Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Easy Elementary Art Lessons for the First Day of School


Elementary art teachers know the first day of school after summer vacation is full of excitement and quite a bit of chaos. Meeting new students, fine-tuning class schedules, developing seating charts, preparing materials, and establishing and reviewing rules and procedures with every new art class can be mentally draining.

Yet, despite those first day of school challenges, most elementary art teachers still want their classes to do some creative activity in art class (rather than sit and listen to rules the entire period).

But what art lessons are appropriate for the first day of school, when students don’t yet know the procedures and time is limited? Try these easy art lessons, that give elementary students a chance to be creative within a narrow margin, while avoiding the mess and chaos of a full-blown art project:

1. Self-portrait dolls

Give students a half (or third) sheet of construction paper and instruct them to draw a self-portrait. The portrait should show their whole body, from head to toes. Students use easy art materials (markers or colored pencils) to add color and details to their portrait before cutting it out. If you have time (and desire), briefly instruct on body proportions with older students.

If you have younger elementary students, draw a body ‘template’ that they can fill in, before cutting out. When all your students have finished their self-portrait dolls, they can be attached to a hallway bulletin board outside the art room with a catchy phrase like “Welcome back, Artists!”

2. “We love Art because”…

For another bulletin-board themed elementary art lesson, give students a sheet of paper and simple art utensils. Instruct them to write and/or draw their favorite part of art class. When each student is finished, these can be attached to a bulletin board under the phrase “We Love Art Because…”

3. School mascot design

The first day of school can be incredibly busy. If you don’t have a lot of time in those first classes, give students copies of your school mascot (in line drawing/coloring book form). Elementary students will have fun decorating the mascot in their own style. These can then be displayed in the hallway.

4. Read a book and draw along

On the first day of school with my kindergarten students, I like to keep art lessons really easy. I’ll pick an art-related book to read to them, while they draw along on paper. Reading while working is a great activity for younger elementary students, as it teaches them to listen and focus while the teacher is talking.

“Harold and the Purple Crayon” is a favorite to read, while students draw their own fantasies with purple crayons. “The Dot” is another favorite, as all elementary students draw a dot on their paper, then try to turn the drawing into something.

5. Illustrate your summer vacation

For this easy art lesson, give students plain paper and simple art materials. Instruct them to draw the ‘best’ thing that happened during summer break, and on the back side of the paper, the ‘worst’ thing that happened. This is a great way to start developing relationships with your students on that first day of school.


6. Work on a group mural

With a broader scope in mind, assign each student to complete one small part of a group mural that can be displayed in the school hallways the first week. For easier management, give each student an identical piece of paper (like an index card) to create their work on. Some ideas: each student draws their portrait, their name or the word 'Art' in creative and colorful letters, their handprint, a flower, an art utensil. Perhaps you could focus on the Elements of Art, and have each student create a small non-objective line drawing or artwork with shapes. 

So go ahead and make those first couple classes as stress-free as possible. Plan some of these easy art lessons, and watch how excited your elementary students will be to “do” something fun and creative their first day back, rather than listen to rules all day long. Happy planning!

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