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October 7, 2010 YES, YOU CAN Teach Art to Kids! An Art Primer for Teachers By Nancy Jang
Grades 1–2, 3–5


    Yes, you can teach art to kids, even if you don't like art or are not good at it. Previous experience is not a requirement or an excuse. Don't let fear and worry be the main roadblocks to teaching art in class. I know, crafts are fun, and art seems so foreign and daunting. Well, let's dive into teaching art education in the classroom. This is part one in a two part series.

    Image courtesty fo Microsofy Office Clipart



    It's always interesting to hear how various teachers respond to teaching art to their kids. They sigh and say, "It's so messy," or "But I can't draw!" or "There is no time!"  There are even teachers that say, "The kids already know how to draw and color: that's art." But art is so much more. Teachers say that and yet never dream of saying, "Oh, they know how to add and subtract, so I don't need to teach them anything else in math."  I have also heard, "They have art assemblies to teach them art, so I don't have to do it."  Art Masters and Meet the Masters programs are great supplements to art education in class. However, I would never let a science assembly replace teaching science in class, so I don't believe that an assembly once every few months replaces art curriculum in class. 

       Image courtesy of Microsoft Office ClipartKidwith brush

    Here are some things to keep in mind before we get started:

    Teachers don't have to be artists to teach art! Just as teachers don't have to be pro athletes to teach PE or be professional mathematicians to teach math.  As teachers we are asked to give guidance, lay a foundation for future work, and give them the tools and experiences they need for travelling the road of education to get where they want to go. I may not be an artist; it may not be my path, but I want to nurture, educate, and inspire the artist in my class who might be the next Leonardo da Vinci or Georgia O'Keeffe.

    • Thedot
      Image courtesy of
    • Read The Dot by Peter Reynolds. Give yourself permission to draw just for the fun of it, then let yourself and this book inspire others to do it, too.
    • Be brave, be positive, and be an example !! It's disheartening to kids to hear a teacher degrade their own art work during an art or craft lesson. Teaching art is actually simple. There are a gazillion resources at your fingertips and all you have to do is be brave, be positive, and be an example. If you can do those three things, the rest will fall into place. Being brave means having the courage to try something new, such as teaching a subject that's out of your comfort zone. Being positive means that you should give constructive comments and lots of encouragement.  Be an example for others to follow. If I am degrading my own work with negative commentary, I am giving my students permission to do the same to their own artwork and to others. I don't like kids to say, "I can't do this," or "Mine is ugly," and worst of all, "My picture is not as good as my teacher's and she says hers is bad." It all sounds so simple, but it's also probably the hardest thing to do, especially if you are not confident about your own abilities.


    • There are no right or wrong answers in art. It's all about your perspective — about expressing yourself and pushing yourself to think critically, to explore, and to experiment. Mistakes are expected in life as well as in art. Use them as opportunities to make life and art even better.
    • Art is not an optional subject. It should be valued and validated as core curriculum. It integrates writing, history, critical thinking, focus, planning and stimulates many areas of the brain that they might not otherwise use.

    Art lessons should include the elements and principles of art. Here is a list of those elements and principals with a brief description.



    Incredible Art Department: Great for K–12, this comprehensive site includes curriculum by grade level and media, lesson plans, galleries, games, tutorials, and lists of Web sites organized by category. If you need information about art instruction, artists, different kinds of media, or museum tours, or lessons and sample artwork, it's here.

    Here is an art lesson to get you started.
    This lesson focuses on line and color value. Student will learn the art vocabulary words "value," "hue," "tint," and "shade." We will also learn to use and mix paint to create various color values of a hue. I have kids bring me their paper plates so that I control how much paint goes on their plate.


    1. Ask the children to draw two letters on their page that overlap. In the example shown here, I chose a "D" and an "S." It can be any two letters. I encourage them to choose one with curvy lines and one with straight lines. We are going to be painting the spaces that the lines create, so it really doesn't matter what letters they choose.

    2. I demonstrate how to paint. We will be working with one color from the color wheel (red, orange, yellow, blue, or green), black to shade the color, and white to tint. If you want to simplify the management of paint, choose a single color for the whole class. I add a few drops of green to a paper plate and paint one section on my paper.

    3. Next I show the students how to mix the paint. I add a drop of white to the plate and mix it. Stir well with your paint brush to make sure the paint is thoroughly mixed. Paint one or two more sections on your paper.

    3. Add a few more drops of white to the plate and mix thoroughly. Paint one more section on the paper. Clean your paintbrush in a cup of water.

    4. Begin again with a few drops of the original green paint on a clean section of your paper plate. Very carefully, mix one small drop of black on their plate. Black is a strong color and a very small amount will turn paint very dark. Students paint a section or two on their paper.

    5. Add one more small drop of black to the paint. Mix thoroughly. Paint the remaining sections. Option: Kids can return to the paint supply and use more of the original paint and white if they want or just the original paint, or mix everything all together.

    6. After the kids are done painting, the paper plate goes in the trash. (If they used a plastic plate, they leave it in the sink with the cup with the brush.)

    7. Art appreciation: After the paintings are dry and mounted, we review the vocabulary together and then use the words in a sentence to describe our paintings. We also talk about how it makes us feel and what geometric shapes we see in the painting.

    Join me next week when I post five samples from art lessons that I teach to my class every year. Each lesson includes a literature connection, an artist, and a writing activity.

    Happy painting!




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Susan Cheyney