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!
    Crys­tal recently posted..Our Week­end Activ­i­ties in Kid-Friendly LAMy Profile

  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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