One thing I tried for the first time last school year was using sketchbooks for down time in my classroom. I’ve used them in the museum setting during camps, but I had never incorporated them into my year-round classroom, and I really enjoyed how they turned out! They function as a record of the child’s use of art materials throughout an entire school year, and they also feel special and maybe create a sense of excitement about exploring with a variety of drawing media. Last year I ordered spiral bound notebooks (about 6×8 inches and a little over 100 pages). My favorite thing about them was the blank cover, so the children could decorate the front. If I can find the exact book (hopefully I will because I need to order more next week!) I will link it here.
I had hoped they would be able to use the pages chronologically so that in May their families could see how their mark-making changed throughout the year. Some of them did not quite understand that front of book/back of book concept of print yet, so this year I might number the first 20 pages and invite them to make bookmarks to help with that. Other than that, the sketchbooks were a hit and they kept the 2D choice-based work from ending up lost with no names or crumpled in the bottom of backpacks! Here is a list of items I let the kids choose freely from (they are set up on low shelves the children can reach). They use their sketchbooks when they finish the art history-inspired projects that we create throughout the year- each child finishes working at different paces with different projects, so their sketchbook is always an option. Placing them somewhere the children can get and put away on their own is also key!
- Pencils, erasers, handheld sharpeners
- Colored pencils (include metallics and neons! and sharpen them every so often even though, yes, the children could do it on their own but you know what it’s a Montessori school and they get plenty of practical life practice in their classrooms and I want them to be art-making not sharpening during their ONE hour of art each week!)
- Crayons (keep the edges peeled)
- Markers – NOT dried out!!! you can soak the felt in water for a minute and they usually have another month or more of life. I like to get a variety of thicknesses, and metallic markers are a hit as well.
- Oil pastels (also peeled neatly)
- Tempera paint sticks
- Dark black drawing media such as a sharpie or a china marker
- Collage/stickers (just make sure if you use glue to ask the child to leave the book open and let it dry)
My last tip is to make a list with the children of a variety of ideas that they could be inspired by. Think rainbows, toys, mermaids, lions, friends, the school, etc. You can sit with the children and draw in front of them, paying attention to what they are doing and offering technical help with something like opening a marker, or conceptual help/conversation if they aren’t inspired to continue drawing and are scribbling a heart on every page. If there is a medium that no one ever picks, use it in front of them and I guarantee it will be taken from you shortly (and of course you will say yes!). My favorite things to say in art conversations with kids are “I wonder… That reminds me of… I see… or Tell me about…”