OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhether art is one of many subjects that you teach in your classroom, or you teach in a dedicated art room, organization of your art supplies is a must. And what better time to get organized than spring?!

As one who has taught in both a multiple subject classroom, and in a high school art room, keeping my art supplies organized has made every lesson I’ve taught easier. Whether I’m pulling supplies out in preparation for a lesson, or taking a quick inventory to see what I need to replenish, keeping things in order has really paid off. My sister — a professional organizer! — likes to encourage her clients to think of their spaces as big containers, and then to think of breaking down the things stored within those spaces into smaller containers. This has helped me tremendously over the years both at home and at school.

So let’s get down to business shall we? If your art supply organization is long overdue, I suggest you begin by pulling all of your art supplies out onto tables where you can see them. Gather like items together, such as all of your paint brushes, color pencils, crayons, and glue bottles. (As you do this, be sure to get rid of anything that is no longer usable.)

Once like supplies have been grouped together, I would suggest that you begin thinking about storage containers if you aren’t already using them. These don’t have to be anything fancy or new, just some sturdy containers that will hold your supplies. I also strongly encourage you to think about choosing containers that will serve “double duty” for you. For example, I use little stacking plastic drawers, 4 drawers to a “unit”. These can sit out or be placed in a cupboard, but the main thing is, they not only store things like crayons, color pencils, chalk and glue sticks, but they can also be carried to work tables and desks for the students to work out of. When the work session is over, the supplies go back in the drawers, and the drawers go back into the little “unit” that holds them. As simple as that. Again, nothing fancy or expensive, but highly functional. When smaller art supplies have been “containerized”, you can begin placing things back into cupboards and cabinets in any way that makes sense for you. The beauty of this time that you’ve invested is that now when you need glue, you know right where ALL of your glue is. Crayons? Just pull out some containers and you’re ready to go!

Here are a few other quick and easy storage tips that might work for you. Three coffee cans hold my paint brushes — handles down, brush tips up — roughly separated into small, medium and large sizes. I’ve also found that storing construction paper on edge vertically, makes it easy to pull out what I need, and put back what I don’t, without unstacking everything. (They look like very colorful little book spines.) If you place them in order (ROYGBIV: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) they look beautiful too! This type of construction paper “filing” also makes it easy to see when you are running low on a particular color. Having some sort of scrap paper box is also important for gathering up any usable bits of paper that are too big to be thrown away.

Scissors can present their own unique storage problems. When I taught first grade, our scissors were all kept one of the storage drawers mentioned above. Students knew where they were and took responsibility for getting them out and putting them away when they were finished with them. High school is a different situation. I needed them to be accessible to students, but I also needed to be able to account for every pair at the end of each class period. The solution was to hang the scissors up on nails. The students could easily get a pair if they needed one, and at the end of each class, I could glance at those nails from anywhere in the room and see if all of the scissors had been returned to their place. (The class was NOT excused to leave until all scissors were accounted for and my students knew it.) Very effective.

I’m a big fan of encouraging students’ independence, and the more organizational systems you establish and teach to your students, the more independent they can be. When materials need to be put away, everyone knows where things are supposed to go, and so everyone can help pitch in to get things picked up. For this reason, I would also suggest that you gather some all-purpose containers that can be used for different things during projects, but not necessarily be used for long term storage. For example, I would suggest 3 or 4 round, metal cake pans, and maybe a few rectangular pans as well. These are great when you need to set out things like cotton balls, beads, buttons, and brads for the students to use. During an art experience, my students are able to help themselves to whatever they need, and return items they don’t need for others to use. When the project is over, I then return those items to their long term storage, and the pans are ready to go for the next art experience. A few scotch tape dispensers, a stapler, and masking tape rolls tied to something are also a good idea. (Tying the masking tape rolls to something simply means they’re always where they’re supposed to be.) I also like to keep two stacked paper trays out and accessible for the students — one filled with blank, white copy paper, and another filled with newsprint paper. This is great for a variety of things including quick sketches and notes.

Finally, I’ve listed a few items that I’ve found to be invaluable over the years and that I always keep on hand for art experiences. Small paper cups can be purchased in bulk at restaurant supply stores and can be “pulled open” so that they almost lay flat and can be used as mini paint pallets, as well as a place to hold a small amount of glue. When left in cup form, they are great for holding small items such as beads and brads while students are working. Paper plates, plastic tubs for water, disposable gloves, baby wipes, paper towels, and old men’s shirts (to cover up when things get messy). If you do anything like papier mache, having a “dedicated” small plastic bucket (like one that might hold ice cream), a plastic ladle, and plastic plates are a great idea. The bucket can be used to mix your papier mache, and you can ladle it out onto plastic plates for students as they need it. Plates can then be thrown away at the end of the art experience.

Once you’ve invested a little time and energy getting your art supplies in order, you’ll discover how much easier and more fun it is to plan and then implement exciting, successful art lessons for your students. You may just find yourself connecting art to lots of lessons, because your spring cleaning and organizing has made it so much more convenient! If you have any tips you’d like to share, I’d love it if you’d join the conversation and leave a comment on this post.