Why Centers Make the Perfect Sub Plans

Center Materials

Yep, I’ve done it. I’ve come back into school to prep and write sub plans in the midst of a stomach flu. After that debacle, I decided I needed something in place for emergency sub days (duh, right?). So now, in addition to my general handouts about routines and art room technology, I also include general plans for implementing centers, including where to find materials.

I have a “Read This First” binder that includes these handouts, as well as a room map with photos showing where the sub can find the materials for centers if I’m not able to set them out myself.

Here are 4 compelling reasons to try centers for subs in your room. 

  1. There are limited materials making clean-up easy.
  2. The kiddos are moving roughly every 12-15 minutes, which prevents boredom, fills the entire hour, and therefore, leads to less behavior issues.
  3. Centers promote collaboration and interaction.
  4. The sub doesn’t need any artistic experience to facilitate the activities.

I generally include a couple drawing games (depending on the age), a free draw station using How To Draw books, an art book reading station, and a station or two that uses a special material or activity.  It really depends on the age, so the sub may have to change out the stations depending which grades have art throughout the day. Centers


Here is a list of games and products that I’ve found work well for centers.

Whatchamadrawit (learn more here)

Luck of the Draw

Hue Knew

-Orb Factory Activity Tins (Color Cubes, Mosaica, Chroma)

Texture Rubbing Plates and Stencils

-Special markers and crayons like Construction Paper Crayons, Gel FX markers, Over/Under markers

Moon Dough (it’s not as messy as Play-Doh or modeling dough

-Art Memory Games and Go Fish

Zolotopia Building Set (or any Zolo sets)

I feel confident about classroom management, mess, and materials when I leave emergency centers because they’re already prepared and easy to implement!

In addition to centers, I have started by very own Sub Tub inspired by Jen from the blog Draw the Line At and even had a lesson swap with the other elementary art teachers in our district at our most recent collaboration meeting.  Everyone brought at least one lesson (and plenty of copies) to share, beefing up our Sub Binders and Sub Tubs!

What do you have in place for emergency sub plans?

What would you suggest as an emergency art center?

Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek


Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • Cathy Robey

    Thanks for the “center” ideas! I had never thought about using them with a sub before….but now I will!

    “Centers” have saved my life this year with my K-1 groups. I have really struggled with classroom mgmt with both groups. Something as simple as sitting together on the carpet was not working….students weren’t paying attention, messing around with each other and it usually took about 10 minutes at least to get them quieted and ready for art. My solution was to ditch the large group carpet seating and have them come and sit at their tables. In the room I have 4 centers ready to go and I quickly go over each center. Examples of my centers have been cutting/pasting, texture rubbings, play doh and the “project” center which is a table where students come and work with me on the main standards based project. I have these groups for an hour so each center rotation is around 10 minutes. The kids love it and I have not had any behavior issues at all! Working with 3 to 4 students at a time at the “project” center allows me to really work individually with each student and having just the chance to visit with them while they work (which allows me to get to know and understand them a little better). With this center concept, students don’t have the chance to get bored, they are able to explore with the art materials at the other centers and I don’t have students finished early with their projects, searching for something to do. I love it! Again, thanks for the other center ideas!


    • Alecia Eggers

      Thank you for sharing Cathy! One other perk of centers is that the older kids LOVE them too! They’ve even asked to do centers on a regular basis. With your details, I’m excited to experiment and make some engaging and purposeful centers emphasizing the main points of a “main” project! Thanks!

  • deb

    Awesome ideas! I’ve already implemented some of these and they are a life saver! The kids love them, it’s something different and it’s so easy to set up.
    Great article

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thanks deb!

  • Georgia Parsons

    Hi, I’m a new (old) teacher who has just gone back to teaching, for the first time in Art. I work 3 days a week, and I don’t have my own art room. I teach across 4 grades in 2 different art rooms and 10 different class rooms. I have a cart which I load up every morning with the day’s lessons; I can rarely fit on to it more than I need. I’m finding that a lot of my time is going into the prep work and I live in fear of getting sick because I just don’t know how I would/could structure/set up for a sub plan. I’d love some suggestions from your experienced readers!

    • Alecia Eggers

      Centers are perfect! Maybe have a plastic tub with 6 to 8 different easily stored and distributed options, depending on your age group. You could include art games, drawing activities, or even a binder of lesson ideas your sub could choose from. Crystal Productions has some great art activities, and centers are perfect for these – keeping them interested and engaged. I also use story books to inspire sub lessons, these can be done with spans of age levels.

  • Jen

    Yeah! I am so glad you are making a sub tub! I tell you what…mine has saved my life so many times this school year. :)

    • Alecia Eggers

      It was the most valuable find ever!!!! :)

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