4 Tips to Help Your Students Develop Respect for Classroom Materials

Have you ever had a class leave your room looking as if a tornado had just gone through? Supplies are EVERYWHERE. Brushes are left dirty in the sink, scraps of paper litter the floor, and pieces of broken colored pencils cover the tables. We’ve all been there.

dirty paintbrush in sink

There’s no other way to say it: organizing the art room is tough. For someone like me, who is not neat by nature, the task seems almost impossible. However, an unorganized space can breed disrespect for materials. If it looks like we don’t care about our supplies, why should our students?

Here are 4 ways to get your students to start respecting your classroom materials.

1. Assign Materials

When students are assigned their own specific materials to use, responsibility skyrockets. For example, to combat the abuse of paintbrushes, assign each student three of their own brushes in varying sizes.

brushes labeled with student's name

Students know if they mistreat or forget to wash a brush, they are not getting a replacement. This system requires students to be much more responsible. As a result, you will no longer see ruined brushes sitting in the sink!

2. Label Materials

Do you ever feel like your classroom eats Sharpies, pencils, and erasers? It’s probably because one of the biggest mistreatments of materials in the art room is theft. Often it’s accidental as students absentmindedly stick pencils or Sharpies into their pockets, but over time it adds up! To prevent the accidental theft of materials, start labeling them and do so in a way that is noticeable or even obnoxious. For example, try marking your pencils with large objects like feathers. This way students won’t be as apt to forget to return them.

Sharpie labeling system

Another way to label your materials is by spray painting them. Each time I put out a new batch of Sharpies, I spray a quick coat of paint on them. This is an easy way for students to recognize they belong to the art room. It is also helpful to have a designated spot for your materials. Rather than placing all of your Sharpies in a basket, try punching holes in a box so each Sharpie has a home. Doing so will allow you to easily see which supplies are missing.

3. Don’t Leave Materials Out

With so many kinds of materials, storage is always an issue. However, keeping items contained is essential. Leaving materials out invites students to halfheartedly put things away. Of course, we want students to be able to access materials, but things can get out of hand quickly. Instead of setting materials out in the open, try clearly labeling your cupboards and drawers. That way, your room stays neater, but students still know where to find things.

labeled drawers

4. Enforce Consequences

When it comes to respecting materials, students often need to be reminded of proper procedures. If a class seems to be consistently having difficulty caring for materials, take the time to review. It might waste a day, but that’s okay. If you choose to assign materials, enforce the idea that you will not give out another paintbrush if they lose or ruin one. If your students are stealing the Sharpies, don’t replace them immediately. Sometimes in order for students to realize their disrespectful behavior, they need to understand what it’s like to no longer have certain materials available.

Developing respect for materials is not always easy. It takes time and planning. However, with proper organization systems and classroom procedures, you will set students up for success!

What tips do you have for developing respect for art room materials?

How do you encourage your students to keep the art room organized?

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.


  • Arty Spangles

    I use old catalogs and have the students “purchase” supplies for classes with a budget. This created strong discussions about proper use and had students checking each other.

    • Abby Schukei

      That’s a great strategy to certainly help them see the worth of everything! Thanks for sharing.

  • Nic Hahn

    Strange how I knew this was written by you Abby… I don’t know another Art studio with that much tie dye. Thanks for all these tips and tricks!

    • Abby Schukei

      My classroom has a motto, “Tie dye or bust!”

  • Mr. Post
    • Abby Schukei

      I love the eraser parking lot. If I believed in erasers I’d totally make my own!

      • Mr. Post

        Abby, you don’t have to believe in erasers for them to work – they’re not like the tooth fairy!

        • Melissa Gilbertsen

          Omgee, I swear I’m doing this tomorrow.?

  • Hilary Paine

    Everything my students use are in cabinets that are labeled dual language with a picture of how it should be stored. This has helped tremendously, students need visuals. When I find damaged, seriously abused materials, or things left out I photograph it like a crime scene, and post it as warm-up discussion of what should be done to amend the problem. I’ve also been known to hold funeral processions when I find things broken/damaged. The students find it humorous, but it seems to get the message across.

    • Arty Spangles

      Oh. How I love this! So gonna steal.

  • Madeline Wright-Lopez

    If a student wants to borrow a pencil or an eraser, they have to trade their backpack. I just have them make a pile in the front corner of the room. When they give me the pencil back, then they can take their backpack. This has solved any ‘forgetting’ to return a pencil.

  • Melissa Gilbertsen

    My life got so much better when I finally decided that I simply don’t dismiss (bell be darned) the class until every darn thing is back where it belongs and the room is better than they found it. I also have “supply sargents” who really helped to get the peer pressure to work in my favor! We can now clean up in under 5 minutes even during a painting project. (Blows my mind too.) But it also helped to suspend mid-way through a project the right to use a media when it was not respectfully taken care of. Watercolor paints and brushes were dumped everywhere and trashed by my 5th period ONCE last year. I took “crime scene footage” and had every other period examine the evidence and determine a just consequence. It was awesome – they all said that 5th per had to finish their underwater watercolor WITH CRAYON. It turned into an excellent cautionary tale that they still talk about when stuff is not taken care of. Great blog and info from everyone here!

    • Mary Gallo

      Love the CSI theme!!!

  • jesciahopper .

    I recently made an epic video to teach students to be responsible with their painting supplies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98VsEYocYtA

    Other things include hot pink feathers on the ends of pencils and check out sheets for supplies…

  • Aliza Petar

    Now enroll in online education system to easily get better opportunities Online learning system is give you a chance to get best experience and build your well known personality. The system of online education is best way to develop life. A friend of mine enrolled in buy degree online program and grow his career bright. He got highest rank in his result. After completing his graduation. He got a job as an accountant in bank, just based of his education and knowledge. He lives dream life with his family in Abu Dhabi.

  • MidnightGamer MG

    i dont no if this applies, but my welding teacher in high shcool used to provide his students with welding gear, after seeing how they mistreated his equipment, he gathered it all up at the end of the year, and set it in the storage locker, with the next group of students he made them all buy theyre own gear, he wouldnt even let you in the class if you didnt get it within the first week, those kids treated theyre own equipment like gold, and once they had a investment they learned better than any students he ever had, and for that first week he made the class absolutely miserable he tested us on all welding general knowledge, he weeded out the bad eggs, made it to where he only got students that wanted to be theyre and were willing to pay theyre dues, i dont think you can really weed out the bad eggs like he did if youve got a basic curriculum classes, but you can definitely make them buy theyre own supplies. best of luck

  • Pingback: A New Way to Check Out Supplies in the Art Room - The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: Why Your Students Should Create Ceramic Paint Palettes - The Art of Education University()

  • Pingback: Why Your Students Should Create Ceramic Paint Palettes – Clearwild()