Physical Space

8 Awesome Art Hacks to Use This School Year

shoe box yarn storage

The school year is quickly approaching, and it is important to complete your teacher to-do list! We all have big plans to implement this year to make our lives easier in the classroom. You may have been asking art teacher friends, pinning on Pinterest, or searching the Internet for new ideas to change things up in your classroom. But have you found exactly what you want?

I reached out to some fellow art teachers to share some of their best art teacher hacks. This way you can find a few new ideas all in one place. Even better, many of these work for all grade levels, so there is a little something for everyone.

Check out this list of 8 art hacks you can use in your classroom this school year!

1. Shoe Box Yarn Storage

Personally, I know weaving with yarn can be quite an undertaking in the art room. I spoke with Ted Edinger from Art with Mr. E, and he shared one of his favorite hacks when it comes to storing yarn for his students–clear plastic shoe boxes!

shoe box yarn storage
Image courtesy of Ted Edinger

According to Ted, “This system allows students to see the colors they have to work with, keeps the yarn separated, prevents tangling, and stores easily.”

He said the system allows his students to work independently, and more importantly, it saves his sanity!

While Ted uses a drill to create a hole in the boxes, he shared, “You can also use a sharp pair of pointed scissors to make the hole if power tools aren’t your thing!”

Ted has used his boxes for around fifteen years, so it’s clear they are durable. This means you don’t have to keep spending your budget or your own money to keep the system going.

2. Recycled Watercolors

When it comes to watercolors, not everyone has the budget to continuously buy new sets during the school year. Kerri Waller, a middle school teacher in Marietta, GA, has an awesome hack for creating her own watercolors.

“I take the almost empty pans of watercolor and soak them to make liquid watercolor. That way we can use every bit of the paint and there is no waste!”

recycled watercolors
Image courtesy of Kerri Waller

I have seen some teachers use markers in order to create their own watercolors, but I love the idea of recycling the small amounts of watercolor paint left in the pans.

3. Dog Bowl Water Cups

Have you ever heard the dreaded splash in your classroom followed by many gasps, all to turn around and see water spilled all over everything? Well, Tracy Evans, an elementary art teacher in Plano, TX, has a fabulous hack that she uses in her class to help eliminate the spills.

She actually uses dog bowls for her water containers. Since a dog bowl has two compartments, she places water in one and a sponge in the other. Easy peasy!

dog bowl water cup
Image courtesy of Tracy Evans

Tracy shared, “These have been a lifesaver! They don’t topple over, there is a sponge for wiping so I use fewer paper towels, and kids can easily manage filling, emptying, and storing them.”

4. Metal Expanding Filing System Drying Rack

The drying rack can quickly become unorganized. If you have small projects going on and a metal expanding filing system, this could be the hack for you.

alternate drying rack
Image courtesy of Nic Hahn

Nic Hahn shared the following hack on her fabulous blog, MiniMatisse. She wrote, “It’s nice because I can set it up over the ‘rainbow counter top,’ and the kids can still use the color system that I have set up in my classroom. If they are at the purple table, they place their work in the rack above the purple section. You will see I also have their table folders divided. This helps when they are dry because I can easily pick them up and plop them in the folder to put them away.”

5. DIY Pegboard Wall Storage

Storing supplies is an art in and of itself. As I ran out of counter space, I looked to my walls. I have a good amount of wall space I wanted to use for intentional resources. I knew I had my answer when I found this awesome Do-It-Yourself pegboard!

DIY pegboard

You can find the instructions online if you’re interested!

I love this hack because I now have more space for supplies and it is also visually pleasing. It gives my art room a workshop-type look that I think is great since I deem it an art studio for my students.

6. Kinesthetic Attention-Getter

While there are many ways to get your students’ attention, it’s never bad to have new ideas in your back pocket.

Courtney Voyles, an elementary teacher in Plano, TX, shared a fun way to get students’ attention that allows them to move and express themselves creatively. You may have heard of the call and response Mona Lisa; when the teacher says, “Mona,” and the students say, “Lisa.” Courtney puts a spin on this attention-getter I am sure you and your students will enjoy.

Instead of a call and response, she says, “Show me your Mona Lisa.” At that point, all the kids have to freeze like the portrait. Once students have the basics down, Courtney starts getting creative.

She told me, “To spice things up I have students do a variety of different Mona Lisas. For example, ‘Kitty Cat Mona Lisa’ allows my students to show cute kitty faces or cat claws when they freeze. For ‘Robot Mona Lisa,’ students freeze like a robot. I also have ‘Rock Star Mona Lisa’ and ‘Hip-Hop Mona Lisa.'”

What a fun way to get students’ attention while allowing them to have some quick movements in the art room.

7. A Technologically Advanced Display

If you are looking for an innovative way to add technology to your class, this is the hack for you. Tricia Fuglestad, an elementary teacher from Illinois who loves all things technology, had a fun idea to add a “Kindness Kiosk” in her classroom.

Kindness Kiosk Fuglestad
Image courtesy of Tricia Fuglestad

Tricia shares, “I have a hack for sharing our digital art with our school community. We purchased a tamper-proof iPad kiosk and learned how to set up guided access (which limits a user’s ability to change what’s playing on the iPad without a four digit code). The first project it featured was the 3rd graders’ Kindness Campaign images on a continuous loop. This means not only were we finally able to share our digital artwork in a physical space in the building, but we were also able to inspire everyone with these moving memes. We called it the ‘Kindness Kiosk.'”

The ideas are endless when it comes to getting one of these in your room. When it comes to funding for this equipment, think about a school fundraiser, reaching out to your PTA or sharing the benefits with your school administration to see if they would like to purchase it for you!

8. The Power of Social Media

Amy Greathead, a teacher in Beloit, Wisconsin, believes embracing social media and using a variety of online platforms was one of the best things she could have done as a new art teacher. She enjoys Pinterest, Artsonia, Class Dojo, and says Instagram is her most recent media platform to explore.

Amy shared, “I absolutely love Artsonia and the ability to create student portfolios while communicating with parents. And, on top of all that, I love raising funds for my art room. What I love Instagram for the most is how easy it is to connect with other art teachers from all over the world and share what we are doing in our classrooms. Not just projects but organization, decorating our classes, how we manage behaviors, etc. It has been one of the greatest resources as a new art teacher, and I am grateful for all the connections I’ve already made on Instagram.”

There are still a few more weeks left in the summer, but the first day will be here before long. Choose an idea from the list above and try it out this year!

What is one of your favorite art hacks to use in your classroom?

What is an area or situation in your room where you could use an art hack?

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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