Sunday, February 12, 2012

Surviving Art on a Cart

This post is for all of my fellow art educators who are teaching your program off a cart.  As I wander the many art blogs out there I often see some very nice art rooms.  Beautiful storage units, cabinets, tables and chairs (that match!) some very nice rooms indeed.  I look at them and think how nice they all look and feel a bit of envy.  But then I remember how lucky I am to have a room in both schools this year (mismatched furniture and all).  Over the years (24 of them) I have been on and off a cart in both of my schools many times.  Most recently I was on a cart for two years in my 3d-5th grade school.  I found out this summer (while cleaning Barbies and My Little Ponies out of my daughters closet) that my principal had gotten a room for me for the 2011-2012 school year!  I whooped and hollered at the top of my lungs!  For two years I was dragging three carts packed with supplies and projects around the building.  Two years ago there was a need for another 4th grade and my room was the last to be had.  (I share with the music teacher as we alternate days between two elementary schools).  So the art /music room became a fourth grade.  I knew before school was out so I had that summer to gather my wits and put a plan into action.  So here is my advice to make life a little easier for you:

1.  Be as organized as you possibly can!  This was for me, a Herculean task.  Even on days when I felt like collapsing and just running out the door at the end of the day I made sure everything was where it belonged and got things ready for the next day.  Now mind you my kids are old enough to take care of themselves now so that helped a lot.  But there was a time I could not stay later and had to get home to them.  I also bought a gardening apron to wear that had many pockets and would use it to carry things I always needed at hand.  (tape,pencils,markers,stapler,etc..)

2.  Befriend the custodians!  You are going to need their help and support for many things.

3.  Think on your feet.  There is always the opportunity for something to go wrong even with all your planning.  I would sometimes forget a supply I would need and have work around it. I was at the mercy of the classroom teachers for the use of the smart board or the computer.  I was lucky enough though to have their support and they would always ask me if I wanted to use it or would offer any help.  I would always ask ahead if I was planning a lesson that was going to need it.  This way they had a heads up before I got there.  My class time was their planning time and they would often be working in their room.

4.  I had three carts. One for 3d and 4th grade(they are both on the same floor) One for 5th grade (their rooms are upstairs and I use the elevator as little as possible-all of us that would use it(music,health,spanish)would joke it was like being in a bad 80's horror flick ! It makes weird noises, its ice cold, the lights flash and it would often go to floors you did not request to go to) The third cart was the painting cart. It was loaded with everything I needed to paint with my classes including a drying rack that was perched on top. It was a low standing wide cart so it worked well for it.

5.  Each cart (except the painting cart) had three shelves.  They were big AV carts.  The top shelf was my desk top.  Students projects,plan book (actually a clipboard with my plans for the day since my book itself would not fit.  That stayed in my office which was the side closet area off the stage I shared with the health teacher — When you opened the door it would hit the back of my desk chair!)  Paper I needed for projects, all my pens, pencils, erasers etc... and a box of tissues and band-aids.  The second shelf had a large classpack of markers, any supplies I needed that fit on top of it and a box lid filled with extra paper and imagination sheets for free time.  The bottom shelf also had supplies I needed for the day as well as a bin filled with drawing books, rubbing plates, symmetry shapes, tessellation shapes and crazy shape stencils. These were all things the students could use if they had free time.

6.  When we painted I had newspaper that was already folded to fit perfectly on top of their desks.  I would put tempera paint for projects into disposable plastic paint cups (I would buy from Sax in my school order) I would cut holes into the center of the lids which kept the paint from spilling directly out if they tipped on their desk tops.  I would stack them in storage carry all that I used to use for table supplies when I had a room.  I saved every plastic container that had a lid!  I used them for many, many things.  I have round quart size ones that I would fill with water for painting at their desks.  They also had lids that I would cut holes into the center of.  I still use those today.  I had a dirty water bucket and a clean water bucket and a container of water to put dirty brushes in.

7.  Keep a big roll of paper towels on every cart!  I would wet paper towels in the clean water for hands since this school has no running water in the rooms.  If I needed clean water in an emergency we would get it from a water fountain in the hallway!  They had to be pretty messy for me to send them to the bathroom.

8.  There was often projects drying in the hallway along the wall of the classrooms when I would run out of room on the drying rack. (more than once I forgot projects that were laying in the 3d grade alcove to dry!)

9.  SMILE!  I know it is not always easy but I always find you are better off in the end.  I would often be late to a class.  I had no travel time built into my schedule and at times would have to go from across the building to get to a class.  I would always come in with a smile (sweaty, but with a smile).  I never wanted the kids to see me aggravated.  No one likes a miserable art teacher!

10.  Enlist helpers to move things from room to room.  I would always pick students to help me push a cart or carry a box or help collect dry pictures from the hall.  The students are always eager to help.  Their help is huge when your time is limited.
Just writing this down and thinking about it I'm exhausted!  Mind you, I did all this in 30 minute classes!  Yes, 30 minutes.  That is all the time I have once a week with my 3d-5th grades.  1st and 2nd have 40 minutes in a different school.  So as I look at photos of other classrooms when I feel a little jealous of your space I remember how blessed I am to have a room in both of my schools this year.  They even put an huge slop sink in my room (3d-5th grade school) this year!  I told my principal should he move me again the sink is coming with me!


  1. I hope you have or will have your room back. I feel so fortunate every day when I walk into my beautiful, somewhat new art room. I've done Art on a Cart. I'm also shared between two schools and see over 700 students a week. I've taught elementary art for 26 years and have seen it all! We're a tough bunch.

  2. I am fortunate enough to not have to work off of a cart but I do private instruction/painting parties for people in a fully-mobile way and I've figured out some of the stuff you have suggested through my own trial and error but you've also noted some stuff I haven't thought of! Great post and suggestions!!

  3. Loved reading your comments on how you handled moving from room to room. I work as an "Artist in Residence" for 8 weeks at each school and move from class to class. Teaching art is not for the faint of heart.

  4. I do art on a cart and it makes me crazy. Ugh.

  5. Thanks for this post - it has given me a little hope having just discovered that I can no longer teach my after-school art lessons in a classroom, but have been moved into the Gym! Inconvenient is to put it lightly! This is only 2 afternoons per week - I cannot imagine coping with art from a cart on such a huge scale as you and some of the other commenters describe. I will be putting some of your ideas into action!

    1. Glad this post was helpful! Good luck and keep smiling! :)

  6. Help! I'm new to teaching art at the elementary level, I'm teaching at two different schools (alternate weeks), I only have one cart and little storage space (two shelves at one school!), and these students haven't had any real art classes before! Any advice and assistance would be greatly appreciated!

  7. Contact me through my blog e-mail... there is a direct link on my profile page( click on view complete profile) :)

  8. Alas, I am losing the use of my art room next year (the good news is that is because class size is being reduced in primary grades!!). It did my heart good to read this article as I am now starting to think about transitioning to "THE CART".Thank you for the tips. Believe me, I am paying attention to them as I plan!!!!!

  9. Thank you for this post! I felt like I was reading about my current teaching situation - 2 schools, one with no classroom - so I roll my art cart around. 9 classes a day with no transition times between some and only 30 minutes to do my lessons. I really appreciate the suggestions you provide!

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