Why You Should Incorporate Art Challenges in Your Room This School Year


Do you ever get tired of the same old way of introducing lessons and units?

Do you wish you had a fun way to change things up but don’t know where to start?

If you answered “yes” to either of the questions above, I have a solution for you: Art Challenges.

Art Challenges are a great way to shake things up in the art studio. It does not matter if your pedagogy is more traditional or more choice-based; Art Challenges do not discriminate and work well in any art studio.

What are Art Challenges?

An Art Challenge is a creative problem for your students to solve. You can use Art Challenges with groups or individuals and they can work for a wide variety of topics.

You might use an Art Challenge to help students:

  • Learn a new art technique
  • Meet a learning objective or classroom goal
  • Try out the style of a famous artist
  • Develop their creative thinking skills
  • Explore new materials

For example, as an introduction to a sculpture unit, you could challenge students to design a new invention that can help save the world by using at least three cardboard attachment techniques. Or, as a warm up activity, you could have students turn paint splatters or random lines into other things. (For a downloadable pack of 20 “Finish the Picture” prompts, click here.)

In short, Art Challenges get your students thinking creatively and allow students to explore new media, techniques, and ideas in a fun, non-intimidating way.

student hands working

The Benefits of Using Art Challenges with Your Students

There are many benefits to using Art Challenges in your classroom. First of all, they are fun and engaging for students. If you’re looking for a hook for a new lesson or unit, an Art Challenge is a good bet! Second, Art Challenges are a great way to get your students working together to promote important skills like collaboration, communication, and problem-solving. You can also align Art Challenges with the Studio Habits of Mind and the National Standards by having students present and share their work with others. Who knows? You might even inspire other content areas in your school to incorporate similar types of creativity challenges in their rooms!

But all of that aside, perhaps most importantly, Art Challenges allow students to build skills and background knowledge in a non-threatening environment. Art Challenges help foster a classroom culture where all students feel safe and free to make mistakes. Through these types of activities, students learn that failing only allows for growth, and challenging themselves is one way to build resilience.

4 Art Challenges to Try with Your Students

As we’ve discussed, Art Challenges allow for students to practice all of these skills and more:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Problem-Solving
  • Creativity
  • Imagination

Here are four specific challenges to try with your students.

1. Note Card Challenge

Allows students to build a structure only using note cards. You can provide tape or let them figure out how they want to make attachments. This is a great Art Challenge to do before introducing 3D projects and a cheap, effective way to get your students in the design mindset.

2. Marshmallow City

marshmallow city

Set up a table covered in green butcher paper to represent a city. Add a few other details like roads, park spaces, or water features with markers or construction paper. Then, introduce your students to the idea of architecture. Tell them they will be the architects for this city. The catch? They have to make their buildings out of only marshmallows and toothpicks. As an added challenge, students must make their buildings strong enough to be built at their own tables and then carried to the “city.”

3. Oops Challenge

Pre-draw or create “mistakes” on sheets of paper and have students turn them into something unique. You will be amazed by what many of your students come up with. Of course, Beautiful Oops! would be a great book to pair with this one.

4. Scrap Challenge


First, give students a variety of random objects like pipe cleaners, pom-poms, string, yarn, toothpicks, paper scraps, cardboard scraps, etc. Then, challenge students to create something with them. You can leave this completely open-ended or have a theme based on your next project or unit. This is a great challenge to give at the beginning of the year to assess your students’ creative thinking skills or at the end of the year to use up leftover materials!

Art Challenges are a great way to get your students thinking outside the box. Not only will they help grab students’ attention and keep them engaged, but they’ll allow students to practice essential 21st-century skills. So, the next time you’re wondering how to introduce or enhance your practice, give an Art Challenge a try!

How do you think you will incorporate Art Challenges into your curriculum?

What type of Art Challenges have you already used in your art studio?

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.


Wynita Harmon

Wynita Harmon is AOEU’s Chair of Faculty Development and a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator.

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