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Back to School is the time of year when we are super-charged and looking for brand new art lesson ideas to experiment with and my friend, I have 3 Back to School Art Lesson ideas that you can use as activities in those first weeks of school. Better yet, they allow for some fabulous choice-based opportunities to start the year off flexible in your classroom. By the way, there is a FREE Printable Choice Board for your kids here as well so make sure you read to grab the printable. Let’s get into it!

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Back to School: Favorite Things Line Art

So the first idea is that you can allow students the choice of WHAT the subjects are of their artwork by allowing them to illustrate their favorite things. This is a great way to just warm them up for the year but it will allow you the opportunity to get to know them. I highly recommend that you float around the room and sit with each group and ask each child about what they’re drawing, either while they are drawing the favorite things or during the next part of the project where they explore the element of art, line, to create a patterned background. Use this as an opportunity to build relationships right at the beginning as it is the key to classroom management success.

Next, have students fill in the negative space around the objects with a variety of different lines. For primaries they should be simple such as dashed, zigzagged or wavy. Older students can research zentangle patterns to add to their artworks for a much more detailed design.

Allow students a choice of art mediums to choose from and you’re planning is done and stress free. The point is to guide students in choice-based learning and to support them, not to direct them on what the finished product SHOULD look like.

white soccer ball
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on

Identity Portraits for Back to School art activities

The next idea is that students can create a self-portrait of themselves in a choice art making medium. I recommended taking a picture of each student and printing it out (black and white is fine). just so they have something to reference when they illustrate themselves. I also encourage allowing students to add their own artist flavor, meaning they do not necessarily have to replicate the portrait and can, if they choice, design their self portrait in their own choice of style. This is your choice ultimately and you have to decide how much control you want over it. Keep in mind that it is only back to school and there is time for creating detailed, realistic portraits later and honestly, in my opinion, it is better to earn trust and respect and have them to buy into art in the beginning.

Next, have the students draw symbols and imagery that represent their identity or culture in the remaining space around the portrait. This is a great way to start the year off strong and incorporate SEL, identity, and culture into your classroom. I think this is a beautiful way to explore diversity and individuality and community in the start of the year and will set a clear tone about the classroom culture you’re facilitating.

woman with short hair with stickers on her face
Photo by David Florin on

Stream of Consciousness Mindful Art Session

Finally, I am going to share an art lesson that I did in my first week at Emily Carr University, back when I was 17 and was in my first year of university. Also typing this makes me feel kind of weird because it stands out so much in my memory like it was yesterday. Anyway, I think it was a real great lesson just for getting artists to step outside their comfort zone and get in tune with the world. It was being mindful before mindful was a trendy thing to talk about. I mean it was 2007 and I was excited about my Guess purse and Baby Phat shoes and that was my priority back then. Now I never leave my house and talk to my cats, hoard, plants, and make art. Thankfully, we all evolve haha.

Anyway this is a stream of consciousness activity. Simply ask your students to grab “something to draw with and something to draw on” (make this a routine so you can do pop up exercises through the year and kids will know what this means). Then you can choose to either walk with them outside around the school yard or through the halls. Silently. Not a word. They need to be using this opportunity to be mindful, be present, and aware of the moment. They are going to be in tune with their senses and they’re going to, on paper, record through drawing however they deem necessary, to illustrate all the things they see, hear, smell, feel, etc. A visual recording of their experiences. That is it. It is this simple.

I still, to this day, recall this exercise. I can still recall the things I saw, remember images of walking with my class through Granville Island where the university was located at the time. I can even picture the clothes that people were wearing even though I have now forgotten most of their names. But I can see their faces. And I can’t say the same about all the lessons I attended.

So I think it is a beautiful, engaging lesson to start the year off with and I think that, when your students go home, they will remember what they did that day when their parents ask.

FREE Printable Back to School Art Choice Board

Alright so I know you have been waiting for this one! This is my FREE Printable, Back to School Choice board that you can print and use in your classroom! I love to use Choice boards or bell ringers, “when you’re done” tasks, laminate them for an art center, or even use them as the assignment and you can decide if kids will complete 1, 2,4, etc. Best of all, no mediums are listed or paper so you can choose the mediums or give the choice to your students!

So click here now to download your Free Back to School Choice Board OR hit the button below!

Back to School Art Resources for Homeschool or a Classroom

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Yours Truly,
Kathleen McGiveron (Ms Artastic)

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