4 Tips to Help Your Students Develop Respect for Classroom Materials

Sharpie labeling system

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?

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.


Abby Schukei

Abby Schukei, a middle school art educator and AOEU’s Social Media Manager, is a former AOEU Writer. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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