Tight Spaces

One of the great joys and benefits of working in my role as an art supervisor is getting to see many art classrooms and the wide variety of tools and strategies art teachers employ in their craft. Not least of these is managing a huge volume of supplies and materials.

Full sheets of construction paper stored on a small drying rack in an art room with no built-in storage.
Full sheets of construction paper stored artfully on a small drying rack in a classroom with no built-in storage.

Art is a material-intensive subject. Few others in our schools realize just what that means in terms of work load. Sure, they understand that we use the materials, but add to this that we select, purchase, receive, unpack, store, organize, prepare, provision, and put away these materials in a continuous cycle, and it becomes evident that art teachers should have extra time in their daily schedule — in addition to planning time — to manage it all. (Can I say that again?)

Art teachers should have extra time in their daily schedule — in addition to planning time — to manage it all.

I was especially impressed when I visited a colleague recently who teaches in a trailer at an overcrowded school. Her classroom is very small and has no sinks or built-in storage — a challenging situation to say the least — but through effort and careful organization, she is making it work for her students.

I’d like to share a few of the ingenious things she is doing to stay sane in a situation that demands careful planning and organization. You might notice a bit of a rainbow theme, but you know what? Color coding the art room can be very effective in keeping things organized and exposing children to some basics of color theory in their environment. Construction paper is a great example. The drying rack storage in the photo at the top, and these carefully organized sets of precut papers allow children to find what they need quickly and reduces waste by having children cut shapes from smaller pieces when appropriate.

Providing different sizes of construction paper can reduce waste.
Providing different sizes of construction paper can reduce waste. Organizing all of those pieces takes a little time (and some cardboard) but pays off in efficiency.

Yarn is similarly prepared. Cut into pieces for stitchery and stored in bundles on open hooks. Remember, this classroom has no cabinets, whatsoever!

Yarn storage in an elementary art classroom with no cabinets.
Yarn storage in an elementary art classroom with no cabinets.

While the color wheel arrangement of construction paper and yarn may just be for aesthetic reasons, other colors are used very intentionally in the classroom. Grade levels (K-6) are color coded and these colors are used to organize portfolios of current art projects and the student sketchbooks, simply made with folded drawing paper with color covers.

Portfolios are color coded by grade level for storing class work.
Portfolios are color coded by grade level for storing class work.

 

Two boxes of third grade sketchbooks - sketchbooks are color coded by grade level and labelled with the classroom teacher's name.
Two boxes of third grade sketchbooks – sketchbooks are color coded by grade level and labelled with the classroom teacher’s name.

In addition to carefully organizing supplies in this very tight space, the teacher must also think carefully about the traffic flow of up to (and sometimes more than) 30 students. Each table has a couple of color-coded, X-marks-the-spot labels — one on the table shows students where to stack (dry) artworks, and one nearby on the floor shows them where to stack the chairs from their table at the end of the day.

The X on the table (front) marks where to stack work to be collected, and the X on the floor (top) where they stack their chairs.
The X on the table (front) marks where to stack work to be collected, and the X on the floor (top) where they stack their chairs.

For carrying wet paintings to the drying rack the traffic flow is quite literally marked on the floor, and students are taught how to follow those marks for a smooth cleanup process.

Traffic flow arrows are marked on the floor near the drying rack to manage many moving students at cleanup time.
Traffic flow arrows are marked on the floor near the drying rack to manage many moving students at cleanup time.

Anne, I’m very impressed at what you have done with your tiny space!

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