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Art Teacher Tips for Before Break

Here are 12 things that art teachers can do in the art room that “The January You” will thank you for!  (Better than the 12 days of Christmas!)

Art Teacher – Classroom Tips

Brain Dump

Gift #1 Brain Dump of Lesson Ideas
1 ) Grab a cup of coffee (or glass a wine, if you are at home) and make a brain dump of all the projects you want to get to before the end of the school year. Print out a blank calendar and pencil in a rough outline of when they will happen. Consider something nice and easy to start out the year. Here are a couple of ideas that are easy to prep for and are fun to display when they are finished:


Jot down a list of everything you need to get done so that the first project is ready to go in Jan. Now, didn’t that feel good?


Do you geek out on making lists? You might enjoy using Trello, which is a free online tool for organizing ideas. I don’t use it as often as I should, but it’s great to know my ideas are there and it’s easy to change the order to prioritize different things. You can add attachments and links, etc … and even collaborate on a list!


Collaborative Art

Gift #2 Colorful Collaborative Art
2 ) Make a plan for giving yourself a little extra time before break to get some of these things done and at the same time, have a beautiful display to walk by on your way to work in Jan. Choose an easy project that classes can start on as they finish up your regular lesson with them in Dec. One idea is to work on a collaborative project that can be added to indefinitelythat will accommodate as many students as you need to keep working. Making a Mary Blair Collaborative Castle is one example. Take a look at it and maybe it will inspire more ideas.


Art Teacher – Student Helpers

Gift #3 Students Helpers
3 ) Ready for one more list? Here it goes. What can students do to help you out? Some students would rather help you than work on that last filler project. Here are a few things I bet your students can do:


    • Test markers and sort out the dead ones. (Save them for liquid watercolors!)
    • Soak your old crayons in soapy water overnight and let students peel off the wrappers the next day. (save the crayons to make chunky crayons)
    • Soak (briefly) and clean brushes with brush conditioner.
    • Pull out the best scraps from the scrap box and recycle the rest. (Or make this Scrap Box Abstract project with a grade level before the break.
    • Make yarn balls with donated yarn that is not on cones.
    • Take down art in the hallway. (Dedicate a cart to this.)
    • Soak and clean clay tools.


Stash No More

Gift #4 Bye Bye Stash
4 ) While students are working independently, start getting rid of all the stuff you stashed from the beginning of the year projects. Leftover paint cups I’m looking at you!


Hello Desktop!

Gift #5 Hello Desktop
5 ) Do a quick sort of your desk and tackle a pile each day.


Thanks You Notes … “Check”!

Gift #6 Thank You Notes Done
6 ) Do you feel guilty about not sending thank you cards or notes to students? Or do you spend too much precious time & money on filling out cards? Here’s something that you can prep for now to make it easy peasy for even those last-minute gifts. Students love getting a little note from the art teacher, but it doesn’t have to be complicated! One tip for writing thank you notes is to write them as soon as you get the gift and try to convey the thought going through your mind while a little bit of the emotion is still there. Here are FREE Printable Thank You Cards. Especially designed for art teachers! You’ll never run out!


Art Shirts

Gift #7 Clean Art Shirt
7) Do you use art shirts? This is a great time to take art shirts home and wash them with a little bleach.  One year I had a wonderful parent volunteer that took my shirts home and washed them about once a month (an art teacher dream)!!  Put that on your wish list, too!  You never know, maybe there’s someone out there for you too if you just ask! 


Clay Rehydration

Gift #8 No More Hard Clay
8 ) Got some dry clay? Here’s a technique to rehydrate your clay.  Put it in a bag, poke holes in the clay (not the bag) with a clay knife or screwdriver and fill the holes with water. Refill the holes a few times as it soaks in. I like using either a spray bottle or squirt bottle for this.


Then just let it sit over the break in a sealed bag. When you get back from break. Step on it a few times carefully (unsealed) to wedge in the softer areas. Repeat the process as needed until you have some nice soft clay.


Two Alternative Methods: 

 #1 – Wrap the clay in a wet towel and seal it in a bag.


 #2 – Add about 1 cup water for 25lbs of clay. Seal the bag. Put the bag in the 5 gal. bucket and fill with water. The pressure from the water keeps the water distributed evenly around the clay. If you have a big sink, you could do this with several bags at a time over break.


Goo Gone

Gift #9 Goo Gone
9 ) Do you have sticky areas from labels or tape? Spread a little baby oil on them now and they will wipe right off after the break. (Works over the weekend, too.) This is a great way for art teachers to remove stubborn labels so you can up-cycle those large snack containers into handy storage containers.


Sparkling Tables

Gift #10 Sparkling Tables
10) Do dread the behavior of the last week of school before the break? Here’s a fun activity that will leave your desks clean and also encourage good behavior! Use whatever behavior system you have in place and have students earn a snowflake/shaving cream activity during the last 10 min. or class. For classes that earn this activity, use a squirt of shaving cream for each student. They can spread it out on their desk and draw snowflakes. Here’s a FREE sheet of snowflake examples from my Snowflake Drawing lesson to inspire your students. (You might want to use a page protector for the reference snowflake page.) Wipe the excess shaving cream off with damp sponges or microfiber cloths. Students can wipe their hands off too … no trips to the sink! 🙂


What behavior system, you ask?? Well if you don’t have one, here is one idea you can implement right away without any prep. Write SHAVING CREAM on the board. For any kind of interruption or misbehavior erase one letter. You can also let them earn back letters. You could give them 5 min of drawing (plus allow 5 min. for cleanup) for having the entire word, SHAVING CREAM on the board. Be sure to show your disappointment when erasing a letter and excitement when adding the letter back on.
Check the dollar store for inexpensive shaving cream.


Fresh Sponges

Gift #11 Fresh Sponges
11 ) Do you use sponges for clean-up? Now is a great time to sanitize sponges! Besides, who wants to walk into a stinky art room in January? Not me! Fill up your sink with water (bonus, this will clean your sink, too!) Add 1/2 cup of bleach and soak the sponges for 15 min (or overnight is even better). The next day the paint in your sink should be loosed up to come off with a scraper or steel wool. Let the sponges dry completely over the break.


Safety Tips: Keep bleach locked in a cabinet when not in use & do not use the bleach when students are in the room.


Art Teacher –  Magic List

Gift #12 - A Magic List
12) Before you leave for break, make a fresh list of everything you needed to get done for the first lesson, but didn’t. Also, anything else that’s on your mind, because believe me, it WON’T be on your mind when you get back. You’ll be lucky to remember that you even wrote a list. So be sure to put that list front and center on your (somewhat clean) desk so you can hit the ground running (or at least walking briskly) when you come back in Jan.


Here’s a checklist so you can check things off!

Need more easy one-day lesson ideas for before winter break? 

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A faded background showing a cluster of open paint jars. There is a line drawing overlay that shows a Christmas gift wrapped with a bow on top. The text says, "In the Art Room: 12 Ways to Gift Yourself."
Picture of Stacey Peters

Stacey Peters

I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art. I'm a former elementary art teacher of 25 years turned business owner. Giving you the tools you need to bring more drawing into your classroom brings me joy.

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I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art.


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