

I share best practices on how to treat art supplies, how to clean-up, and when to chat with the children gradually….a little bit each class. It only requires 2-3 classes to get my expectations demonstrated.

Do you know what is the best behavior management tool of all?

Creating art.

5 Rules to Simplify your First day of Art by Deep Space Sparkle

So plan an art 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.

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.

Need some help figuring out what to do after the first day?

This download shares:

– What art supplies I love to use and what I don’t bother with

– Tips on planning your curriculum

– What supplies to use with each grade level

– Handy art technique checklist

Download the free ART TEACHER’S TOOLKIT. Click the yellow button to receive your Art Teacher’s Toolkit via email!

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I can’t wait to hear how your first week goes. And I’d love to hear what YOUR 5 ART RULES are.

You can share them in the comments below…

Patty xo

PS Have you heard that a complete art curriculum based on the Elements of Art and the Principles of Design is included in the Sparklers’ Club membership? Oh yeah. This curriculum is pretty epic–and that’s what it’s called EPIC– and it includes resources, posters and all the lessons you need for a full year. 

Find out more right HERE.

5 Rules to Simplify your First day of Art by Deep Space Sparkle

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  • Annette Bernardi

    Great advice! Thank you.

    • Deb Locklear

      I got in trouble last year for letting my classes talk.So this year that’s one of my first rules unfortunately. Thanks

  • Kim

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

  • Erin

    I love them all…. especially rule number 3!

  • Kathy

    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!

  • Lauren

    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!

  • phyl

    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

      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.

  • Tobie

    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!)

  • Cathy

    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!


  • Amy

    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.

    • Patty

      Thanks so much!

  • Kenneth

    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!

  • youngartwork

    Great advices, thank you

  • chrissybozz

    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

      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

      • Samantha Stankiewicz

        One trick that helps with the noise level for k-5’s is to catch them having a “magic moment”. Its that moment when everyone forgets to talk because they are so engrossed in their work. “If talking is getting in the way of doing, I’d be happy to let you sit on the floor or in the hall.” I’ve been working on keeping things positive so that we keep building trust. Love and Logic has a bunch of great strategies that have helped me with my classroom and my kids!

    • Brian Honan

      Children seem to naturally start to talk over each other and get louder and louder. I have tried a lot of different strategies. My music teacher friend once taught his students the difference between whispering and talking by holding you vocal chords and feeling the difference. The trick for me is addressing the whole class or trying to pin point who is getting loud. The reminders get brushed off after a while and it really is a way for students to start throwing some weight around. I have used some online sound apps, they sort of helped. The key to whatever method is to get on it and stay on it.

    • Becky

      I use the same. But it seems difficult to keep them quiet even after they lose all the letters. If they keep talking I tell them they owe me 5 minutes of sitting quietly and doing nothing. It is very frustrating.

  • Carol Vincent

    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.

  • Lauren C.

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

  • Laura

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

    • Patty Palmer

      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.

  • Adriane

    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

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

  • Robby

    Thanks. Great back to school inspiration.

  • Dawn

    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

      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.

    • Dawn

      Hi Patty and I am extending this question out to anyone who is reading these about the first day of school. I’ve been a hs art teacher for 10+ years and my courses are constantly changing and I am always looking for innovative ways to get them hooked the first week and at the same time establish rules and procedures. One thing that worked is getting to know the kids first, show them projects for the year, and the second day going over the rules/procedures. Sometimes I get kids who have nothing else to take but art and they don’t want to be here. Sometimes this is a challenge sometimes I am surprised at their talents. Anyway, do any of you high school teachers assign students alphabetically at tables the first day? I usually try to group them with their grade level. I teach 9-12 in a class sometimes. I’ve been finding that there is too much chitty chat at times and I have to move seats. What are people’s thoughts about seating in Art. Thanks.

  • Michelle

    Perfect! Thank you! I am a 4th yr Art Teacher but I’m in a new school this year and I didn’t want to do 40 minutes of rules and procedures. Every time I did that in the past, the kids would “check out” and they didn’t appreciate me as much because of the stern setting we were in. I have been looking for new ideas, and this is definitely something I will use! I can’t wait to get into paint on our 1st day!


  • Michelle

    ohhh, there is one thing though. I will have classes of 25-32 students apiece. I find this a bit intimidating with so many. And advice on that?

  • Charlene Cloutier

    I have an ART CHART that I’ve used for at least the past 22 years. It is graph paper and is color coded. There is a list of all classes on the left and they earn color coded points across to the right, it is about 8 feet wide on my wall. Classes get a Blue point for listening to directions, a yellow one for working fairly quietly (conversation is okay), a red point for a quick, quiet clean up, and a green point for a silent line at the door. All four points equals a “golden paw” which is a paper symbol at my school for a class doing a great job on something.
    When classes earn 30 points they earn a “free class” in my room, I play special music, kids songs and Sponge Bob songs, they can paint, color, do origami, tangrams, etc….they love it! The color coded chart helps me to look quickly to see which points the class earned the week before. I also use “helper sticks” which are just popsicle sticks with student names for each class in yogurt cups, I made a box for each day and pull the sticks out and set them aside for calling on helpers fairly. If the class is extra awesome I have a special collection of “line up the fun way” popsicle sticks with totally random things on them such as……”if you like meatballs”, “if you had a fish and it died”, “if your dad has a moustache”, “if you have a bunk bed”, “if you’re wearing a shirt with a sports team on it”…..these are so much fun to make and the kids beg for them!

  • valerie rovins

    I have been teaching art after school for seven years. The classes are FOR PROFIT so it a new registration every 8 weeks. I admit to having a degree in Art Education from a prestigious school, but I honestly do not know what the heck I am doing most of the time. The classes fail a lot and I am not sure why? My degree is in secondary education. The kids range from 4 to 16. I started going to these paint parties. I had a good time and learned some new stuff. Do you think I can teach this types of paintings to my older kid??? An issue is that I have four year olds and 7 year olds in my young class. That is always hard. I am struggling.HOW DO I CREATE EXCITEMENT BACK ? Thanks for taking your time to read my post. Valerie Rovins

  • Lalitha

    Liked ur rules very much
    Will surely implement these as this is my first year in school as an art and craft teacher

  • kelley Wilson

    I love the painted paper idea right off the bat simply for the fact that you have the paper for future projects. I am a new teacher to this school but the kids have been in art before, so why not shock them with getting right to it.

    Plus, this is my 2nd, FIRST year! After raising my kids, I went back to work and after my first year completed, my husband comes home and tells me he got a job offer in another state! So now, once again, I am have to start new. Anyway painting paper will buy me some time, allow me to get to know the students on top of allow me to talk about color theory. Should be fun!!!

  • Jessie Byrnes

    This is amazing

  • Tina

    Thank you! I’m teaching art for the first time this year. This is great advice.

    • cutcliffe.elly1

      Congrats! I remember my first year if teaching very fondly. Enjoy!

  • Mary Anne Gavin

    Really like your five rules!

  • Margarita

    I’m going to add in my rules:
    6. Respect and appreciate others artwork. Each one of us creates a unique and different piece.

  • Cheri Hanshaw

    I’m just starting an art club for my first time. How do you make the painted paper project?

  • Charles Christian Winslow (friends and colleagues call me Chris)

    I have 30 classes Grades 3 thru 8, approx. 800 students. 87% Hispanic from primarily working class and working poor families. Don’t have art room. Have to carry or roll supplies in on a cart in an old building with 4 floors and no elevator. After 8 years teaching high school art where I had 5 classes, approx 30 student per class, art room 6 other helpful art teachers in same Dept.(I’m alone at elementary school). This is my 2nd year year and biggest challenge is that I need to develope a whole range of lesson plans as I have same student base as last year and can’t keep doing same projects over and over. So challenges abound. Not sure your system fits my particular needs but you do have interesting sight. Please advice!

    • Patty

      You’re not alone. Many members of The Sparklers Club have similar logistics. If you’re not a member, I would suggest joining our open facebook group. This is a great question to ask there.

  • Kala

    Awesome 1st day activity…..!

  • Susan

    I love your website. I’ve been visiting it for years. SO>>>>>I’m in NYC. I have to align my lesson plans with the BLUEPRINT FOR THE ARTS, THE DANIELSON FRAMEWORK, and the NY STANDARDS. I need to have ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS and other stuff that I don’t agree with, (turn and talk) but I have to do. I am an artist and teacher. I’ve been teaching for over 15 years. This is my second career and I love it. I agree with you that there is no kid who wants to sit through rules and procedures. When I read you posts, it makes me laugh because I go through the same situations as you. First: I THINK I NEED TO PURCHASE A BELL! Second: I would love to see one of your written lesson plans. Here in NYC – they become so convoluted, I sometimes don’t know what I am teaching! My BEST lessons are lessons that I don’t even plan (please don’t tell my principal). So – I am looking for easy but not that easy that I have to write one every week. BECAUSE, I teach over 500 students. It is also required for me to put all my lessons on RUBRICON. Geez! IN ADDITION, I go to work shops to acquire CTLE hours to keep my license current. UGH! Do you have any suggestions?

    • Patty Palmer

      You need to join The Sparklers Club! Click this link: download a couple of free lessons and then I’ll send you a few emails in early January telling you all about enrollment 🙂

  • Amy Wellman

    Love it as usual!

  • Elizabeth Uhren

    love it! I am a first year art teacher this year and love all advice and inspiration!

  • Trina Orloff

    I’m a second year middle school teacher, on a cart! and I’m always looking for simplification!

  • Tia

    A Always do your best!
    R Respect. Everyone is doing their best and deserves respect in this room.
    T Tools- Use tools properly. Keep all tools clean and put away correctly when finished.
    S Safety first. If we aren’t safe everything stops.

  • keana seneviratne

    i love doing art it’s like a hobby for me

  • Simona Schultz

    Thank you for your advices.
    I like the fact that you are focusing more on the joy of children exploring art. I am teaching for the whole year and I think it’s important to practice the routine in the first 1-3 weeks of school and hopefully they are set for the rest of the year.

  • Stephanie Bishop

    My students love to talk. My concern for allowing them to talk is often they do more talking than art and it becomes a distraction to others around them. Also the talkers take longer to complete projects leaving many waiting a class for them to catch up. I feel it is not fair to hold the class back from the next project while waiting on 1/3 -1/2 the class to finish. I have tried to say give me 15 min. of silent focused art and then you can whisper the last 15 min. at your tables. I want to create a chill atmosphere but feel I have to be the stay on task guard since we do have only a limited amount of classes.

  • Tessa Smith

    Alack, I get an error message when I click the yellow button for the PDF

    • avery

      We just fixed the link so it should work for you now. Let us know if there are any issues!

  • Laurie

    Wow! Just this email has inspired me to tackle a painting project on the first day! Thanks!

  • Sol Tuca

    I loved your sugestion about 5 rules for the art class !!! Thank you so much!

  • Cindy Eichhorst

    This is me!!! I love it! I’ll consider starting with painted paper -which I really enjoy doing. I say consider because I usually do a self portrait with a book on the first day -but you’ve go t me thinking…

    Thanks so much! Cindy

  • Sarah

    I also agree that #3 is awesome. I’m simplifying my rules this year. I teach middle school (5th-8th) and see my students every day either for the semester or the whole year. I’m going to tell them to think ART—Act appropriately, Respect your teacher and classmates, Tools are meant to be used, not played with. Hopefully I can build a creative culture that includes some version of your #3, but I wanted the “rules” to be super straightforward.

  • Jessica Smith

    Great ideas! Just letting you know you repeated a paragraph twice…. it starts with; “So temper your excitement…”

  • Becky

    I wish I could use your rules but these days students are different.

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