A Day In the Life

4 Tips for Surviving Kindergarten Art

I’m teaching Kindergarten art this year. It’s been a few years since I’ve had that honor. I went into it with a “Pffft, I’ve got this” attitude and quickly realized that maybe I don’t. Got this that is. It’s been awhile, and I had forgotten that Kindergartners are different creatures. Some of them can read, most of them can’t. Some of them can write their own names, some of them can’t. Some of them have been exposed to art before, but many of them have not. Some of them might not know how to use scissors, or glue sticks, or glue bottles. Some of them have never used paint before, or even crayons. Kindergarteners are the babies of the elementary world (and I don’t mean the stick your head in gravy kind either). They require a different approach because they’re brand spanking new, and they just don’t know how to yet. Here are a few of my tried and true tips for surviving 45 minutes of Kindergarten art class (God help you if you’re cursed with 60 minutes of Kindergarten art, like I am).

Learn their names. ASAP.

Adrian is one of the worst listeners in the class. Aidan, on the other hand, is a great listener.

It is crucial to learn the real names of your Kinders as soon as possible. Calling a kid “boy in blue striped shirt” the first week of school is probably okay, but after that it’s no good. His mom will likely put him in a green shirt next week. Likewise, it’s important to learn Susie’s name quickly, because while she might be “girl with pigtails” this week, next week she’ll be “girl with ponytail” and Janie will be “girl with pigtails,” and Cara, who was “girl with ponytail” last week will wonder why she’s now “girl with hair” this week. All sorts of confusion will ensue. It’s just easier to learn their names.

I find that it helps to use seating charts and take attendance.

Make extras. Lots and lots of extras.

Kindergarteners lose things. All the time. Case in point, this one time, a Kinder lost his lunch. All over the table. If I hadn’t had extra cut paper squares on hand, the other students at his table would have been making black and white and red all over penguins.

Seriously though, it’s good to be prepared and have extra materials on hand. For my older classes, my rule of thumb is to always round up to the nearest five. Twenty-seven students in the class? I make thirty copies. For my Kinders, I round up to the nearest fifteen-ish. Twenty-four Kinders? I cut forty 2″ orange squares. It can take the same student eight tries before he cuts out a penguin beak he’s happy with. I once handed supplies out to the same table three times because no one received them the first time, or the second time, and no one knew where they went.

Make extras. Trust me, “boy with glasses” is not going to wait patiently in his seat while you dig out the paper and cut more paper strips.

Have books on hand.

Nothing can save a floundering afternoon Kindergarten art class like a good book can. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a good one.

Kids love being read to. It’s almost magical what a book can do to a rowdy, off-the-wall, group of twenty-four five year-olds. I’ve been known to wrap class up a full fifteen minutes early in order to read a book (did you see the note above about Kindergarten art being 60 minutes long). I highly recommend pre-screening your books though. Lest you find yourself reading a pirate story in which you can’t pronounce any of the names and the students feel the need to point out every time you pronounce Hippolyte de Bouchard differently. Or worse, you find an old copy of Yertle the Turtle, and part way through it you wonder if the subject material is a little too heavy for five year olds.

“I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

Practice your penguin waddle.

Kinders like to laugh. And pretend. And be silly.

The more you’re able to connect with your inner Kinder, the better art class will go for you. I’m not above waddling around the classroom like a penguin or creeping around like a ninja, and you shouldn’t be either. But holy Hannah, don’t forget to paper your door before doing so, because if just one of your sixth grade students sees you…


So what’d I forget? If you’ve got ’em, leave your Kindergarten art tips in the comments. For the rest of you, good luck. You’re going to need it. And wipes. You’re going to need wipes. Lots and lots of wipes.


18 thoughts on “4 Tips for Surviving Kindergarten Art

  1. Tracy says:

    I taught kindergarten for 16 years before I switched to teaching art. It was funny to hear the stories from the art teachers with NO background with five year olds!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am teaching two kinder classes which are 60 min each back to back on Friday afternoon.

    I want to die on Fridays. I also went into it thinking I got this. I taught kinders a few years ago and remember really being comfortable.

    I am NOT this year. It is taking me a long time to remember just how different the kinder species is!! Remembering to have 15 extra of everything is a great tip. I’m all about the books and allowing silliness and pretend to thrive! But I am not used to saying things 30 times instead of te usual 8 for all kids to get the instruction or teaching them just how to DO SCHOOL (sit on the carpet, sit at the art table, line up etc).

    Maybe I’ll feel better at the end of the year…


    • Oh. My. I feel for you. I really, really do. I struggle with my end of the day Kinder classes. I can’t imagine two, 60 minute classes, back to back ON A FRIDAY! Who made your schedule, and how did you wrong them in a past life?


  3. amy klingshirn says:

    i meet my kids at the door and have them pull an “imaginary string” on the top of their head that makes them stand nice and tall as they walk in the room. normally i have instrumental music playing and i dim the lights….sometimes we do some breathing exercises and do some yoga-anything that can calm them down-and then we get down to business….sounds hooky but they do it~


  4. Kathy says:

    Wow, you nailed it!
    I feel for you having Kinder in the PM. I’ve got 1st at the end of the day, and whoa baby, can’t imagine if it were Kinder!
    The only thing I’d add is I do a lot of chunking. You know start talking at tables, do some work, stop and give more directions, clean up, end on the floor with a book. I never spend more than 15 minutes (10 most likely) talking and giving directions.
    This means I must have a top notch way of getting everyone’s attention. So I use the same signal as the classroom teachers. (Clap, clap hands up)
    Well it works for me, of course I also have them at 9:15 in the morning. So that helps a lot with all of them being ready for art!


  5. I have my kinders for 90 minutes every other week 🙂 For the first time this year I have had one of them fall asleep right on their project. Never have had that 🙂 They definitely keep you on your toes but you need to show them brain break videos. I keep a whole folder of them on pinterest just so when it gets loud and crazy I can sedate them with a brain break video. Try it they really do work! below is a link to my pinterest brain break folder. good luck 🙂


  6. K-Money says:

    I get one Kinder class per day for 45 minutes. I’ve found that NOTHING I have them doing can take more than 15 minutes. Thus, each lesson is like 3 mini lessons. Generally, I read to them for 15 minutes each day and then start breaking up whatever project we are working on into tiny chunks. The best way to control things is to control the distribution of supplies: they can’t have the red paper until they’ve used the blue paper. The can’t have the glue and googley eyes until they’ve used the red paper… etc…


    • trtlflwrs says:

      K-Money- That’s exactly how I run my kindergarten art classes! I have 2 K classes everyday, back to back, in the afternoon, 45 min each. But that’s waaaay better than my old schedule: 2 WHOLE DAYS of kinders!


  7. Dollar Store stickers are as valuable to a kindergartener as hundred dollar bills are to a grown up. They will do *anything* to earn a sticker. Some days I am like Oprah. . . “a sticker for you and you and you! STICKERS FOR EVERYOOOOONE!!!”

    I also like to split up my 45 minutes into smaller chunks. Usually the first part is a story or video, then a demo, then some activity. I once heard that kids can focus for the same amount of minutes of how old they are (so a 7 year old can focus for about 7 minutes) With this in mind I try to keep things moving quickly. 60 minutes is crazy though!!


  8. mara ezerins says:

    After 40 years, yes you heard right, I thought to do centers that they rotate through the first rotation. I have 10 days straight, 45 min. then a 2 month break and another 10 day rotation. (700 students in school). After the first rotation of exploring clay, paint, collage, etc. they are ready for group instruction learning specifics! Happy teaching! Mara


  9. artdavis says:

    I have heard that adage also…and it’s been my experience too. Breaking the class into chunks of time. I do a TON of center activities….architecture(blocks), sculpture(modeling clay), crafting(beading). On those days, I line them up and they must tell me what kind of artist they are going to be…architect, sculptor, painter, illustrator, etc. That is my way of sneaking in vocab.
    It is the longest time of the day, for sure.
    Thanks for your blog.


  10. Amyh says:

    I like you had Kinders for 55 mins ! I feel ya sista! At one point in my first year I actually thought …”I am an ok teacher right? what am I doing wrong ?” The answer nothing …!!!
    I broke my time I. Tow two separate lessons at a time so we would begin one clean up and then do another …. end with a book! That would tie in the lesson . It really helped I had a carpet ! I was just for them! It is like magic to round them up and demo what we are doing…
    Their regular class room had a carpet and it was familiar ! Good luck!


  11. Erin says:

    I used to have Kinders in the morning, but last year they were switched to the afternoon 50 mins. I found in the afternoon their processing was slower, so instead of completing a project in two classes it now takes three. I sometimes read a book at the end of class, sometimes I put on music and we dance, and or I give the students blank paper and markers for free draw, which they love. There is good news….in a month or two those lovely story telling, crayon eating, “I messed up” Kindergarteners start to almost turn into 1st graders, they have that Ah ha! moment and the end of the year is glorious! But it all starts over again in the Fall.
    By the way I LOVE your blog!


  12. 7745wrl says:

    I love this post! But I feel a little jealous that you get them for 60 min! I cycle 4 back to back 30- min classes. By the time they get their smocks on (NO, I will not help you put it on!), sit in their seats (boy, girl, boy, girl, please) and get their sillies turned off, I’m already down 8 min. Plus 5 min of cleanup at the end of the lesson, and instruction time they barely get their groove on to get working! If I show a video clip or read a book that’s their whole weekly lesson gone! But that said, I LOVE my kinders! I love how they run down the street to hug me outside the school and they always bring me birthday cupcakes.

    Here are my proven tricks:
    1) My cell phone alarm is pre-set for a great song exactly 5 minutes before the end of every class (Hey everyone, did you hear that? It’s the clean up music!) Works like a Pavlovian response.
    2) I have them line up and immediately pose as whatever we were just creating (giant snowflakes, valentine hearts, snails, buildings, et.) they have to walk back to class as their project. Works like a charm and give me a laugh (also the secretary, who is watching on the video camera)


  13. I’m glad your wrote this! I have two back-to-back, hour-long classes of kinders on Friday afternoons! Yesterday I had three sleeping on their tables by the end. So this morning I’m crawling the web for help!!!


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