During February and April Vacation Weeks take on challenges that are also fun. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) in concept, each vacation week is different. Try building a geodeisic dome, or a racing sculpture. Learn programs for 3D printers, or understand the various ways scientists and artists classify the world.

Click here to learn more about programs.


The BAC has a full schedule of exciting art classes for kids planned for the winter session. Sign up for classes in drawing, painting, pottery and wheelthrowing, comic book art, and much more!  We also have inspiring vacation day programs on January 21 for MLK Day and February Vacation Week, February 19-22, including our ever popular ArtVentures programs and intensives. Learn more and sign up today on our website.

I began this unit by reading The Noisy Paintbox, by Barb Rosenstock. The biography tells the story Vasily Kandinsky, a Russian artist who studied in Europe and is one of the founders of Western abstraction.

Before students arrived, I had placed a blank 9 x 12 inch piece of paper at their table spots. After reading The Noisy Paintbox, students walk to their tables and I demonstrat how to fold the paper into 4 equal boxes. Next, students gather their materials with a partner. Each pair of students get: a tray of paint, a mixing tray, a water cup, brushes, and a sponge to clean their brushes.

Then I start playing music and students are challenged to describe the sounds they hear using paint. The songs I play include jazz music, classical music, techno and blue grass.

As the song play, I asked questions like, “What instrument do you hear? What color does this instrument sound like? Is this song fast or slow? How might you move your brush to match the speed of the song? What types of lines could you use to describe this sound?”

I have taught this lesson many times and after class students often tell me that its one of the most fun art lessons they’ve done.

The following class, I introduced students to contemporary artist Heather Day by watching a short video of her called On a River. The video shows Heather drawing and painting in various locations–near streams, in the woods, in her car and in her home studio.

Before the video I ask students to notice the various textures they see and drawing materials Heather uses when she works. Students notice many textures in nature including rough rocks, the smooth water, gritty sand, spiky pine needles and paint, pencils, spray paint, water, squeegees, and pastels as some of Heather’s drawing and painting tools and materials.

After discussing the video as a class, I students are challenged to create an abstract painting that describes shows movement or describes a texture. Students can use tempera paint, watercolors or pastels and have access to various images of textures from nature to reference as they work.

On the third day of this lesson, I set up various stations around the room with different tools and materials for students to use. I ask students “How do the tools you use impact the type of marks you can make?” I show students a quick slideshow of different tools and then they get to work. I encourage students to move around the room as they work experiment with each of the different tools.

What marks can you make with a q-tip?

What marks can you make with felt?

What marks can you make with a toothbrush?

In addition to these stations, there were stations that had forks and tempera paint, toothpicks and ink and bubble wrap and tempera paint. I also put out some old gift cards that students could use like squeegees to pull paint or stamp with.


On the final day of this unit, I review what abstract art is and talk about the fact that abstract artists can be inspired by experiences, feelings, elements of art, materials and tools.

Then I show students a slideshow of artwork made by different abstract artists including: Vasily Kandinsky, Heather Day, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Beatriz Milhazes, Odili Donald Odita and Shinique Smith.

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Students get back all of the paintings they have started so far and decide which ones need to be “finished.” All of the stations are set up around the room again and students can continue adding to a piece in progress or start a new piece.

I loved going to our school library because I always learn about new books. As I was searching for books to read to my second graders at the beginning of the year, the librarian suggested The Art of Miss Chew, by Patricia Polacco. I love Patricia Polacco’s books, but had never heard of this one before. It’s the story of Miss Chew, a high school art teacher that mentors Patricia and teaches her how “to see” rather than merely look at the subject she is drawing. The book was perfect for talking to my second graders about sketchbooks!

These students used sketchbooks in kindergarten and first grade. At the end of last year, I gave my students a survey to fill out about their experience with sketchbooks. After reading over their responses, I decided to use sketchbooks with my second graders again this year, rather then starting trading cards with them. Based on their responses, I decided to make their second grade sketchbooks larger and more personalized.

Students started by creating a cover for their books. I demonstrated how to use tempera paint and tissue paper and then students had a choice of how to decorate their sketchbook cover. After the covers were dry, students created a name design for the cover of their sketchbook.

Then I filled the books with 5 folded pages of drawing paper, which equals 20 pages (front and back).

Next, I read The Art of Miss Chew, and gave students a few drawing assignments. Second graders practiced drawing plants, pumpkins and toy objects.

Last year, first graders created Recycled Robot Collagraphs. They were so excited about creating the robots, but because they had to go through the printing press, there were limitations about what they could and couldn’t add onto their projects.

Because we are in a temporary building, we have not been able to use clay the past two years, so I wanted students to be able to build and add more onto their sculptures.

Students started by drawing a sketch of their robot and thinking about what special jobs it would have. Then, they used cardboard and oak tag to create the structure (“bones”) of their robot.

Next, students used paper, foam, gems, wire, pipe cleaners, googely eyes, buttons and other mixed media materials to create the buttons and parts of their robot. Some students began this project with only a couple of classes left before the end of the year, so didn’t get to create a sketch. I felt having a fun, hands on lesson a the end of the year was important, so I let them create without much planning first.

When I teach this lesson in the future, I would definitely do it a little earlier in the year. Students were super excited to create these sculptures, and I think teaching this lesson in mid to late May would take us through the end of the year and be a big hit!


I love giving students choices in class, because I am often inspired by their ideas and use what they create to come up with lesson ideas.

This year, I had a student who earned extra choice with me if he met his behavior goals and earned a certain number of points. He earned this special time a few times this year and on his 3rd or 4th visit with me, he decided he wanted to create a large map of San Fransisco. I was all for it and we began to draw.

A few weeks in, I decided that I wanted to do this lesson with the rest of the second grade for their final project of the year. As inspiration, I showed students a short PowerPoint with a few samples of maps and images of some of the different parts of a map.


I also read the book My Map Book, by Sara Fanelli. Students were prompted to make a map based on a real or imaginary place. I wanted to see what would happen if students could make a map about anything.

They created a sketch and then began working on their final version. The requirements were that each map needed to include a title, pictures or symbols and words (a key or labels).

There was a wide range of responses to this prompt. After looking at student work, I’ve been reflecting on what I would change when I teach this lesson again. Some of the ideas that students came up with were really original and interesting, but some of their final pieces didn’t really look like a map–they didn’t show physical features and wouldn’t help someone navigate the area.


Students enjoyed the freedom to “make what they wanted,” but I think they could learn more in the process. I would definitely do a demonstration of how to draw roads and lakes and make each student create a key. This would guarantee that every students include symbols/pictures in their map. I would also talk more about fonts when creating the title. I checked out a bunch of books from the library, and would tweak the handouts/samples that I printed so students have better resources at their fingertips.


Third grade studies skeletons in science, so this year I asked our PTO to purchase a skeleton for the art room. They said yes and it was delivered this winter. The skeleton sat in a box for a few weeks because I didn’t have the space or time to open it up, but it was fun having the kids guess what was inside. 🙂

First, I taught students about cropping and they created a few thumbnail sketches to choose a composition they were interested in studying. When I originally thought of using the skeleton with third grade, I thought students would draw the entire skeleton, but once it was assembled, I realized that would be too much for them, so I told them to “zoom in” on a part of the skeleton that they thought was interesting. I demoed this on the white board and once I thought students understood what might make an interesting composition, they began sketching. I reminded students that the sketch did not have to have every single detail–it should just give an idea of what part they wanted to focus on and the general shapes they saw.

Once students chose a final composition, they drew a final version onto larger paper.

Then I talked about shading and students began shading their drawings. I told them that they must include at least three different values.


WOW! I was TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY by what students created. While this type of observation drawing was a little hard for some students, most of them ran away with it! They were generally interested in observing the bones and trying to draw them accurately.

In the future, I think I might do this drawing assignment in the fall with older kids closer to Halloween and maybe do a slightly different version with younger students.



Wow!! I have been blown away by this lesson. Last summer I went to the exhibit Spring into Summer with Andy Warhol and Friends! at the Bruce Museum in Connecticut with my mom. When I saw Andy Warhol’s series of Endangered Animal Prints, I knew I wanted to try something similar with my fourth graders this year.

After working abstractly for quite a while, I thought this lesson would be a good way to balance the curriculum because students are challenged to work observationally and experiment with various color combinations and layering.

As I was making a PowerPoint of some examples of Warhol’s prints, I came across this lesson by Mr. Stoller at Thomas Elementary. I used some of his images when presenting this lesson to my students, but gave them more color options and used Pacon Fadeless Paper to print on. I also set out pieces of painted paper for students to use if they wanted a more textured effect. (The prints measure 6″x6.”)

In my intro, I described Warhol’s commission (as described in the above link), defined endangered species, and showed students examples of prints from his series.


I printed out a variety of images of endangered animals ahead of time and students looked through my selection, or asked me to look at the WWF Species Directory and print out a picture of an another animal on the list. They were surprised and curious at the different levels of conservation status–from near threatened and vulnerable to endangered and critically endangered.


After drawing their animal with pencil, students taped their drawing to a square piece of Styrofoam and traced the outline of their animal with a pencil. Then, they lifted up their paper and carved their lines using a carving tool.


Next, students were ready to print layer one. I reviewed how to use the printmaking tools and students got to work. For the first layer of ink, students are limited to one color, but could choose different colors of paper if they wanted to.


After printing at least four copies of the first layer of their animal, students washed off their Styrofoam, dried it and reattached the tape. (Before printing, I had students trace the outline of their tape with a Sharpie so they would know where to attach it.) Students used the same method as above to trace the eyes, nose, mouth, fins, fur or other details of their animal and then carve the lines with pencil.


Then students cut out the outline of their animal and  began printing their second layer of ink.


Some students loved the printing process so much that they printed a third layer of ink to create a background or to change the color of a specific detail of their animal.

The last step was to create a background and/or add details. Students had three options for this step:

  1. oil pastels to add brighter colors;
  2. colored pencils to add fine details;
  3. or collage papers, including tissue paper, painted paper and construction paper.

Below is a sample of students finished prints.


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