Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cleanup, cleanup, everybody clean up! or - "Sponges and Placemats and Mess, OH MY!"

Or maybe I should call this post "The Big Spill".
The sponge is one of my art room "must-haves".

I just finished my first (wonderful) day with kids and now have been reading stuff on other blogs about organization and cleanup, and am a bit puzzled/surprised about the extreme differences in our ways. Let me say now: I'm a gal who is NOT afraid of big mess. As a matter of fact, the ONLY mess that scares me is that left by glitter. It creeps me out, by the way it reappears... and reappears... days after you've used it. So glitter has been banned from my room for many years (though we do use glitter-glue, and I love other sparkly shiny stuff). But every other art material is welcome, and I especially love papier-mache, plaster bandage, and large tempera paintings.

I order LOTS of sponges every year, and I have a big basin full of them at all times. The kids all know that they have to SQUEEZE all excess water out of the sponge prior to washing tables or "we will have a flood and the room will fill with sharks, fish, whales,and octopi" (everyone giggles here). The kids also know that if paint spills on the floor they need to tell me IMMEDIATELY and I will show them how to clean it up (SCOOP with the sponge; wash out the sponge; repeat), but will not get upset about it. After all, it's an art room, and everything (kid included) is washable. As a matter of fact, a popular phrase in my room, when there is a paint accident is "it's OK, I'm washable!" This is because I've told the kids that they were made to be washable so they could come to art class. Sometimes we cover the tables with newspapers when we paint, but more often, we do not, since everything will wash off the tables anyhow and the kids love cleaning them! We do cover the tables for papier-mache or plaster bandage, and sometimes if we'll be messy with glue, and then we can just roll up the messy paper and the table is (almost) clean underneath.

My students are required to have their own art shirts, that are stored in their cubbies in their classroom. I send a letter home about this every year, and explain (to parents) that if they cannot provide, they should contact me and the "Art Shirt Fairy" will deliver a shirt to the child's room. If a child is irresponsible about bringing his art shirt, I may exclude them from messy activities (in particular papier-mache, acrylic paints, and thick rich tempera). If this seems mean, realize that it's no different than telling the student who forgets his sneakers that he cannot participate in phys. ed. classes. It's all about responsibility. I know some of you have smocks in your room that you use for everyone, but not me. I do not like clothing sharing for hygiene reasons (for example - HEAD LICE). And my tables are rather high for the younger kids, since they were originally from the middle school art room, so when they paint they tend to lean over them.

ANYHOW. Several of you talked about using place-mats when painting and I was befuddled by this. What kind of place-mats are these and how big are they? (Are they paper, or plastic, or what?) Using place-mats must mean that all painting is done on small paper? (I love 18"x 24", bigger than most place-mats.) Don't the tables need washing anyhow, from containers of paint, water dishes, paint mixing, drips, etc? I hope those of you who use place-mats can clarify this stuff for me. Maybe I'm really missing the boat somewhere...

Speaking of mess - we've all seen those cool projects using shaving cream for marbling. I tried it out the other day and it's great. But everyone who has posted these lessons has spread the shaving cream on a tray of some sort. Based on my trial run, I'm going to spread it directly ON THE TABLES. The great thing is, when you are done and sponge it up, it also cleans the tables!!

Also, a lot of you have talked about making student folders for organization, but I don't have a folder for each child, especially since a lot of work is 3-D, or relatively large. Also, after work is displayed, I generally send most of it home, saving some for special displays. Some work even goes home immediately if it is not going to get hung up. I can't imagine storing everyone's work from all year. We crank out a LOT of art over the space of a year, and I'm afraid my art room would overflow and then the film crew from Hoarders would arrive.

OK, I've rattled on enough. I've been getting lots of messages lately from people asking me to get their message out on the blog, but I'm not dealing with it tonight. Too much I should be doing. So if you are waiting for my response, be patient please. And if this is your first week back in school, I hope your start is as good as my day was today!

One last quick question though - our staff spent Tuesday in training for an anti-bullying program we're going to be using. It was an interesting day but overwhelming day, and I'm wondering how it has worked for other districts. Is anyone out there in bloggy-land using the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program? If so, what do you think?

Thanks everyone! Happy Weekend!!


  1. I got super cheap sets of plastic place-mats at $1 tree and that is really all we use for messy stuff. Although I have to say, we do pull out the "Keep the table clean" paper when we use oil pastels. The kids and I hate trying to get oil pastel off the table.

  2. How big are the placemats? What size paper can you fit on it?

    And did you know: baby oil takes oil pastels off of tables!

  3. Last year one of our Kindergarten teachers told me about Mr. Clean Magic Erase Sponge (or something like that). They are expensive but one box lasted me most of the year because I broke it into small pieces and used sparingly on the really hard to clean stuff (permanent markers, acrylic paint, etc. It wipes up absolutely EVERYTHING!! So I have added this supply to my other sponges, handiwipes, babywipes , Goo Gone and all that other good stuff! I do believe that teachers could be excellent professional cleaners!!!!!

  4. I use 18 x 24 manilla tagboard as my placements, and manly use 12 x 18 drawing paper. I have 6 classes in every grade level so I seldom use 18 x 24 paper to paint on. Just don't have the room nor the display space to used 18 x 24 drawing paper for every project. We then use the placemats for painted paper projects. Those things are used til there is nothing left! :)

  5. I usually do the marbeling on the tables too! they love smearing it around and getting it everywhere and then your room smells fresh. I just did a tray at home because I have a wood table and the dye would have stained it! Its funny how much they love cleaning the tables! I love how you talk about the flood with octopi!!

  6. I'm on a cart so I use 18x24 or 12x18 newsprint "placemats" to help keep their desks clean. I reuse them as long as possible. The classroom teachers referred to them as placemats to help the kids understand their purpose. Most of our work is 12 x 18 or smaller due to classroom/cart constraints.

  7. Lately, I have been pulling off large pieces of butcher paper to cover my tables. I just reuse them until they are too gross.

  8. I love a big art room mess. LOVE it. I just finished huge African Batiks with my 7th graders today. They are each 18 x 24. The floor was spattered with black "ink" (we used watered-down tempera as my I didn't want to ruin any clothes and my Title I kiddos aren't consistent with bringing in old T-Shirts). An 8th grader asked later: "Whoa. What happened to your floor?" I said: "Art."

  9. Phyl I started using 18x12 old, nasty, construction paper for place mats a couple of years ago. It works for painting/gluing 9x12 size items. The best advantage is they can carry the whole mess to the dry rack and slide it in. 9x12 didn't fit great anyway on the rack so this does do extra duty. I teach my little ones to place the watercolor tray vertically along the right side (unless they are left handed)12 inch side of paper. With the water cup just above or in the center between them and the person across from them. And as a bonus I find I can use the place mats later for collage and painted scraps!
    I don't just paint on small paper however. So when we paint on 12x18 we do have some messy spots to clean.
    One of "my professional development goals" for this year is to smooth out or try all new strategies for some of my classroom procedures, like passing out supplies etc. I am at a loss because the only counter or table surface I have is a 3.5 x 2.5 counter next to the sink. So let me know if you have any ideas for stream lining the painting supplies etc.
    Thanks, as always, you had a great post on your blog.

  10. My placemats are laminated bulletin board paper. I've never used them before, and I'm not sure how much we will use them. I had seen something similar in my daughter's K classroom. I liked the idea of using it not just to reduce table mess, but for support underneath paintings on the drying rack. Sometimes, when I have used different papers the art seemed to just slide off of the rack. Or paint or glue would drip onto the one below it. I'm not using them for oil pastels that some of my classes are using, but I am using them for the playdough that my PK-1 classes. I really don't mind messes. I really think the messier the media the better, but I am trying to make it a bit easier to clean up.

    I am trying to create portfolios this year, only for 2D stuff. I do not have the budget this year for larger items, so 12x18 will probably be as big as it gets. I am really not sure where teachers keep these, though. I don't have a big closet, or a place to put this stuff. I may ask around for furniture. We'll see if it actually happens. I do like the idea of looking at all of the (2D) art you have created over the past year all at once, though.

  11. One thing I frequently do with large tempera paintings: I have kids use a ruler and pencil to draw a small "frame" before before painting begins. I explain that this will serve a few purposes.
    1) it will leave "handles" for carrying artwork to the drying rack.
    2) it will prevent the artwork from curling like it does when paint goes to the edge of the paper
    3) it will leave a nice frame to stand out when the artwork is hung. (Sometimes we decorate the frame w/markers, sometimes we leave it white, and sometimes I cut it off and then the artwork can be beautifully mounted on 18x24" construction paper for a nice frame for display.

    Anyhow, I guess I'm in the placemat-less minority. Amy, you're a girl after my own heart. It's the art room; let's get messy!!! I can't wait to see those African batiks!

  12. This is my first year to be off a cart, but my room is actually the old jr. high room, with carpet, no cabinets, no water, and shared by adults at Wednesday night church lessons and music classes on alternate days. (A smartboard and whiteboard are treasured blessings, though!) The really messy stuff had always been in the gym/lunchroom, and still is. I don't mind messes had kinders action paint a chair), but I have to protect the floors in the room, and the tables both places, so I use the nice plastic tablecloths that have been marked down to a dollar to cover the tables. They wipe great, but don't have to be perfect, and I really don't have to worry about the rare acrylic project. I am also experimenting with felt-lined plastic tablecloths as drop-cloths under the tables in the room, so moderately messy projects aren't a concern.
    I also corral 2-D work in legal folders, which are then collected by class in folded, stapled-taped poster board. All the class portfolios are stored in a strange tall, shallow, wide cardboard box I found in discarded in our kitchen. It's manageable in this small school. This began because I was based in the teachers' lounge/storage closet, with literally no place to keep artwork, but the expectation that we would have a year-end art show and participate in the regional art competition for Lutheran schools. (3D work was a real complication!) Now I have space, but no cabinets or files or racks, so I still use it. At least now I have walls other than halls outside the teachers' rooms to display some of the artwork!
    I love LOVE the marked frame on large papers! I plan to implement that helpful idea right away.

  13. We are in the beginning stages in the Olweus Bullying program. We were trained in August and continue to have our monthly meetings. We will present the program to the rest of our staff in January to get everyone on board.

    I like it because it is getting everyone on board with the program and there is consistency in the building.

    I also have to add that a messy art room is a happy art room. :)

  14. Hi Phyl!

    I would like to use one of the pinwheel images I found on your website:

    ... in a TedX talk I will be presenting in Honolulu 11/1/2011

    Because TedX will video tape the talk, your image may end up in the video, which may be shown on the internet, or distributed as TedX sees fit.

    I hope this is ok with you!

    Please let me know via


    michael wall

  15. I use the largest manilla paper for the place mats which also serves as the start of the painted paper. It works great under art with liquid water color if you are creating on thinner paper because it bleeds through thus once again starting...painted paper. As the paper starts to fill up with paint I have the kids finish it off and then add it to our collection. Works well for ua1 :)