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  • Meredith Blackerby

Big Mess = Big Creativity

I don't like to give anyone false impressions about TAB. So I'm going to be honest with you...


There are days that I finally get a second to sit down and look around my classroom and it honestly looks like a paper tornado blew through riding a paint hurricane.

Kids are messy. That's just a fact. They like to cut paper into tiny pieces. They like to splatter paint. They like to take every single crayon out of the bin looking for that one shade of blue that they JUST HAVE TO HAVE.

So if you can't stand to have a mess in your classroom, TAB might not be for you.

But I will say this....the mess usually means it's working! When kids are in full-swing creation mode, sometimes staying organized slips down the priority list. But never fear, there are several ways to combat these artistic messes.

Here are my top 5 ways to cure the clutter:



With kids, routine is everything. Cleanup time should be a precise, scientific equation. Play the the same cleanup song or timer every week so when they hear it, they know it's time to start. Make sure materials have a permanent home. When you keep up constant repetition, cleanup will be (mostly) painless.

2. Label everything in sight.

Especially with younger students, labels are key. I make sure that every label has a word and a picture. This way even students who aren't the strongest readers know where things go.

3. Give people jobs (but not everyone)

I've had to workshop several methods to get this one right. I tried to give every single person a job, but this made it difficult to track who was doing what. The jobs also seemed far less important if they had one every week. So now we have a job rotation. I have five different jobs in the art room and there are new students with jobs every week. This way the kids feel a sense of responsibility when it's their turn.

4. Limit the number of students in each studio.

Not every TAB teacher agrees on this (and that's okay). I have found that having a limited number of people in each spot also limits the mess. For the messier studios (ie. paint and sculpture) I typically allow 6 students. And for studios with an easier cleanup (ie. drawing and weaving ) I allow 8-10 people. Not only does this make setup easier, because you don't have 20 kids trying to get materials from one spot, but it also makes cleanup much smoother.

5. Organize frequently.

This is one that I personally struggle with. I don't like taking extra time to do a quick check to reorganize my studios. I think "it's their job to cleanup their mess. If I always do it for them, they'll never learn!". But the truth is, sometimes they won't get everything cleaned. Stray pencils roll under tables, a lone crayon will end up in the colored pencil box, paper scraps don't always make it to the recycling bin. It happens. And the more you let it build up, the messier your classroom will be. Taking just five minutes a day to do a quick sweep around the room makes a huge difference. (**I really need to take my own advice on this one!)


In the end, you just have to live with the fact that there will sometimes be a mess. But that's okay, because creativity thrives in chaos. So whenever you start to stress the mess, remember that your students are LOVING the time you are giving them to explore and create.

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