Go to any art class or art studio for kids and if you are anything like me, you can get lost in the rows and rows of baskets, bins and boxes full of all kinds of colourful pencil, pastels, chalks and brushes. Add to that craft materials such as fabrics, buttons, sequins and construction paper every colour of the rainbow. Art class is a rich, inviting and sensorial environment for almost every child. So how can we become more eco friendly without compromising on wonderful and creative learning experiences?
The good news here is that children are not really concerned about where we get our supplies from. What they want to do above everything else is explore with their senses, paint, draw and sculpt. Throughout my years of teaching it became clear that kids love to come into the art room and have options. Now here's the thing you need to pay attention to...you get to decide how you go about getting these materials while they get to decide what to do with them.
Here are some tips to help you transform your art room into a Low Waste Art Studio:
1. Get your 'materials' from nature.
A beautifully laid out 'provocation' tray with little baskets full of weird and wonderful stuff; red lentils, twigs, leaves, fabric scraps, seeds, acorns, string, bits of card and a pair of scissors gets your students' creative juices flowing just as much, if not more, than with a collection of single use, plastic craft stuff.
2. Organise, classify, decide.
Make an inventory of everything you have in your art class/studio. Next to each item on your list, use a little traffic light, colour coding system. Red means that you will phase this item out and no longer purchase after it has been used up. Orange means that once this item has been used up you will swap it for a more sustainable alternative. Green means you will continue to use this item. By creating this list you are directly building a vital part of your short, medium and longterm plan.
3. Thrift, reuse, repurpose!
The thrift store is every art teacher's 'go to' place for yarn, fabric, buttons, second hand colouring pencils, brushes, pots, jars and one hundred other little things. I have even found canvas, sets of wooden picture frames, raffia and cork! Many thrift stores are more than happy to keep donated art supplies for you if you let them know that this is what you are looking for.
4. Plastic free alternatives.
Try to move towards non plastic versions of whatever medium you use. Tempera tablets rather than liquid paint which comes in plastic bottles, or wooden brushes instead of plastic ones. Whether it's chalk paints, vegan wax crayons, crayon rocks or paints made from natural pigments, there are plenty of alternative options for you to explore.
5. Make your choices, involve your community and stick to it.
You may decide that you just want to start by phasing out plastic or using only recycled paper and card. You may be inspired to offer classes for students to create sculptures from old plastic bottles, books and bottle tops. Whatever you decide to do, inform your community. I cannot stress how important this is. Inviting people to be a part of a positive initiative like this reaps wonderful results in my experience. Not only will your project become more enriching as others become involved, but you are also sending a powerful message to your community about who you are and how you roll. It won't be perfect. It never is, but it will change everything!