Opening a painting center in the art room sounds like an overwhelming challenge. With many art teachers switching to a more choice-based approach, people are looking for answers. Whether you’re looking to fully jump into Teaching for Artistic Behavior or just want to explore using a temporary painting station with your students, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
In order for students to maintain freedom of media, pace, and subject, the centers and routines must be extremely structured.
1. Design the Work Space
First, ask yourself a few questions about what your Painting Center will look like:
- Will you have tables, easels, tabletop easels or something else?
- Will you cover your tables with newspaper or placemats or have students wash them after each use?
- Will students stand or sit?
- How many students will work in this area at a time?
- What’s the best location in your room for the painting center’s traffic flow and cleanup? (Think sink proximity.)
- Will your students clean and return their own supplies? Or, will there be an area for them to place dirty brushes, palettes, etc.?
- How will you set up and distribute supplies?
Depending on your classroom (or cart), the age of your students, and your particular sink situation, your answers to these questions may vary. Once you’ve decided what the best setup will be, give it test a run with a few classes. Take notes and ask your kids what they think. Keep what works and change what doesn’t! Choice centers should evolve until they work for what you and your students’ need.
2. Provide Limited Tools and Materials
There are so many different painting materials you could put out. However, it’s best to start slowly and add as you and your students get comfortable.
Decide what types of paint you’d like to offer. In my experience, it’s better to start simple. Teach your kids how to set up and clean up the painting center with pan watercolors or tempera cakes first. Once they’ve mastered these easy-to-care-for materials, dive into liquid tempera, liquid watercolors, or acrylics.
Not all of your students will be using the centers at the same time, so you can buy higher-quality tools in smaller amounts. I choose to buy very high-quality brushes in a variety of sizes and shapes and only keep 10 to 20 out at a time. Students can easily access the best brushes for their needs without having to dig through a million low-quality options. This also means there are not 400 brushes in the sink at the end of the day.
Palettes are tricky to clean, so it’s easiest to provide cardboard pieces for kids to mix on. They’re reusable, don’t need to be washed, and cost nothing. Plus, when they’ve outlived their usefulness you can toss them into the sculpture center for a beautiful building material.
3. Teach and Practice Routines
When implementing any center, it’s important to provide students with the steps they need to work in the center completely independently. Begin by creating routines students can easily maintain and supporting those routines with menus and visual aides.
Here is one example of a painting set up anchor chart you could use in your room!
In my TAB classroom, my upper elementary students are able to wash and return their own brushes, rinse and refill their own water, and wipe the tables. I teach these routines and we practice them until students can do them independently. When the center is cared for correctly, it stays open and new materials are introduced. When it is not, the center is closed for “renovations” and the routines are retaught and practiced. The center reopens when the students show they can handle the responsibility.