Classroom Management

7 Paint Routines You’ll Never Regret Teaching

sink with water cups next to it

Let me start by saying that I know routines are extremely important, especially in the art room. However, it wasn’t until this year that I made an effort to really teach the routines below with my students. I honestly thought that it was easier if I did the distribution, maintenance, and clean-up on my own.

Boy, was I wrong! First, my students rock these routines. They love the added responsibility, and I’m sure they love less nagging from me. Second, all these “chores” get done just as well as if I did them myself. Third, the work is done during class! What could be better?

Here are 7 paint routines you’ll never regret teaching.


1. Getting Paint

paint pumps

Develop a system that will allow students to get their own paint. Consider pumps, bottles, or both. You’ll also want to decide what kinds of palettes will be available to students. Plastic, reusable palettes or disposable items like paper plates or magazines work equally well. Be sure to demonstrate the appropriate amount of paint to take.

2. Getting Water

sink with water cups next to it

This was the first thing I let my students do on their own. (Baby steps, right?) I have a stack of cups next to the sink and emphasize two key things. The first is holding the cup down in the sink to prevent the water spraying everywhere. The second is to only fill the cup halfway. In my room, students can refresh and refill their water as much as they need to.

3. Cleaning and Drying the Brushes

swish, wipe, and blot poster
image source

I use a poster similar to the one featured above. You may also want to try the catchy little number from art teacher extraordinaire, Cassie Stephens, that’s featured below. Inspired by the “Whip and Nae, Nae,” students “Dip, and Wipe, Wipe” their brushes!

In my room, I emphasize lightly pressing the brush repeatedly at the bottom of the water cup. This helps to “shake the paint loose.” These examples illustrate the fact that all teachers have different ways of teaching routines. Sometimes, it’s so helpful to see others’ examples! If you’re looking for more ideas, check out AOEU’s class, Managing the Art Room where students regularly share ideas just like these.

4. Washing Brushes

paintbrush cleaning poster

This is a doozy. I have only taught my 4th-6th-grade students to do this. My lowest grades simply put their brushes and water cups in the filled sink to soak. The best (and most unfortunate) lesson comes when a student uses a brush that wasn’t properly cleaned. When this happens, peer pressure kicks in! I encourage my students to gently clean their brushes in the palms of their hands under running water. They wash until the water runs clear, fix their brush’s “hair-do,” then place their brush “hair in the air” in the dish drying rack.

5. Washing Palettes

I really didn’t like using plastic palettes because of the clean up. But, because I’ve taught my students to clean them, I don’t have to worry about it! I encourage students to hold the palettes sideways, at first, under running water. This prevents paint and water from spraying everywhere. Next, students use the sponge to wipe out each paint well. Then students rinse, do a once-over check, then place the palette in the dish drying rack.

6. Loading the Drying Rack

I have two big worries about my drying rack. One is running out of room. The other is that a student’s artwork may get ruined by an improperly placed item. But, I found these issues actually resolve themselves! You just need to clearly teach, model, and practice using the drying rack. Share with your students how to load each level of the drying rack so that it is full, but emphasize that no one’s work is directly on top of anyone else’s. I also encourage students to place their work on the “criss-crosses” where the metal bars intersect so that work doesn’t fall through.

7. Cleaning Up

paint clean up poster

Our paint clean-up routine is very similar to our normal clean-up routine. Because of this, students are already familiar with the general steps. With this specific clean-up routine, I like to work with a gradual release model. At the beginning of a paint unit, I model and we practice. Right before we actually need to do the routine, I review and give reminders. Then, once we get used to the painting routines, any errors generally just require a quick reminder.

As with anything, you need to find what works for you and your students. These are the routines that are working for me this year with the majority of my classes. These routines can be flexible and adapted to suit unique groups or age levels. Try introducing just one or two to start. And remember, don’t underestimate the value of modeling, practicing, and reteaching!

What is something that you have students do now that you used to be responsible for?

What is the routine that saves you the most time in the art room?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek

Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek, an elementary school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about teaching and reaching students through an innovative and meaningful arts education.

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