How to Run an Open Studio Day in a Traditional Art Room

As art teachers, we work hard to teach students the essential skills for their future success. While we realize art is fun, we also know it allows students to build their creative capacity and critical thinking skills. In this way, students can innovate, problem-solve, and express themselves. All of which are important skills for life and future careers.

One of the best ways I’ve found to foster these skills in my students is through Open Studio Days.

Open Studio Days are normal practice for those who implement the Teaching for Artistic Behavior approach, like myself. If you’re unfamiliar, the TAB teaching philosophy, “enables students to experience the work of the artist through authentic learning opportunities and responsive teaching.” However, you can run an Open Studio Day no matter what teaching philosophy you follow! Are you ready to transform your classroom using Open Studio Days?

6 Steps to Running Open Studio Days in a Traditional Art Room Setting

sign showing which studios are open

1. Reflect on how you teach.

If your students don’t get much choice in the classroom, beginning to incorporate Open Studio Days will be a learning experience for you and your students. If you’re truly looking for a change, this idea is something to incorporate more than once a semester. Your students will benefit from the repetition and consistency.

Make sure to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my vision for my classroom?
  • How can I support my vision?
  • Am I open to change in the classroom?
  • When would I incorporate Open Studio Days into my curriculum?

The answers to these questions should help you align your goals with your classroom with your curriculum.

student artwork
student work created on an Open Studio Day

2. Decide how you will inspire your students.

Some students will get started right away with ideas they have, but some students may need a little push. In order to inspire your students, you can start with a short demonstration or share about an artist.


Starting your Open Studio Day with a short demo on a new medium or skill is a great way to hook your students. Allowing students to explore at their own pace is a valuable and memorable learning experience.

The key in an Open Studio Day is that the students may or may not use the new medium or skill you demonstrate. However, they will still benefit from your instruction and may use the skill in their future work. Through these short demos, students are always learning new things.

Artist Inspiration

Looking at artwork from various artists not only allows you to incorporate art history but also to inspire students. It can be as simple as conducting a brief conversation about an artist’s style while students view the work. Or, you can have students dig a bit deeper by presenting works from multiple artists that are connected in some way. Students often find inspiration in both the style of the work and its subject matter and explore both in their own ways.

Remember, using a certain style is not mandatory on an Open Studio Day, but presenting work allows students to find inspiration to explore further if they so choose.

3. Set your expectations.

With anything new, there can be a learning curve. Setting your expectations is important. Here are key areas you should discuss with your students.

  • Set up procedures
  • Cleanup procedures
  • Use of time
  • Choosing studios

Eventually, your goal with Open Studio Days will be to have multiple mediums available at the same time. However, if you want to start with one medium first and work your way up to more, that works, too.

No matter the number of stations you have open, be clear about your expectations. Will students need to choose one station and stay there for the duration of the class? Will they be able to work with materials from multiple stations to create mixed media pieces? These are questions you’ll need to consider. The good news is that the more you implement these days, the smoother things will run.

4. Set up your stations.

It may seem daunting to have students working with a variety of materials in the same classroom, but with a good organization system, anything is possible! Depending on how your class is set up, you have a few choices in how students can get their supplies and where they can work.

Option 1: Have students gather their own supplies.

For this option, you will want to designate specific tables for specific media. For example, in my room, the Red Table and the Orange Table may be designated for painting while the Yellow Table and Green Table are designated for drawing.

This option works well if you already have supplies set up in a buffet style. Students can grab their own supplies and sit at the tables designated for those supplies.

collage center

Option 2: Set out supplies at tables before students enter the room.

Another option is to have supplies already set out at designated tables. During work time, students simply go to the station where they want to work. This set up helps cut down on movement in the classroom because students don’t have to gather their own supplies.

If neither of these options sounds appealing, you could allow students to work with a variety of media at their usual assigned seats. Personally, I like students who are using paint to work together in order to share materials. It allows for an easier cleanup because fewer supplies are out.

student artwork
student work created on an Open Studio Day

5. Let students get to work!

Teachers often feel uneasy thinking about having students work on multiple projects at once. They worry it will be chaotic or they won’t have time to help everyone. I have found both of these assumptions to be false. When students have a choice in their material and subject matter, they are, for the most part, more engaged in their work, not less. In addition, I can still circulate the room and see who may need help on their work, just as I could in a more traditional art room setting. In short, allowing students to work in this way allows for highly differentiated learning,

6. Allow students to reflect and share.

In order to see the transformation created by Open Studio Days, you must allow time for reflection and sharing. You will truly see the thought process behind your students’ work as well their excitement for what they created!

Here are 4 different ways to have students open up:

  1. Walk around the room while your students work and inquire about their creations.
    My students often blow me away with the thought they put into their work and how proudly they talk about it. We often learn best by failing, learning from our mistakes, and trying new things.
  2. Have a few students share out at the end of class.
  3. Take an art walk and have students look at other’s work while it is in progress.
    Pose the question, “How can I take my art further?” for reflection.
  4. Have students write something they learned on a sticky note or share how they used their problem-solving skills in their work.

By getting your students talking, it allows for everyone to see the power of Open Studio Days. Overall, allowing your students to have Open Studio Days to create work from their heart will be beneficial to their growth as artists. It enriches their education and transforms their art experience.

How do you promote innovation and authentic art in the classroom?

Are you open to trying Open Studio Days?

Wynita Harmon is an elementary art teacher in Plano, TX. She enjoys providing authentic learning experiences for her students that promote innovation and critical thinking skills.


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  • Tracy Mathys

    I have started doing open studio during fifth and sixth grade recess time and it is a big hit! Right now I have 3 centers open and one rotating special project. I just wrote a grant for a fiber center and sculpture center, I am hoping that if I introduce it in little bits to start it will just be the normal by the time they get to grades 7 & 8.

    • Wynita Harmon

      I love the way you are working to transition your students. Pretty clever idea. Thanks for sharing how it works for you.

  • Jessica Madenford

    In the last couple of years, I have felt a desire to offer more choice for my students, and I have, but I am really coming to the end of my rope with teacher-driven lessons. I’m simply losing the buy-in for that approach and want to somehow transition fully into TAB in the next few years. Right now I offer limited choice in main projects, but have a lot of choice for middle school early finishers (I have a bookshelf of art books, games, drawing paper, colored paper, watercolor supplies, drawing books, legos, scissors, drawing materials, and bracelet materials.) I also teach high school students, and this is where I’m feeling the most draw to working in TAB. Do you have any more photographs of your set-up? I am stuck on how to rearrange my classroom space to organize centers. The collage center photograph was helpful; I have a space similar to this, so I can relate. In the centers, do you keep all of the materials out or do you ever keep some items in the cabinets? If materials are kept in cabinets, are the doors taken off for easy access? I’ve read many articles, follow professional groups, and have pinned a lot for information, but I’m stuck on the logistics – physical set-up and how to make that transition happen. Anyone have any tips out there?

  • Tara Holmes

    Thanks for this article! I have been trying to incorporate more Open Studio time in my K-4 all-boys art lessons. Do you think it’s appropriate to have things like Lego, kinetic sand and wooden building planks as choices? Several of them will gravitate towards those activities instead of creating an artwork, which i feel pressure to have them do since i only see them once a week.

    • Wynita Harmon

      Thanks for reading Tara. How exciting to work with all boys. That would be a new experience for me if I tried that. To answer your question, I think those are great things to add. I have an architecture center as a choice. I don’t always have it open or I give challenges to draw what you make or plan a design and then build it. I understand and think that limiting it or adding challenges to help incorporate some drawing could be helpful. Even photographing the works and editing it could be a great way to get more 2D work from creating 3D work. Hope that helps.

  • Beth Tyrrell-Prevost

    I was so excited to see this article! I’ve been holding Open Studio days in my classroom for my entire 23 year career. I set up my Open Studio as an incentive program for each class. The students meet certain behavior expectations every day to earn points. The points translate into Open Studio time at the end of each grading quarter. My students and I love the experience every time.