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Part 2 of Art Advocacy!: hosting a Family Art Night

Part 2 of Art Advocacy!: hosting a Family Art Night

Advocating for the importance of your art program is a big part of our jobs as art educators.  Without our extra efforts to communicate with families and administrators about all the great things happening in our classroom, art can too easily be overlooked in the face of the very demanding deadlines of academic benchmarks.  In my role as art teacher for the whole school population, I want to show that my program supports the goals of the academic subjects.

I started newsletters for each marking period last year after seeing how easy and successful it was for a colleague of mine.  But the best thing I did for my school community last year was to ask my principal if we could host a family art night instead of an evening art display.   

The district hosted a family art night for fourth graders in a previous year, but this would be solely for one elementary school. Last week I posted about the district wide family art night process. You can hop on over to that post here.  Talking with my principal, we decided to start with one grade level and possibly expand in the future if we had a good turnout.  It was decided that second graders and their families would be invited for one evening of family fun with three art making experiences planned.

My tips for the beginning planning stages

1.Ask for help!

Get volunteers, whether other teachers or parents to help run the activities the night of.  Once you know how much help you’ll have, you can plan the art activities.  If you have more help, you can do more complicated activities.  If not, scale back accordingly.

2. Make a list of your ideas.  Think of projects finished in 40 minutes or less. (unless your idea is to host just one activity! This can still be a great family event.)

3. Consider the available space.

   Will you use your classroom?  Other teachers’ classrooms?  The cafeteria? Can you use them all?

4. What materials will you need? What is your budget?

You’ll want to invite families at least a month ahead of time, especially if it’s a really busy time of year. I have used “Sign Up Genius” with success to manage RSVPs.  However families were invited through a more formal email explaining the events of the night with the sign up genius link attached.  I did make a paper flyer as well for the few families in my district who did not use email.

The Night Of

With around 70 families signed up, I decided to run three separate classrooms. I split the night into three time frames and created a list of participants for groups A, B and C. The night of the event, families checked in at a table up front, manned by my principal, to see which room they would be starting in. Throughout the evening, participants rotated among the three rooms at designated times.

Now how was I able to manage quality control given I could not be in three places at once? Video is the answer! Just as we all know about flipping a lesson in the classroom, I did it for my parent-child teams.

I can’t say I’m an expert video creator, but I am happy to share my videos with the descriptions of the activities below.

One classroom was still life drawing with watercolor pencils.  I wanted to include this practice, because I think it’s great to emphasize to families that you don’t need a lot of fancy (or messy) materials to make great art at home.  I collected a lot of random items, bought a couple of bouquets at TJ’s and set it at various levels on a rolling cart.  This was great, because I could push into the borrowed classroom right before and it did not take time to set up. A second grade teacher was able to run this room confidently with my video as introduction and then passing out simple materials.



Classroom B was another borrowed room, where I was able to provide simple materials with outstanding results! Water based marker printmaking was a fantastic family experience.  Again, I made a video of myself teaching the lesson just as I would to my students and my second grade teacher assistant was able to run the classroom.  I prepped the materials ahead of time.  We needed 4″x6″ sheets of styrofoam, 9×12 paper so that each family could pull two prints on one paper, pencils and water based markers.  I also purchased disposable aluminum baking pans from the grocery store for water trays and had newspaper on hand for blotting. My teacher helper was awesome! Families were able to work from the video with the teacher’s help to pull some fantastic prints!


I was in the cafeteria teaching the most materials intensive lesson- the clay initial plaques.  I was lucky to have another teacher agree to help me out the day before, because I was teaching the largest group, just welcoming everyone and managing the materials would have been a great challenge.  To make all those materials pieces easier, I had…you guessed it! A video of myself teaching the lesson.  Being that this was one night, students and parents created their pieces understanding that they would only be bisque fired when returned to them. Of course, we talked about how they could add color to them later.

Reflecting on the Night

My participants were thrilled! It was a wonderful opportunity for people to make some time for family, creativity and relaxation.  I hope that it also showed them that the practice of art making is as relaxing as it is enriching and not only for the children!

As I make more videos for my teaching practice, I have areas in my mind that I know need improvement. I had sound quality issues, for example, that I plan to work on.  Let me know if you have any advice.  A small mic?  A smaller room?

I hosted my family art night at the end of the school year.  I had been on maternity leave at the start, however, when I do it again, I would change it to be a Fall or Winter event to get the community really invested in art education for the year.

It is absolutely something I would do again. In fact, some of my families let me know that they enjoyed the hands on aspect of the night even more than a traditional art show. Wow.  That took me by surprise.  I put out a feedback questionnaire on the website, “Survey Monkey” just a couple of days after the event.  It was great to get input on what families thought of the scheduling, the content and the overall experience.   Wrapping up the event with a survey is highly recommended and I think, really lets families know that it has been a thoughtful process to put Family Art Night together and that your goal really is to make it enjoyable and engaging for them!

Want to see more? If you haven’t checked it out yet, see my previous post about a district-wide Fam Art Night!  Click on the graphic below.

Art Advocacy! Host a “Family Art Night” at School

Miró Creatures

Miró Creatures


This Miró inspired art project reviews and incorporates the concepts of organic and geometric shapes as well basic color concepts.  Second grade artists create these painted masterpieces by combining shapes into a Joan Miró style creature, identifying and imitating the artist’s use of line and color.

The paper is first prepared with dry brush strokes of gray tempera to mimic the sized canvas of Miró’s famous compositions.  The natural texture of the canvas creates a beautiful backdrop for his art.  Students view artwork by Miró, taking note of the kinds of shapes and colors they notice again and again.  

This lesson is filled with great art vocabulary. Here are some main points covered in the lesson.

Students learn that:

  • Miró’s art is surreal (I emphasize dream-like or from the imagination) and abstract.
  • Abstract art is not meant to look like real life, but can remind you of something from real life. In this case, creatures!
  • Geometric Shapes have straight sides.
  • Organic shapes are blobby, natural forms.
  • Miró used line to divide his shapes into pieces.
  • Miró used a limited color palette (the primaries plus black and green).
  • Each section of the shape was filled with a different color.
  • A shape or line can be a symbol and Miró had a collection of symbols he used repeatedly in his art.
  • Pictures can become personal symbols to an artist.

We discuss and practice organic and geometric shapes on scrap paper as part of the introduction to this project.

Drawing our Creatures

After preparing the background students are instructed to use pencil and follow these directions.  First draw a geometric shape for the body. Fill up your paper!  

Next, draw an organic shape for the head.

Add Arms. They do not have to be the same on both sides.  Keep the arms abstract.

Now create legs.

Use two or three lines to divide up the body into sections.

Would you like to draw lines for hair?  Keep it simple.

Then we go back to Miró’s art and point out his repeated line and shape symbols creating a ‘visual bank’ for students to use.  Second graders pick three to five symbols to draw around their creatures.

Then their work is traced in sharpie.  We note that Miró used black as a color not just an outline, so if students choose they color in a few of their shapes with the sharpie markers.

Adding color

When it’s time for painting, I prep the trays with all the colors they can use and review painting procedures. Students become concentrated artists! They paint all their shapes carefully and learn to keep their colors clean.

When they are complete I ask them to reflect on their work by filling out an exit slip, which asks for information on the artist then two things they like about their art and one thing they’d change.  I use one of those 3-2-1 exit slip forms, but any form would do.  While I’m handing out these exit slips, we talk about being specific in our reflections.  Not just saying, ‘my art is awesome!’. -Not that it isn’t!- But the point is to encourage higher level thinking!  I have been impressed with my students’ ability to apply their knowledge of the artist as well as work towards critiquing their work.  These are big steps for little artists.

Modifying this Lesson for Special Needs Students

To modify this lesson I create a bank of shapes for each direction.  This way students have a few choice in front of them and can more easily organize their thoughts.  So one paper for possible body shapes, then flip to the next paper for possible head shapes, etc.  Depending on the student I might also expect less elements in the drawing.  Sometimes tracing is a problem for my special needs friends and so I will pre-trace their work before class and have the students get right to work on painting.  presenting one color of paint at a time can also prevent kids from feeling overwhelmed.

I have also used the Roll-a-Miró game for this lesson with good results. So that is always an option as well.  If you have any feedback for me, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Maybe you’ve taught this lesson in a different way and would like to share? I always like to hear from my art teacher community!

Modern Folk Art Birds: a clay slab project

Modern Folk Art Birds: a clay slab project

These modern folk art birds are a fun and simple elementary slab project I’ve done in both air dry clay and kiln fired clay. I’ve done this with both first and second grade classes with great success.

The objective here was for students to cut out shapes form clay, learn to piece clay together and once fired, apply color and patterns that contrast, but have analogous elements.  Color, line and shape elements in this project are linked to the work of modern folk artist, Karla Gerard.

 karla gerard, tree of life
Tree of Life, Karla Gerard




I was looking back through my resources, trying to figure out if I had maybe seen this idea for the structure of these birds somewhere before and I have to give a shout out to Denise Panell from the blog, Mrs. Picasso’s Art Room!  Back in 2011 she posted a great tutorial for making this birds, which I want to fully credit.  You can find that post here.


Clay slabs (I like Crayola Air Dry or kiln fired clay)

Half circle stencils for body

Stencils or plastic cups for circle head shape

Teacher tool: stylus to poke holes in clay

Tempera paint

Brightly colored pipe cleaners/chenille stems

Twisteez wire (you could use pipe cleaners here too if needed)

If you’ve been reading my past blog posts, you know I like to have a printed version of the directions on each table with clear visuals to differentiate instruction. Below you can find a version of step by step directions for assembling the clay bird that I would use during class.

So after your students craft the birds in wet clay, the most challenging part can be to get all the holes in for each bird. This is something I recommend doing yourself as the teacher.  When doing this with a whole grade level, the timing on that can be tough. I suggest you cover the pieces with plastic or damp newspaper until you can devote time to it.

Here’s a guide on where to poke those holes! Two legs, three tail “feathers” and a hanger.


Once fired, discuss and demonstrate pattern and analogous color with students.  If you feel you have the right group for it, also discuss how you can use different patterns on the various parts of the bird using colors that are analogous or provide great contrast like this beauty below-

karla gerard, folk artist
by Karla Gerard
karla gerard folk art
by Karla Gerard

Showing images of folk art style birds can bring a little more cultural meaning to the artwork. There are many contemporary folk art stylings of birds out there right now. It happens to be pretty hot subject matter for the adult coloring book market.  However, I like to reference this one artist, a contemporary (Yay! for studying artists still alive!) who lives and works out of Maine. Karla Gerard creates beautiful modern folk art masterpieces full of vibrant color and layered pattern. You can find a nice print gallery of her work at Fine Art America’s website linked here.  She would also be a great artist to use as inspiration for a folk art landscape.             

Give the birds a good chance to dry and then in the next class session work on wire twisting techniques.  Demonstrate how pipe cleaners can be curled around your finger or a pencil or made into a zig zag. If you have Twisteez brand wire to use, it makes great legs just leave the bottom unwound to create feet. The hanging mechanism could be wire or pipe cleaner.  Really want to funk them up-why not bead the wire?

I just love the variety my students create in these!  It’s so fun to create such colorful, funky art with the students. They get so much joy out of the creative color and pattern application of these fun birds.  Thanks for reading!


African Masks: an Elementary Mosaic Lesson

African Masks: an Elementary Mosaic Lesson


African Masks: an Elementary Mosaic Lesson

This is a lesson I have done with my second grade classes, however I think it could certainly be adapted to older grade levels as it does take some patience in the mosaic application. It’s a great lesson for multi-cultural art, especially if you are thinking of doing an, ‘Earth: it’s got Art’  or around the world theme. 

African Masks are fascinating artifacts.  In many African countries and tribes the masks are made for special service within a “religious” ceremony. I use the word religious here because it is the easiest way to explain the sacred place these masks hold within the rituals.  Many times the masks are part of a larger costume.  In some cases, the masks have transformative power, where the wearer “becomes” the spirit of the mask.  If you’re familiar with Native American mask wearing as part of ritual you can see there is a natural connection there.

African Mask Art Project2 I always begin this lesson by sharing a selection of prints of African Masks.  I like the African Masks in the set found here- which I ordered through my school budget from School Specialty initially, but I was able to find the link from Dick Blick. As we view the prints, I share their country and tribe of origin with the students the first time through. The second time we look at the mask prints I ask them about the colors and the shapes that they see within the masks.  We begin to consider the design of the masks, making simple observations on their overall shape, realism or lack thereof and composition(material).

Mask Prints, Set of 12

(Image source:

Image result for brooklyn museum african masksImage result for brooklyn museum african masks

The examples above are from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection of African art

The masks are:

  • Made of natural materials: wood, straw fiber
  • Mostly resemble the human face even if distorted (they do have eyes, nose, mouth)
  • Contain geometric shape accents
  • Use natural colors (ask students to consider where these paint colors probably came from)
  • May be inspired by an animal and have some animal characteristics

I show my students a sample or two of our finished product and then we begin.  The steps for our first day include, handing out cardboard/newsboard and having students fill their piece of cardboard with the shape of their mask.  It cannot be too complicated as they must be able to cut it out mostly by themselves.

Students must then write their name on the back and then begin cutting.  I do walk around with my “adult” scissor to help as needed.  If there is still time on day one we regroup and talk for a minute about eye shapes observed in the prints of the masks. I demonstrate some possibilities on the whiteboard or document camera, but students are free to come up with their own shape.  I suggest emphasizing that the eyes will be filled mosaic style and so it is best to keep all designs big and simple.   

We go through the same steps for the nose and mouth. students are then asked to add geometric accent shapes to their mask design.  Some students go back to the animal influence and add shapes on the outside that could be ears or horns, others do this thinking of face paint or even a kind of hair.  So at this point, students have a cardboard mask shape with drawn designs.   The next step calls for adding the mosaic element.

I have always used beans and seeds for this project, however you could use little bits of paper or blocks.  I like the natural colors of the beans and there is just enough variety in the colors to fill the varied spaces on the mask designs.

African Mask Art Project5For the next class’ setup, I like to use muffin trays filled with the different beans on each table.  Some years I have used plastic bowls on trays too.  Either works fine.  I take five minutes at the beginning of this next class to review the objectives, show the prints again, review our observations and then demonstrate the mosaic technique.  

It is a good idea to show a finished piece in the mosaic style to be sure everyone really understands the goal. Do not assume the students know how the use the Elmers glue bottles! You laugh, but it is funny how they’ll forget such simple skills in the midst of their excitement. So I always review how to open and close the glue, to shake it upside down and how much glue to apply. If you can, I suggest demonstrating how to do it “wrong” as well. It makes the kids laugh and it gets your point across. “Raindrops not puddles!” as I like to say. Also, demonstrate how to apply the beans, ie. you can’t just drop them on from above.  I show them how to place the beans on and press them down.  If they don’t apply the glue correctly their hands can end up covered so again, emphasize correct usage.

We use Elmers glue to fill in one space at a time and apply the beans.  Students naturally begin to plan where to place the various colors. Students begin filling the eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrow first and save the background for last.

African Mask Art Project3

When all the spaces are filled, and the glue is dry, to finish them off I recommend applying a layer of mod podge to the top. It does a couple of things- makes sure the beans really stick and makes the surface shiny, bringing out the color.  Another fun finishing touch if you have the time and resources can be to add yarn or raffia to the sides or bottom of the mask, as if it has a skirt.  To prepare the masks for hanging, hot glue a pipe cleaner loop to the back or you could use plate stands to display the pieces.

African Mask Art Project4

When all the masks are complete we do a nice gallery walk to view all the masks and then returning to their tables, students are asked to give positive feedback and/or a complement to the artists at their table.

African Masks project

african mask art project paperIf you can’t get your hands on beans or seeds, I have also done this same lesson just with drawing and painting tools. Using oil pastels and tempera cakes. The results are still beautiful!




Adinkra Cloth Project

If you like this lesson, another complimentary lesson to this is on Adinkra Cloth.  I have used a short and sweet lesson on Adinkra Cloth for early finishers of this project with fun results!  Want some more tips on starting a new lesson? Check out my post on that topic here:

Thanks for reading!

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