How to Start an Art Program at Your Child’s School

My very first Art Show as a parent volunteer!

This is where it all began… my very first Art Show as a parent volunteer, almost 22 years ago! (Please ignore the poor image quality… I’m just thankful to have found this photo – in a box of thousands!)

The one question my readers ask more than any other is something along the line of, “Do you have any advice for parents who want to teach Art in their child’s class?” And my answer is, yes…. actually, I do! This topic is near and dear to my heart because this is exactly how I got my start in Art Education!

Art Show poster by parent volunteer

Art Show poster from my very first year teaching Art as a parent volunteer

I began my career in Art Ed as a parent volunteer.  When my daughter started kindergarten (over 20 years ago) I was a stay-at-home mom with a degree in Art and a background in Graphic Design. It didn’t take long for her teacher to figure out what every parent had an interest in, and before I knew it I was developing and teaching the Art curriculum. This was pre-art ed blogs, and pre-Pinterest, so I had to find my art lessons the old-fashioned way… in books! I also created many lessons of my own during this time. But most importantly, I was hooked on teaching Art to kids! So, I went back to school to earn my K-12 Art Credential…. and a K-8 Multiple Subject Credential, while I was at it.

So, this post is for all you parent volunteers who’ve stepped up to fill the need for Art instruction. So many schools no longer offer Art as a regular part of the school day, yet it’s so important! When there’s no funding to pay a teacher, parent volunteers are often called on to fill the gap. Thanks to the abundance of art lessons and teaching tips available on the internet today, parent volunteers can be very successful at teaching Art. As I like to say, you don’t need to be an “artist” or have an art background yourself to teach art to kids. All you need are good lessons to follow (like following a recipe) and the willingness to have fun. Interest and passion will take you far!

So let’s say you’ve got the passion, and your child’s teacher has invited you to fill this critical need. Where do you begin? You might consider a cross-curricular approach, where you tie your Art projects to whatever topics the class is studying, such as the“Lifecycle of a Butterfly” in K, the “Solar System” in 3rd, or maybe “China” in 6th grade. Simply google “art lessons” and your grade level and topic, and you’ll find all kinds of ideas you can work with. Ask your child’s teacher for a general outline of the themes and basic concepts that will be taught each month so you’ll have some time to plan ahead.

Another approach I like is to teach lessons with a focus on famous artists, creating a unique project inspired by each artist you learn about. This gives you a framework to build on where you’ll naturally be working with a variety of mediums and techniques, while at the same time teaching art vocabulary, concepts, and history. Timing the study of an artist with that artist’s birthday can be especially fun… kids are always happy to celebrate a birthday! An added bonus is that learning about famous artists develops cultural literacy. When your students are out with their families and encounter some of the art they’ve learned about, they’ll be so excited to share what they’ve learned! I’ve seen this happen time after time with kids as young as kindergarten.

My favorite book series for teaching about famous artists is “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” by Mike Venezia. These are short stories written with a healthy dose of humor, and workable for grades K all the way through 5.  Just familiarize yourself with the story so you can comfortably paraphrase as needed to adapt it to whatever grade level you’re working with. These books are inexpensive, and you can buy them one at a time as you need them. Kids love learning that these famous artists were actually real people, with interesting lives. After introducing an artist to your students, you can do a project inspired by that artist…. not a “copy” of their artwork, but a project that imitates something about their style to teach a concept or technique. Vincent Van Gogh is my favorite artist to start out with. His painting of The Starry Night is popular and easily recognizable, so students will be likely to “run into it” over and over on posters, coffee mugs, tote bags, etc., reinforcing their learning each time they see it. The swirls of paint he used to capture the night sky have become a trademark of his style that can be used in a variety of fun projects!

Great lesson plans abound on the internet. You’ll find lots of project ideas on my site as well as many othersPinterest is a another great way to find more projects and inspiration than you’ll ever have time to actually do!  Keep in mind that many projects can be adapted for use with a variety of grade levels, so don’t assume something would be too easy or too hard just based on the samples you see.

When teaching Art, remember that no two students’ projects should look alike. If you end up with a room full of nearly identical projects, you’ve just done a craft project! You’ll quickly learn to spot the lessons that allow room for individual interpretation and creativity.

If you’re teaching Art as a volunteer, you most likely won’t have to worry about state standards, common core, grading, or curriculum mapping…. you can just have fun sharing the joy of Art with kids!

There’s so much more to say on this topic, but I’ll save that for a future post!  Most of all, if you’re a parent volunteer, I just want to encourage you and say, “thank you” for stepping up to fill a need that is so important. You can do it!!

Are you teaching Art as a volunteer? If so, what’s your biggest challenge or concern?



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7 Responses to How to Start an Art Program at Your Child’s School

  1. Rina November 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Cheryl
    I got into art education the very same way – as a parent volunteer docent at my son’s school. I am grateful to all the parents who have helped out in art at my school, and am so impressed by the energetic and dedicated parents who help with or provide art programs in schools everywhere. Yay volunteers!
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  2. Crystal November 17, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    I manage an after school art program. I grateful to the parents that can bring their kids to our classes, but I would love more arts in the schools for ALL kids. Great post and resources for parents who may not be art inclined – but the internet resources are plentiful!
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  3. is November 18, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    I have trouble selecting age appropriate projects for the kids.

    Also, what’s the difference between “crafts” and “art”?

    • Cheryl Trowbridge November 18, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Your second question is the easier one to answer! In my opinion, a “craft” is a project where there is little room for students to make their own choices and be creative in their work… and all the projects come out looking pretty much the same. “Art” leaves more room for creativity and individual interpretation, and results in each project being unique. Learning to select age-appropriate projects is the more difficult topic, especially if you aren’t familiar with the students’ abilities at that grade level. The standards can give you an idea of what they’re expected to know and be able to do, but keep in mind that there will always be a range of ability in every class, too. It might help to keep your projects somewhat simple at first, but leave room for the more advanced kids to take it a little further, if you can. You’ll gain a better understanding of what the kids can do each time you work with them, so hang in there… it gets easier!

  4. Karla April 1, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Hi, I am a (currently laid off) stay at home mom with a visual communications and graphic design degree, and was wondering about how to start an art program at my sons school who is in kindergarten. What training or credentials if any would be required?

    Thank you

    • Cheryl Trowbridge April 1, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      Karla, good for you for stepping up to fill a need! The training/credentials required will vary from state to state and from school to school. But usually, if there’s no existing program and you’re volunteering your time and energy, they will be happy to have you! Your interest and passion for teaching art to kids will take you far. There is so much available on the internet now in terms of lesson plans, inspiration, and any other information you might need. You can create an excellent program, learning what you need to as you go! You are embarking on a great adventure… have FUN!!


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