In the studio: Rationing art supplies, part 1

Published by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2007 at 06:57 PM


We had a lot of visitors to the TPS* and during our post-observation talks, the same questions were raised again and again. A frequent observation by visiting educators was something to the tune of "Our students couldn't handle this."

As in, they couldn't handle the wide-open spaces, they couldn't handle the number of choices, they couldn't handle the sheer amount of art materials they were allowed to choose from.

wo-shelves.jpgAnyone who has watched a preschooler glue four thousand sequins methodically to a single piece of paper understands where they're coming from.

There is a look in the eyes of a three-year-old … eyes darting back and forth … as they see a large clear container filled with buttons. The look says: "How can I get these buttons?" The look says: "How can I get ALL of these buttons?" The look says: "How can I make sure NO ONE ELSE gets MY buttons?!"

Yet our students worked cheerfully with the big container of buttons right there in front of them and didn't freak out or anything. How did we do it?

There is a certain amount of training necessary. I remember hearing some diet advice a long time ago -- that you should keep a big supply of your favorite guilty food (e.g., miniature Snickers) in the house, so you could calm down and your brain would allow you to diet without sending you freak-out "MUST BUY SNICKERS" messages.


Similarly, you must help the children realize that there are plenty of buttons for everyone. The buttons will keep on coming. There is not a single, limited supply of buttons.

When introducing a studio environment, whether at school or at home, it helps to start with a lot of less-expensive, easy-to-procure items (pencils, paper, markers, popsicle sticks, glue). I like reams of copy paper for drawing; there are 500 sheets in a ream so it's relatively inexpensive, but nice quality. A ream of legal-size copy paper shakes things up a bit.

collaging.jpgStart tearing out sheets from magazines before you recycle them, and fill a box with these, for collaging.

Get a bin and throw your clean recyclables into it, along with a few rolls of masking tape for sculptures.

Fill a basket with things from the yard — leaves, pinecones, twigs, acorns, pebbles, shells, etc. Nature's art materials.

Now you've got a nice starter studio.

We added other materials slowly … buttons, beads, lacing, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, plastic-coated wire, etc. If our students came in on the first day of school and found a completely stocked art studio, I'm sure they would have wigged out as well. Instead, they slowly grew to know it as a place where neat new things were always appearing, where there was enough for everyone.

We never doled out buttons. "Everyone gets three buttons!" That's the type of thing that makes you feel greedy and desperate. Sometimes, you just have to let them glue and glue and glue until they get past the panic stage. But once they understand you're going to keep supplying them with the good stuff, they calm down. They're able to cast their eyes over a display of materials and choose with care the thing they really need.


Continued tomorrow...

*TPS = tiny private school


Comment by Gwyn on November 14, 2007 at 10:57 PM

And if you ask me it takes a bit of patience too - my youngest has been snapping oil pastels in half for a loooong time now! You are doing well with the daily posting - I think I have skipped one day to give the appearances of keeping up!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2007 at 11:16 PM

snappers have to use the basket of pastel pieces .. you only get the whole pastels when you move beyond the snapping phase! lol

i was up for the challenge of posting every day. i thought it would be good for me to clean out my idea file .. make room for some new ideas. ;^) i like it! i want to post frequently, and i definitely have the goal of trying to post *shorter* posts. i'm long-winded...

Comment by Laura on November 14, 2007 at 11:37 PM

Great post, as always. The tip to slowly add supplies makes sense. Also, I sometimes cringe at my son's preschool when kids are limited to a certain number of supplies. Ugh.

Found your blog maybe a week ago. Your amazing home was featured on a design blog... can't remember which --- I subscribe to far too many blogs! ANYWAY, I'm loving your thoughts on schooling and art. I have two young boys and am currently engaged in an epic internal battle over whether or not to homeschool. Your blog, much to my husband's dismay, is seriously swaying me to one side. Well, we'll see what happens. Either way, I know I'll continue to enjoy your thoughts and insights.

Oh, and I'm an Illinoisan, too!
Good day,

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2007 at 01:11 AM

thank you, laura!

my apologies to your husband about the hs'ing. ;^) i understand the internal battle. it led me to start the TPS and only *then* did i really feel completely good about hs'ing.

thank you so much for your comment!

Comment by Stefani on November 15, 2007 at 03:52 PM

OH! So much inspiration and goodness in this post. You know, we have GOBS of art supplies, but I keep them way up high and get them down as needed. I don't like that, but the two year old... ah the two year old. He's almost three though, and learning. I'm going to to try to let him glue through the panic and see what happens :-)

All those bowls and bery baskets of goodies!!!! Fantastic!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2007 at 12:42 AM

stef, this is actually a big part of a reggio-inspired approach .. having the materials accessible to the children so they can help themselves. we actually had so many things in the classroom that we had shelves they couldn't reach, but those were often extra supplies of things that were also down in the low baskets.

it is tricky when your youngest is two and are still maybe wanting to put things in his mouth or not safe with everything yet (pipe cleaners, etc.). some of the young three-year-olds were just ready for the challenge -- or not quite ready. ;^)

one cool thing, though, about the young siblings of our preschoolers; they would come and hang out and visit class and work in the studio. they would observe everything so closely. then when they were finally three and able to come to school themselves, they knew exactly how everything worked, the rules, what they could do, what they could ask for .. they really hit the ground running. that'll be your little guy. :^)

Comment by mary on November 19, 2007 at 03:25 AM

I just came across your blog from the Creative Fall flickr group and I am so happy I did. Such wonderful ideas you have and such great voice while sharing them. So many of the homeschooling blogs focus on montessori or waldorf, it is nice to see the reggio approach being discussed. I look forward to checking in often and I think tomorrow we will rearrange all of our craft supplies. Mary

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2007 at 04:18 AM

thank you, mary, for your kind words. :^)

Comment by goaster on November 7, 2008 at 04:15 PM

these kids really have a way with their art....nice post and ideas....keep it coming....

Comment by igqartsy on January 22, 2009 at 08:01 AM

this is actually such a great post and ideas.

Comment by ArtBob on January 26, 2009 at 12:53 AM

It takes the patience of a saint to teach young ones, but the blessings of a true visionary to carry it through. A heart warming post. All the best.

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