Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
PAINT INSTRUCTION WITHOUT A SINK by Heidi O’Hanley
Not every art teacher has a comfortable environment to deliver his or her art instruction. Many teachers travel from room to room, school to school, set up a temporary space and pack their supplies in car trunks or mobile carts. With painting being a key material to teach in a visual art curriculum, many teachers learn ways to adapt to their situation.
In my situation, I have a room, but no sink. Although I’ve been teaching for a number of years, this is my first year in this environment and I am quickly learning to adapt to the situation, even in emergencies. In my years of teaching from a cart and traveling to different schools, I’ve learned that many times instruction does not always go as planned, so we must be flexible and understanding.
No matter what your situation may be, here are a few tips to help with painting instruction in most teaching environments.
1. Art on a Cart In the past, I would push a cart from room to room. Although the situation was not ideal, I refused to take paint out of my curriculum simply because of inconvenience. Since storage was an issue, I used paper plates as palettes and recycled plastic butter containers as water bowls.
When I developed a better method of storage, I started using plastic cups with lids to store my paint and prevent waste. If a room had a sink, I asked students to fill the water bowls to a line I drew on the bowl and gave them the responsibility to pass the water out.
If the room did not have a sink, I needed to adapt. If you have space within a cart you’re pushing, consider a water jug with a spout for quick refills, and an empty bucket for dirty water. With a lack of storage space, I had collected 5-gallon plastic jugs with handles to fill with clean water. At the end of each class, I would have students take the dirty water buckets to the bathroom to dump in the sink.
2. School to School If you travel from school to school, you may have carts or classrooms. I would highly recommend keeping your paint supplies at each school, and making sure you have a space to keep the supplies without worry of them disappearing when you’re not there. Make sure you communicate with your administration about the importance of your co-workers leaving your materials alone when you’re not there. So many times educators feel they can use the materials because it’s school property, when in fact, art teachers not only purchase consumable materials from their own funds, but order just enough for their own classes.
3. Classroom without the Sink Since I am new to this situation, I would like to share what I have done to work with what I have. One way to keep water in the room was to purchase a portable sink. The sink holds a 10 gallon bucket of water to run through, and another bucket to dump out at the end of the day. As nice as this is to have, I learned quickly that it does not last for more than two painting classes.
Have a table or cart set aside to hold a water jug or buckets of water, as well as a bucket for dirty water and brushes. Become acquainted with the layout of the school and find any water closets or bathrooms that are close by for refills. In my case, I have a water closet a few doors down that I use to refill buckets in the morning and wash brushes in the afternoon. I have also assigned classroom helpers in each class to help in refilling the buckets and dumping the dirty water if needed.
For spills, I asked for donations of paper towels from the parents and staff. Hand washing is done with sponges that I keep in the room that are pre-soaked. In any case, being prepared helped in preventing many painting catastrophes.
4. Mobile Instruction Some mobile units have sinks while others do not. In these cases, I would use the water jug with spout for faster distribution of water for paint projects. Find your closest water source (ex. hose, nearby bathroom, or water closet). If you’re in an outside unit and you have worry of the carrying of water buckets in colder climates, communicate with your custodial staff on how water is needed in your situations.
With any situation where you deliver your instruction, keep open communication with your administration, co-workers, and custodial staff on your needs for your teaching. Painting can be fun, but in some circumstances very challenging to instruct. Just be flexible, understanding, and open to new possibilities with your paint projects!
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT) teaches elementary art for Indian Springs School District #109, in the Greater Chicago Area. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com