By Ted Edinger, Tennessee Elementary Art Teacher of the Year
Supplies, lack of supplies, donations, and dumpster diving can either limit your creative efforts in the art room (if you let them)….or….INSPIRE THEM! It is easy to bellyache over not having proper funding (most of us have experienced that at some point in our career), and we truly do need a solid budget to provide our students with a quality art education. However, focusing our energy on what is available to us & how we can translate those materials into part of amazing art experiences for the kiddos is paramount!
In this age of Pinterest & blogging, we have amazing resources at our disposal. If you have a large number of toilet paper/paper towel rolls at your schools, type tp roll projects into any search engine, and you will find lesson ideas & inspiration for days! There are teachers that focus their entire art programs on utilizing recycled materials. This could be because of small budgets, a desire to save the earth, or because the projects are AMAZING, but whatever the reason is the resources are out there if you just do a little research
Over the past few years, I’ve done several large scale projects using recycled materials. I’ve involved both the school community & the community at large to help collect enough of the desired materials to make the projects happen. When you bring teachers/staff, parents, students, and others in the community on board, you will see interest in the arts grow because of the investment.
As I began developing the bottle cap project for my school, I had to come up with a plan that would work for my school, my students, and my specific situation. Filtering projects you see online to fit your situation make them unique. I knew I couldn’t use screws and power tools, so I had to research adhesives that would stand up to the elements. As my students brought in bottle caps, it dictated the color palette we had to work with. The size and shape of the bottle cap mural was dictated by the materials I was blessed to have donated (which also dictated how many bottle caps were necessary to complete the mural). After the all-call for bottle caps, it was so much fun seeing everyone stopping by with baggies of bottle caps (I need to develop a project for all the baggies now!!! ha ha). There was a place set up in my classroom for teachers, parents, and students could stop by anytime to drop off caps. We had more than enough caps when all was said and done…not only for the bottle cap mural I planned, but a life size 3D snowman for winter…and boxes of caps yet to be used (I’m still collecting for more projects yet to be dreamed up!). I did have to go dumpster diving a few times at the local recycling center to get enough of some colors for our school mural. Storage can be an issue for many teachers out there. I’m a little OCD, and can’t stand a cluttered room. Projects like the bottle caps can easily be stored in copy paper boxes and stacked in a corner.
You do not want to ever look a gift horse in the mouth, but you need to be careful not to allow your classroom to become the dumping ground for all things displaced. I have to say, there are very few things I can’t find some use for, but there are times where you just don’t need any more of “X.” You can very appreciatively say “No thank you!”, or you can have other art teachers on speed dial that you know might be able to use said item. I always find wish lists extremely helpful in directing people’s giving. I always post items such as TP Rolls, Plastic Water Bottles (go to my blog to see several bottle projects), Scrap Paper, Fabric, Buttons, Etc. These are things I know I can and will use. This year, I’m going to try to do even more sculpture/mixed media pieces so I can utilize some of the items that have been donated to my program (beyond junk robots… though that is a favorite project for many students). I am, however, open to being inspired by what is donated! Keeping an open mind is key when you are being “gifted” unusual items. There are times that projects don’t come to be because you can’t get enough of some items. I have been asking for Mac & Cheese boxes for years, and have only collected enough for one class ( I have at least 5 classes of each grade level). That project will just have to wait, and that is ok.
Have a plan in place for donated items. When I’m given wallpaper, scrapbook paper, or gift wrap I have a specific place where they are stored. I keep a 20 gal. clear plastic tote for my “general” collage scrap paper. I do not place “special” paper in that box because it can become a distraction to the students. I have a separate plastic tote for the “special” paper. I also have several plastic totes in my room where I store “found object” pieces, wood scraps, and fabric. You know as soon as you say no to something, that is when you find you need it the most! I once had a teacher bring me 3 lawn and garden trash bags full of plastic bottles. I knew I wanted them, but had no idea where I was going to store them at first. I spoke with my principal and was able to place them in an empty classroom. I was so thankful not to store such a big bulky item(s) in my room. However, that made me aware that I needed to think about such things. It is a conversation you may want to have before you need to! Planning ahead for donated items helps you not be overwhelmed, and it enables you to say yes more often to the generosity of others.
My friends, we have an amazing job! We are blessed to do what we do. Sometimes the circumstances aren’t ideal, but we are creative and can make the best out of just about ANYTHING! I BELIEVE YOU, AS AN ART EDUCATOR, CAN CREATE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL FOR YOU & YOUR STUDENTS! (with a little work and a lot of creativity!)