Every art teacher has an absolute favorite art supply they LOVE to use with their students, and they can tell by how enthusiastic we are to introduce it! For this school year, I changed a few things up with my 5th grade students and they've been loving their projects so far! From photography to needle felt to mask making, I'm enjoying their reflections on their lessons so far.
I'd like to list off a top 5 of my favorite art supplies to use in my classroom. This is a fresh list for this school year, plus I'll list off the pros and cons of each (because not everything is 100% perfect!)
Needle felting is a new love this year. I fell in love with working with felted wool a few years back by making small felted items of my own, then expanding to felt sculptures. I even teach needle-felting art classes on the side at a local art studio. I was finally able to purchase enough foam blocks, wool, and needles for my 5th grade classes and introduce needle-felted sculptures this month. We're almost done with creating owls for our final product, and the students LOVE it!!!!
Obviously, the pro is that your students, no matter if they like art or not, may love to work with this new medium. The act of using the needle to compact the wool (as long as you teach them how to use the needle gently), has been very meditative for my students, plus they love to decorate their creations!
Now for the cons...buy lots of extra needles used for felting. In one class alone, I had over 6 students crack a needle from accidentally bending while poking the needle in the wool. Always dispose of the broken needles safely, and collect the needles one at a time to make sure you have them all prior to the class leaving. Also, have lots of bandaids on hand. As much as you ask your students to watch their fingers while they felt, every now and then you'll get a student that looks up and "ouch!" It only takes one time for them to poke their finger and they know to watch their hand afterwards!
On a side note: Before you consider introducing needle felting to a class, or even an entire grade level, be confident that you know your students can respect the materials. With the felting needles, create a system to hand out and collect that will help you to keep tabs on what you have. This is a project that is extremely fun and addicting, but with needles involved, keep a closer eye on the materials.
I don't know why I love ceramic clay so much, but my students can tell you that they look forward to their clay projects every year! From 3rd grade on, each grade level learns a new ceramic technique and creates a product that demonstrates the technique learned.
The pros? I don't know one student that has said they hate clay. Once the projects are back from the kiln, they always want to take their projects home to give as gifts for friends and family. I also love talking about the science of the clay: how wet clay has water inside, but once dry, the space the water took up in the clay empties, causing the clay to shrink. It's also nice to talk about how clay changes from soft to roc solid after bisque firing, or how glaze become glassy at a higher firing.
The cons: I really want a kiln at my own school...we have a shared kiln in the district at the jr. high, so between four art teachers, we drive our projects over to be fired. With the limited time, space, and firing schedule, I'm not able to glaze most projects. Instead, we use acrylic paints. It's also hard when assemblies, days off, or other events happen that makes the class sit another week in bags, causing the wet clay to begin drying out over time. Prior to driving the pieces over, I need to be 100% sure that all students created their bisque pieces. With driving, there's also the risk of pieces breaking off, which happens all the time.
Although the con list is longer, the pros totally outweigh the cons. Ceramic clay is totally worth it!
I use liquid watercolors toward the end of the school year. From the class packs I ordered, there are many vibrant colors for students to use, plus create effects with the water. I create trays of each color for tables to use, and refilling is easy.
The pros? It's the end of the year, you're packing up most of the room, but the liquid watercolors can be shared from one class to the next. Easy clean up and washes out of clothes. The cons? Yellow. It's like egg dyes, the yellow color gets tainted easily if students do not wash their brushes. You can tell when someone doesn't wash their brush when you hear a student yes a name out loud!
With younger grade levels, I love the tempura cakes. I love how easy they are to set up and clean up. When a student mixes the colors on top, they're easy to wipe or rinse off. Trays are easy to pass out and students help in collecting. So many pros! The cons? When you run out of a color or when the cake crumbles, it's hard to refill. I'm always letting students know that even if you see the bottom, you can still get the color from the paint cake that's left in the tray.