HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Host a Family Art Night at Your School

As the school year starts, a great way to involve families in your curriculum is to consider hosting a family art night for your school.  I have two different experiences to share with you here- one as a district wide family art event and the other as a single school family art night.  Bringing families into the school to make art with their children is not only excellent advocacy for your program, but for practice of the arts overall.  Families responded so positively, I immediately started sharing the feedback with my colleagues and administration and brainstorming on how to make this experience even more meaningful.

In this first post I want to share with you the district wide experience.  In NJ, this means only your township, but I’m aware that other parts of country structure that differently so picture your immediate community.  Our administrator chose this as an outreach program for our families of fourth graders from our five elementary schools.  When approached with the idea, my art teacher colleagues and I settled in to talk over some ideas.  

We had the following constraints to work within:

- The district planned to host 3 different nights over two months, families would rotate through each art making experience.

-Each session would be two hours.

-We needed an activity engaging for both fourth graders and adults.

-Use of minimal supplies. We had a healthy budget, but nothing too crazy.

-It would be best if we planned experiences with no special facility needed.

-The ultimate goal being to create a finished product within one night.

Six teachers participated including myself, not all of the them were elementary teachers, which I think was a great idea.  It helped to shake things up in the planning stages and had it’s own benefits during the time with our child and adult participants.  The art activities were team taught, two teachers in a room with around fifteen to twenty families each.  We decided on the following art experiences:

  1. Painted Paper Collage
  2. Creating and Printing Collagraphs
  3. Still Life Study

A notice was sent home to the fourth grade families of the district that they were invited to sign up for this three series of nights.  It was elective how many of the three nights to attend, though most participants attended all of them.  Our administrator used Sign Up Genius, an internet based response service, to collect RSVPs.  If you haven’t used it before, it’s very easy to set up an account and customize the kind of information you want to collect from your invitees.  Participation was limited to a set number of people and "registration" closed at some point so we could better plan.

Each night of the event, families checked in at the front door where a list was posted to let them know which room/activity they were scheduled for that night. We had three classrooms going each night, with about fifteen to twenty families in each room.


I ran the painted paper collage room with another colleague and it was such an awesome experience! You might think that in an hour and half to two hours, there’s not way we could do it all, but it worked so well!  Most of us began with digital presentations and short demos to introduce the technique.  This was a great window into the kind of art instruction the students are receiving in school, which really impressed the adult participants.  

Use this time to show families some of your great teaching strategies!  Instead of just telling them about our studio habits of mind, questioning or growth mindset, involve parents in it.

For painted paper collage, instruction began with a brief introduction to children’s book illustrators who use paper collage as their main medium. I’m happy to share that powerpoint with you here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5kVNCHqRIeBdlNuNFR0bkswTGM/view?usp=sharing

An overview of our process for the evening and a finished project was shared with participants. We asked families to first discuss and then make a quick rough sketch of the image they’d like to illustrate that evening. Suggestions were animals, landmarks and botanicals as subjects, but it was left up to the creators in the end!

My team teacher and I then demonstrated some painted paper techniques.  I looooove to do painted paper with my students so I brought all my usual tools and have a set-up routine pretty much mapped out. (You can read more about that here in my post about painted paper the easy way).  Because I do it in my elementary room I have a healthy scrap box of painted paper I was also able to bring to the sessions.  This helped in later stages when participants found themselves looking for colors they didn’t paint.

We asked the parent-child duos to create at least four painted papers. Beforehand, 12"x18” papers were folded in half so one color went on each side. This size paper is easier to get into the drying rack.  To get a nice thin coat of paint, we had foam brushes. This really prevented anyone from glopping it on.  In fact, after our next step, families were able to use the paper we had just created not twenty minutes earlier.


While the paper dried, families transferred the contour drawing to a canvas board. Cardboard would also certainly work if you were in a supply crunch. I used a chameleon as an example and emphasized using a simple, large scale image. Most families broke out their cell phones for images.  We also had a collection of books from the inspirational children’s book illustrators on hand for reference.

Before we released families to start collaging in their image, we split into two groups and did a quick demo on different collage techniques like torn vs. cut paper and how to use mod podge.

The collage process went pretty quickly. My team teacher and I whisked away all the paint while the families were first drawing their images and replaced them with cups of mod podge and foam brushes. Because each artwork was a collaborative effort, it went much faster than it would in the classroom.  We also allowed families access to the paint again if they had some details they wished to add in.  


It might seem crazy to do something with so many steps in a single night, but I think the complexity of it kept everyone engaged and the final products were beautiful.  I think many families were really impressed with their collages and were excited to display them in their homes.  It was also fascinating to observe all the choices in imagery. We had hardly any repeats, even doing it three separate nights.   

The positive feedback from families was also wonderful.  They had a chance to further get to know their children’s teachers, experience a bit of our art education style and have a fun bonding experience with their child.  We had many requests to continue it on.  It is an experience I would strongly recommend you try for your own school or district.  I’ve covered how the district wide family art night was structured in this post, but I’ve done family  art night as a single school in just one night as well.

Check back next week for detailed information on how to plan one for yourself. Again it can be a great Fall kickoff!

Thanks for reading!