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Parents Teach Art: A DIY Approach to Elementary School Art Education

Aug 26, 2008

by EyePopArt

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Where I live, there are billboards all over town that simply say, "Art. Ask for More." At the bottom is a line of smaller print that says, "Are your kids getting enough?"

As an artist and a mother of two, I feel fortunate that my kids attended a public elementary school with a thriving, well-established, award-winning art education program that is available to every student during the regular school day for twelve weeks out of the year.  

This is rare. Many schools have after-school programs with enrichment classes or occasional projects with artists-in-residence, but very few public schools have a comprehensive art program incorporated into their regular curriculum.  Portland, Oregon’s Duniway School, which my kids attended, is even more impressive when you consider that they don’t even have an art teacher. Instead, the entire program is organized, funded and taught by parent volunteers.  

Are you a parent who is frustrated by the lack of art education at your child’s school? Are you "asking for more" but still not getting enough? Maybe it’s time to take matters into your own hands, in the true DIY spirit. This is the first in a two-part series that will provide some tips and resources for starting and maintaining a parent-led art program at the elementary school level.


[First grade "Sunflowers" lesson based on the work of Van Gogh.]

Start Small
All you really need to start is one classroom and one lesson plan. Talk to your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year. Ask for a chance to come in for one hour to teach a fun, simple art lesson. What teacher could refuse that? To find great lesson plans specifically for your child’s grade level, you can visit the Duniway Art website at www.duniwayart.org.   


[The Duniway Art website]

These lessons were all designed to be taught by parent volunteers who don’t necessarily have any art or teaching experience. Passionate parent artists like Michelle Smit, a mom of two boys who creates abstract paintings and fused glass works, revamp the lessons each year based on student and parent feedback to ensure they are fresh, relevant, and easy to understand. Michelle also makes sure these aren’t "cookie cutter" projects, but rich, meaningful lessons that engage the child’s heart, encouraging free expression, imagination and "happy accidents." The program encourages exploration of a wide variety of media, while building technical skills and incorporating art history and multiculturalism.  


[Artist and parent volunteer Michelle Smit with her favorites from the fourth grade Picasso lesson, which she wrote.]

The program earned Duniway an Oregon Creative Ticket Schools award last year from the Oregon Alliance for Art Education and the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education.  

Duniway’s lessons are all downloadable PDF files with sample images of student artwork.  Each lesson includes the concept and objective of the class, prep work and supplies needed, vocabulary words and detailed instructions for teaching the lesson. Pick one and try it out in your kid’s class. Or take a look at some of the many other great art lesson plans on the web (see the Further Resources list below for some links). Or, write your own lesson plan! You don’t have to do it all alone — team up with your spouse, a friend, grandma, another parent or neighborhood volunteer to make this an experience the kids will never forget. Take pictures and have fun!


[Fourth grade "Sumi-E" lesson based on Chinese brush painting.]

Get the Community Involved
If you’d like to take this beyond just teaching one class and create a school-wide art program like Duniway’s, there are three elements you must have in place: support and commitment from the school, help from lots of parent volunteers, and funding to buy supplies.

Talk to your principal and teachers to see if they could carve out one "art hour" per week for up to twelve weeks. Explain that parent volunteers will be doing all the work. If there are objections that art time will take away from valuable time teaching other subjects, point to Duniway as an example. Duniway is consistently rated an "exceptional" school year after year, based on high test scores and overall academic achievement — yet kids take time out for art, physical education and music one or more times each week.  It’s no surprise, really — according to Americans for the Arts (the group behind those billboards), kids actively engaged in arts education are likely to have higher test scores than those with little to no involvement.


[Fifth grade "Musical Collage" lesson]

Start talking to your school community. Find out how many parents are interested in art and are available for an hour or so a week to volunteer. Find out which parents own print shops, frame shops, art supply stores or other businesses that can help out with in-kind donations.


[First grade "Houses" lesson]

If your school has a PTA or similar organization, find out if you can form an art committee. With a handful of like-minded parents, your committee can begin to recruit and train parent volunteers and organize fundraising efforts to pay for supplies. How much funding will you need? At Duniway, the PTA’s art committee has a budget of $4000 each year, which includes all supplies, as well as expenses related to putting on an annual Student Art Show. With a population of around 400, this averages out to only $10 per kid! As Michelle Smit says, "Where in the world could you purchase 12 great art lessons, including supplies, for under $10.00?"

Further Resources:
EyePopArt’s blog post about the 2008 Duniway Student Art Show
Duniway Art
Princeton Online – Incredible Art Lessons
The Educator’s Reference Desk
National Endowment for the Arts – State and Regional Art Agencies
Lowe’s Toolbox for Education
Americans for the Arts
Arts Education Partnership
National PTA
No Subject Left Behind – A Guide to Arts Education Opportunities

Coming Next Week…
Stay tuned! Next week we will take a closer look at how the program works, including roles and responsibilities of the art committee, scheduling classes, teaching tips, and ideas for hosting an exhibit of student art. 

About the author: Christine Claringbold, aka EyePopArt, has been in business since 2003. She is also a mom, an art teacher, and a back-up singer in a punk rock band. Her designs have been published in Tattoo Flash Magazine, and her record products have been reviewed by Venus Zine, National Geographic Traveler, Brainstorm Northwest magazine, and blogs including Great Green Goods and Wickedly Chic. She is a proud member of Trillium Artisans, Etsy Trashion, PDX Etsy, and Eco Etsy. Check out her blog at http://eyepopart.blogspot.com.

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55 comments

  • Hatdiva

    Hatdiva said 10 years ago

    This is a great article! My daughter is two, and always asking to do "art" or to have a "penty" which means pen. I let her color with Sharpies. She loves the bright shades, and has her own mini flip book to draw in. She's already filled one flip book, and is working on a second! A major reason why we moved recently is our small town has a two room schoolhouse. I'm going to ask a teacher if anyone is at the school tomorrow about art. I can teach them some fiber arts. It would be alot of fun! Great, I mean FABULIOUS article w/ great links!!

  • art2theextreme

    art2theextreme said 10 years ago

    Great article. I am an elementary school art teacher (k-5) and constantly find ways to spark my students creativity, teach them how to make connections, and find ways to incorporate the community. This past spring, I published a book that featured 5 Etsy ACEO artists and over 80 elementary student Artist Trading cards. The Etsy community also donated over 300 of their ACEO cards to share and help spread knowledge about ACEO art (which is quickly catching on around the world). We are putting out a second edition (currently accepting artists) with new ACEO lessons, artists examples, and student/Etsy artists work. If you homeschool or are a parent/teacher interested in learning about ACEO art or want to set up a classroom trade of Artist Trading Cards, I have free information packets available. My students traded with over 30 artists here on etsy, 2 classes across the country, and would love to make more connections with you! Send me a convo or visit the Official Book Blog if you would like to become involved! http://createcollecttrade.blogspot.com/

  • TeenAngster

    TeenAngster said 10 years ago

    Wow! That's so awesome art2theextreme!

  • treasurefield

    treasurefield said 10 years ago

    I adore children's art! Good thing; my kids were drawing as soon as they could hold a pen, pencil or marker. I definitely encouraged it because I think it's such an important form of expression. One of my dreams is to offer art/creativity classes in my hometown. Thanks for the report and the beautiful examples!

  • elizabethwrenvintage

    elizabethwrenvintage said 10 years ago

    This is so absolutely incredible! Thanks for sharing : )

  • thepaintedlily

    thepaintedlily said 10 years ago

    this is such an exciting Etsy article! great work, absolutely inspiring!

  • myzoetrope

    myzoetrope said 10 years ago

    What a great article! And some mighty impressive artwork to go along with it!

  • InspiredAdornments

    InspiredAdornments said 10 years ago

    fantastic article. i am a photographer teacher at the museum of photographic arts in san diego. we offer free photography classes for schools that have NO funding for art education. it is a constant struggle but one that can be overcome if you get involved. for art related lesson plans and downloadable images visit www.carearts.org

  • TrilliumArtisans

    TrilliumArtisans said 10 years ago

    Excellent article!

  • ThreadBeaur

    ThreadBeaur said 10 years ago

    Thanks for the great tips! I am teaching art in the afternoon for a montessori preschool group (3 year olds)! I am always interested in new ideas and new ways to approach the students!

  • DogboneArt

    DogboneArt said 10 years ago

    great article! as a fellow elementary art teacher (who's job has been in jeopardy due to possible cuts in the program), this is a great example of work by these parent volunteers who have taken the time to research a well thought out art program. art is not just a 'free time' in the school day, it has serious meaning.

  • EyePopArt

    EyePopArt said 10 years ago

    Thanks for all the great comments, everybody!

  • westernartglass

    westernartglass said 10 years ago

    superb article and extraordinary illumination from the youngsters!

  • fairytalefibers

    fairytalefibers said 10 years ago

    Christine you are inspiration to us all! Your work is a vibrant delight! Your actions in the world are leading the way toword a future I'd be over joyed to live in! Great article! Wonderful eco-forward action!

  • Kaeti

    Kaeti said 10 years ago

    I think this is wonderful and an inspiration to all who miss art in schools. With all the cuts going on, art is usually the first to go. It's too bad that something so meaningful doesn't amount to anything in admin's eyes as far as dollars go. It would seem to me to be cheaper for society to continue art in the curriculum to give the students a life-long method and means of self expression to turn to. It is such a primal part of us to "show" our story. Perhaps, web sites like this one will be an inspiration and a promotion that art really is a serious endeavor that truly lasts a lifetime. Bravo!

  • 1byliz

    1byliz said 10 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring program with us-- I truly believe that each one of us has the responsibility to make sure children have access to art and creative expression. What great ideas and a wonderful way for parents to participate! I do believe it can begin with one classroom, one teacher, one group of committed parents...

  • cleogray

    cleogray said 10 years ago

    DIY will save the world and the kiddos know this! I am always amazed by how timid parents are at story time for the craft projects. I love to show them that it doesn't have to be perfect to be art and they can learn a new way to teach patience, community and creativity.

  • skyisland

    skyisland said 10 years ago

    this is really an inspiring article. I'm across town from you, Christine, and we're really lucky to have a phenomenal art teacher for our elementary school kids, but I still volunteer for the SUN after school program when I can because I want the kids to have more art. art is good for kids.

  • NinaGibsonDesigns

    NinaGibsonDesigns said 10 years ago

    My children's school uses a company called Art Masters. They come with a couple of dynamic teachers to give a big assembly once a month to the school on a particular artist - everyone from DaVinci to Kahlo, Monet to Calder. Then, they teach parent volunteers the follow up lesson for the classroom. We fortunate parents who can volunteer get to teach the lesson and see how the kids interpret the master.

  • mandinka

    mandinka said 10 years ago

    Well done, Christine.

  • ruralabandon

    ruralabandon said 10 years ago

    This is one of the BEST storque articles I have read! An amazing story of what parents can do and great resources to guide us. Just think...where would we all be if we didn't have art in our lives!

  • pogoshop

    pogoshop said 10 years ago

    What a wonderful article, EyePopArt! There are some terrific sources and links here and I'm definitely checking them out. As an Etsian with two daughters who are working Etsy artists, I so appreciate the opportunities for creativity my girls were given by great art programs. Our schools here all have art teachers, but I have always thought art should also be woven into the daily curriculum. It's heartbreaking that some schools have no programs at all. Thanks for the links. I'll put them to use.

  • GemmaBeads

    GemmaBeads said 10 years ago

    I love this article and all the comments. I still remember so many of the art projects that I grew up with and the ones my 21 year old brought home. It is so important to have those tactile, free thinking activities.

  • DoSiDough

    DoSiDough said 10 years ago

    Spot on!

  • BirdWatching

    BirdWatching said 10 years ago

    very cool. I taught art for three years but my school wouldn't get me the materials I needed to do half the projects. It's sad that people don't want to invest in creativity anymore.

  • SalmonStreetStudio

    SalmonStreetStudio said 10 years ago

    Christine, Thanks for this article, I started out reading it thinking of financial and other disparities within the School District but ended up thinking this *could* become a reality in other schools -even those with less $ and parent volunteer hours available)! If one started small, as you indicate, then excitement could turn into support and the time and $ might be easier to raise...

  • iysta

    iysta said 10 years ago

    Great article!

  • bamboobaby

    bamboobaby said 10 years ago

    This article was so inspiring! My 6 year old is phenomenally talented at drawing people, from self portraits, to full out freeform paperdolls with clothing. During an episode of Project Runway she made 2 ensembles from paper and a purse from tin foil. Lately she's been drawing nude paperdolls, front and back. :) My avatar is a drawing she did when she was four. I will incorporate some of these ideas with her....we certainly have the craft supplies!

  • jamieribisi

    jamieribisi said 10 years ago

    This is absolutely amazing! Those finished pieces are outstanding-- better than some adult work I've seen! They're so inspired!

  • autumncomfort

    autumncomfort said 10 years ago

    Chistine, this is so inspirational, and achievable. Can wait for more.

  • follystudio

    follystudio said 10 years ago

    I live in Beaverton Oregon which is just west of Portland.Beaverton's K-8 schools all have a program called Art Lit which is taught to all classes and is kind of like an Art History lesson once a month.It is run by parent volunteers and fund raising is up to each school. My kids loved this program.It was a nice break to do something new,get messy and learn about a new artist each month. When my younger son was 5 we went to the Art Museum where there was some paintings by Renoir.My son had recently done an Art Lit project on Renoir. "Hey mom thats a Renoir,you can tell because the paint is kind of gloppy and you have to screw up your eyes to see clean lines" GASP! He was listening YEAH says art geek mom.These programs do work and are worth the extra time.

  • LeahPellegrini

    LeahPellegrini said 10 years ago

    Great article Christine!!!

  • ScribbleNation

    ScribbleNation said 10 years ago

    This is so cool! As soon as I get some kids I am totally on this. :P Actually, some of these lessons would probably make great projects for Girl Scout Troops too.

  • edessedesigns

    edessedesigns said 10 years ago

    Hey, this is awesome! Thank you so much for this!

  • MechelleDesigns

    MechelleDesigns said 10 years ago

    Thanks for the great article. I will be volunteering at my kid's art program this year!

  • earthandsunfolk

    earthandsunfolk said 10 years ago

    Great article and excellent ideas! Thanks for sharing :)

  • retro80s

    retro80s said 10 years ago

    Great article!!!! :-)))))))

  • dancingcircle

    dancingcircle said 10 years ago

    West Tualitin View Elementary school - in the Beaverton Oregon School district has also benefited from Art Lit. As the author described - the keys to success include ongoing parent volunteers (especially coordinators), regular funding and cooperation of school administrators. Since most schools no longer get state or federal funding for art programs it's completely up to the parents. We're lucky!

  • EyePopArt

    EyePopArt said 10 years ago

    That Art Lit program sounds really cool!

  • TaDahpdx

    TaDahpdx said 10 years ago

    Inspiring article. Thanks for the great links.

  • EyePopArt

    EyePopArt said 10 years ago

    Hey salmonstreet - I know what you're saying and it's true that Duniway is located in a pretty affluent neighborhood - but still, the average cost per kid is only $10 and the money comes from the kind of grassroots fundraising that any school community is capable of doing. The main investment is really the volunteer time, and it's true that there are more stay-at-home-moms in the affluent neighborhoods who have time to volunteer - but even people who work full time can usually find a way to take a morning or afternoon off once a year to volunteer in their child's class, and that includes moms AND dads. It's not really about money, it's about getting out there and finding a way to do it, and I really believe it can be done in ANY neighborhood!

  • rkdsign88

    rkdsign88 said 10 years ago

    Yes, agree, great article & thanks for sharing

  • harvestmoonbyhand

    harvestmoonbyhand said 10 years ago

    Great article! As a mom who homeschools my two daughters plus teaches a class at the local homeschool co-op, I am always trying to incorporate art into the curriculum. Appreciate the link to Duniway Art and the many ideas you offered. It was very inspiring!

  • raghousenternational

    raghousenternational said 10 years ago

    Really great article. It is so important for more parents and volunteers get involved with the schools. These are great resources and I've bookmarked them all. Can't wait to explore these site. Great article!

  • audelaine

    audelaine said 10 years ago

    wonderful article. it's really heartening to see so many creative fantastic parents stepping up and bringing much needed creativity back into the schools.

  • Krystyna81

    Krystyna81 said 10 years ago

    What a great and inspiring article!!! My oldest is only 3 1/2...I look forward to supporting his art and his school! Thanks for sharing!

  • houndmade

    houndmade said 10 years ago

    Great article. I have been an art teacher in Texas for eight years. I lived in Seattle for two years and was shocked that the arts programs in the public schools were non-existant or in the process of being cut from the budget. Not to mention that art museum school I worked at closed its' doors while I was there. I ended up moving back to Texas because I could not find work in my field. It is great to hear that parents taking action and making things happen!

  • houndmade

    houndmade said 10 years ago

    Oops. I left out a couple of Demonstratives. I haven't had my coffee yet. Anyway, thanks for the article!

  • NiseInNC

    NiseInNC said 10 years ago

    What a great resource! I have a friend who home schools her children, and she has been asking me to help her with art classes. This is a great place to get started. Thanks!!

  • monaleisa

    monaleisa said 10 years ago

    I'd just like to add another resource www.campcreekpress.com Thanks for the article- Parents CAN do it- and SHOULD.

  • BestScrapbookPages

    BestScrapbookPages said 10 years ago

    thanks for this great article.

  • funkeyfinds

    funkeyfinds said 9 years ago

    oh this is an amazing resource [as I am an elementary art teacher!] thank you for the advocacy!

  • CheenaK

    CheenaK said 7 years ago

    A very inspiring Article! Thanks for putting this up for us :) Would love to see some masterpieces on littlesketchers.com!! Thanks!

  • CheenaK

    CheenaK said 7 years ago

    btw, the link http://www.duniwayart.org/ doesn't seem to be working, perhaps the site url has changed or something...

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    […] found here. In “Parents Teach Art: A DIY Approach to Elementary Arts Education”, found here, an enterprising parent has put an art curriculum on line for others to use in their […]

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