How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Lesson planning tips from Deep Space Sparkle

Teaching Art From a Cart

How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Art Organization tips from Deep Space Sparkle

There are no words more terrifying to hear for an art teacher than, “You will be teaching from a cart.” This is pretty much what happened to this reader:

[quote] This is my first year teaching and was kind of thrown into teaching art….Being a traveling art teacher with only 45 min with each class is making lessons very hard. Especially when I actually want the students to learn about art, not just do some crafts once or twice a week. Can you please give me some suggestions on what I can do? We’re working with lines and are about to start color, but using paint has me concerned with not having much time and not having my own room…I don’t really have time to trade out supplies either so my cart space is very limited. PLEASE HELP ME![/quote]

While I don’t teach art via a cart now, I do have a bit of experience from my early days of teaching. Basically, when you are a visitor or guest in a classroom, you don’t have a lot of control over your teaching environment–at least physically–so being organize with your supplies, knowing how much prep space and display area you have as well as working with the classroom teacher to plan for drying and storing space is pretty important.

First off, you are not alone. Many art teachers have to work within the confines of a cart and many do it very well. You can too! One of the first things I would do is to give yourself a chance to warm into your teaching logistics. Give yourself some time to get to know the teachers, the kids, how much space you have and how well your cart is working. Then take some time to analyze what you have.

Here are a few things to consider and attempt to work out:

  • Does the classroom teacher have individual desks or shared tables? This feels like one of the most important issues as sharing a palette of paint between 5 kids at a table is a whole lot easier than setting out 25 trays for individual desks. If at all possible, set-up tables or desks so that you can group 4-6 kids together for supply sharing.
  • Does the classroom teacher have a drying rack and art storage area? If she does, give out a loud “whoop” as this will make your job infinitely easier. After a painting project, children can set their art on the rack and after it’s dry, the classroom teacher can place in a pre-made folder.
  • Is there any demonstration room on the white board or a document camera in the room? I don’t use a doc camera but it would make your job easier if you could use one in a teacher’s classroom as there will probably be very little room on the white board for artist samples and drawing techniques.
  • Perfect projects first. Are you scared of painting projects? If so, one of the best solutions I know to feel confident about a painting project is to do the lesson yourself. If, at any time, you stumble over a step or feel like it might be too hard, then stop and reassess the lesson. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with the project, you will struggle with teaching the steps. This is not just an art-on-a-cart problem but if it is your desire to paint with your students, pick a lesson you are extremely comfortable with (at least at first.) This ties in with my philosophy of controlling what you can as there will be so much you can’t control.
  • Secure a cupboard or closet for supply storage. As a concession for having to teach art on a cart, I truly hope that your school can afford you a place to keep at least a few art supplies. If you have a spot, then keep your supply cupboard well organized and clean. Perhaps take a few moments at the end of the day to organize so that by mid-year you won’t have a hot mess on your hands. Load your cart with the necessary supplies for that day.
  • Use technology to your advantage. One of the great things about technology is that you can show your students visuals and even lesson steps online. That’s one of the reasons why I created Art School for Kids. All teachers have to do is press “play” to access artist bios, artwork and lesson videos. No more lugging around heavy posters or books.

Teaching from a cart means you have to be organized with both your supplies and art lessons. Here are a few projects and techniques that will help you deliver a great art program on a cart:

How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Lesson planning tips from Deep Space Sparkle

Line art is basically any project that requires paper and a marker. I love line drawings and intersperse them throughout my curriculum when I need a project that doesn’t require much prep. You can choose to leave a drawing black and white or add color with colored markers or even paint.

The above lessons are great examples of how you can offer great art projects with few supplies. Younger kids (K-3) will enjoy drawing insects with a black waterproof marker like Sharpies. You can choose to color with either markers or tempera paint. If you use tempera paint, choose puck or cake tempera as the pans are easy to stack and requires no prep/clean-up from you.

The Skyscraper Line Drawings is a great lesson for older kids as it incorporates line, pattern and composition. My fifth graders loved this lesson and the best part is that it requires just a marker, 2 pieces of paper, scissors and glue.

How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Lesson planning tips from Deep Space Sparkle

For painting projects, there might not be any paint easier than watercolor paints. You only need watercolor paper, some type of drawing tool and watercolor paints.

There are two types of watercolor paints that I use in my art room: liquid watercolors and pan or tray watercolors. Liquid watercolors are fantastic for little ones and colors are intense and they don’t have to mix. But they do require a bit of prep which is why they may not be the best projects for a cart teacher. Pan watercolors are great in this case. They are easy to stack on your cart, easy to deliver to students and easy to put away. You can even prep the trays to include the brush to eliminate passing out brushes.

The next questions you might have with watercolor projects is what product should you use to draw with. I have a basic rule of thumb: for fast/easy watercolor projects, use oil pastel. For longer/more difficult/advanced projects use a waterproof marker.

If you are new to teaching and just getting a handle on watercolor, try the lessons that use oil pastel for drawing. I have a bunch of watercolor lessons HERE.

Projects that require more time/supplies

You can create a wonderful art curriculum using just line drawings and watercolor paints, but sooner or later you are going to want to move into tempera paints, collages and chalk.

Here are some art-on-a-cart tips for each:

How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Lesson planning tips from Deep Space Sparkle

Like I said earlier, puck tempera paint is far easier to manage than liquid tempera. You have to compromise on the quality of finish when the piece dries (depending on brand) but I still like them and use them a lot.  One of the bigger benefits to puck tempera is that they dry a bit faster than liquid tempera.

Use on general sulphite/construction paper.

How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Lesson planning tips from Deep Space Sparkle

Chalk pastel is a product I use only once or twice with each grade level but less with Kinders. Keep the chalk in the trays they come in because if you start dumping them into a larger container, they just get to messy and beat up. Spend some time during clean-up to show the kids how to place all the little chalk pieces back in their beds. I always find that there are a few organizers in the group who love this job!

The best part about chalk is that they require little prep: just place the trays on each table. And if you have desks, they are relatively inexpensive so each child can have a pack. The problem with chalk is that they are a bit messy. To contain this, bring in some newspapers and place under each piece of art. Children can contain their chalk dust on the newspaper, tap the collected dust into the trash and then use the newspaper to cover their art work to prevent smudging.

Click to see some great chalk projects HERE

How to organize art supplies and pick the right lessons when teaching art from a cart. Lesson planning tips from Deep Space Sparkle

Using papers like painted paper and collage materials would certainly be a harder project to manage in someone else’s classroom. There is a tremendous amount of prep involved in creating paint colors, cleaning massive amounts of brushes and storing the papers if you create painted paper the way I do it. It’s entirely possible to create the painted paper yourself and then use the product for projects but that would be up to you.

Collage projects that require lots of paper, scissors, glue, templates, paint, oil pastel, etc are projects that require more breakdown and therefore more planning. Don’t eliminate these projects but give yourself permission to take it slow. Don’t try to cram it all in at once. 45-minutes is plenty of time to do a great job of any project if you break down the steps for different days.

The following links give you excellent advice on organization, management and little tips from the people who actually teach from a cart.

Great Resources from the Ones Who Know

Tales from the Traveling Art Teacher

The Life of a Traveling Art Teacher from The Art of Education

This Little Class of Mine

Rainbow Skies & Dragonflies: Surviving Art on a Cart I love this list, especially No. 9!

Art Cart Tips for Art Teachers PDF from Montgomery County Public Schools

Art on a Cart Prezi Presentation from Heidi Lung. Check out this art teacher’s cart! Very cool.

I know there are a lot of you out there who teach from a cart, so let’s hear it: what’s the ONE THING you wish someone told you when you first started?

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  • Mrs."C"

    Hi Patty!
    Great article! Very helpful suggestions for anyone working off a cart! Thanks for the plug as a resource 🙂 That Prezi Art cart! WOW! That cart is/was amazing!!! It’s literally a room on wheels! 🙂

  • Paula

    Patty, I am always amazed at your generosity! Wishing you all the best in all your new ventures. We don’t have to have carts but you pack so much into every article that once again I have picked up new information. Thanks again!

  • Lita Lita

    Those are great tips! I am an Art teacher that needs to buy a cart so this post is very useful. Any cart recommendation?

    • Cathi Taylor

      I do not teach from a cart currently… however a few years back my school bought me an industrial strength…. big (34 inches high 34 inches wide and 24 inches deep plus a little for the handles)hard plastic cart made by rubbermaid…it worked great… it had handles at both ends…. so I could pull it from either end… had a top shelf (also had a ledge so things didnt slide off )with a drawer beneath it for my pens and stuff like a desk on a cart…. another shelf below and another shelf below that closed with doors and could be locked… I used lots of caddies and baskets…. we have a ramp in our school so it travelled pretty easily with not much trouble that I remember…. I see it is still available on the rubbermaid site…. 4094Instrument cart with locking doors…($440.00 )also a wide selection of other carts there…


    Thank you, Patty! I use your resources to teach two growing art classes of 30 students in a home school co-op. I never realized how difficult it would be to do so on a limited budget and in a space that is borrowed. I attempted to have my young art students make painted paper on the first go around so we could use them for future projects. Yikes. I had not thought about where we would store all of those finished pieces of paper while they dried. Live and learn. But I found the tips offered here to be extremely helpful. I’m definitely learning as I go but I’m hoping that with some research the learning curve won’t be quite as steep. 🙂

  • RemeiGG

    Thanks a million for the tips and ideas! I really appreciate them because I’m starting teaching arts this year too.
    This is very inspirational and well explained. I’m sharing it!
    Thanks again!


    I just signed up for your courses, and am already impressed and excited! I was wondering, it says the course is only 6 months long, but in the info it said that we would have permanent access to the resources. Can you clarify please? 🙂

    • Patty Palmer

      You have permanent access to both courses. Access used to run 6-months but we changed it a couple of months ago. There must be some old copy out there! Thanks for the heads up and enjoy the courses!

  • Carrie Sorric

    I use construction paper as my paint palette. That way, when it is time to clean up, supply managers can quickly make painted paper with the left-over paint and there are no dishes to clean. I also have students put all of the bushes in a big soapy container and clean them myself when I have time. I have short classes and only one sink so this leaves room at the sink for hand washing and makes sure the brushes don’t go down the drain. If left too long, the brushes will start to get ruined, but I find that the risk is worth saving the headache.

  • Beth Peterson

    I do teach on a cart currently. I have created a large rolling drying rack that I wheel down the hall with me. It’s made of four smaller racks (25 shelves each) zip-tied together. Each section fits one class’ worth of projects. I don’t have to spend time emptying it until lunch, and then it’s set for the afternoon classes. Also, in the classrooms that have desks, I’ve taught students the procedure of getting into groups for art when they have to share supplies. It only took a few minutes on one day, and they know exactly how to turn their desks into groups of four. Good luck!

  • Allison

    It is my first year teaching art on a cart. I have 730 students. It is nearly impossible to do any projects that are more than one session in duration. The school has asked that I not use paint of any kind. The restricting confines have really stretched my creativity. I’ve found most of the projects can be completed with markers or construction paper without too much concession in quality. My best suggestion for art on a cart is keeping it simple. If possible, only bring what you’ll need with you, find projects that appeal to multiple grade levels, and embrace the challenge.

  • Heidi OHanley

    Excellent article! I’m happy to see all the art teachers working together to provide resources for those who teach in alternate environments! I couldn’t find any a few years back, and now we’ve pooled together to build an amazing support system!

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