Managing a choice based art room in the early years

Before I came to my current school, it had been over a decade since I taught art to little ones--  preschool and kindergarteners.  My transition to TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behaviour) had taken place while I spent 8 years teaching upper elementary students and I was a bit nervous about carrying it over to the little ones.  I knew that I wanted my youngest artists to experience Process Art-- art that is child-directed, open-ended and celebrates the experience of discovery-- no cookie cutter stuff. 

Then what was I worried about? My personal four horsemen of the Art Teaching Apocalypse: Chaos, Mess and Management and Waste.  Wait a second...this is exactly the same list that I worried about when I made the transition to TAB with my older kids!  If I could figure it out with them, I could also figure it out with my little ones.

I knew I would create Preschool Art Centers and "invitations to explore," but how many centers... how could I manage who would use what center and when?  When I looked for ideas online, I found lots of ideas that required either hours of prep work cutting and organising or sustained one on one adult attention, which was impossible in a class of 20 kiddos.

Here are a few tips that I have learned over the last 3 years of teaching Process Art with my youngest students:

1.) No chairs. Use standing height tables and put the supplies in the center.  No chairs to navigate, much easier flow.  I have a basket of small pillow accessible in case the kids want to kneel or sit-- hardly any of them get used.

2.) The movement. In a perfect world with a handful kids in a class, the kids would float from center to center,  cleaning up and dancing in a field of daises as they go.😆  For me personally, giving them complete freedom to hop from center to center was too chaotic and messy, especially for the number of kids I teach.  I developed a system with table signs and lanyards so the kiddos work for anywhere for 5-7 minutes at one center and then switch, the signs/lanyards are available here. I made a Youtube video with a candle timer so they can see on the board how much time is left (the candle gets gradually gets smaller and then ends with a lovely little chime), and then there is a clean-up song for the last 60 seconds.  

3. Only one "messy center".  Only one of the centers should require an adult to be floating around near it.  The other 3 or 4 should consist of either simple art materials like markers, crayons and paper or non-consumable materials like wooden blocks, Magnatiles etc.  I would suggest not giving the kids access to all the non-consumables during every lesson-- switch it up and keep them engaged.

4. Proximity. Keep the centers relatively close to each other and close to you!  That way the kids can talk and share what they are doing with each other, and inspire each other too.  That also means that the teacher is always nearby in case anybody needs a helping hand or some redirection.

5. Systems Have a system for where to put finished artwork, a system for what to do when they enter the room, what to do if they finish before the timer, what to do if they still want to work after the timer goes off, etc, what signal they will use to clean up and another signal to change centers.

An example:  If I had 4 centers available on a given day, it might look like this: 

Center 1 (messy center): Tempera Paint in primary colours with Bubble Wrap stamping.  

Center 2: Pattern Blocks with templates of various difficulty- they can choose to use the templates or not

Center 3: Magnatiles 

Center 4: Markers,"free draw" paper (copy paper that is used on one side, we take this from the recycle bins at school on a regular basis) and simple shape stencils.  I might demonstrate how to use the stencils to turn the shapes into something else.

I found setting up art centers this way not chaotic at all,  everything flows nicely and each center is very open-ended and focused on exploration, not a final product.

Looking for a complete system with over 100 non-chaotic Process Art Centers for preschool and kindergarten?  Please have a look at my Process Art Mega Bundle.  It has everything you'll need with photos, explanations and possible variations on each center idea. I have also included a parent handout explaining the philosophy of this kind of art teaching and why it is the best developmentally for young children.


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