Navigating the First Year Teaching Art Off a Cart: 10 Tips for New Art Teachers


Congratulations, teacher-friend, on embarking on your journey as an art teacher!

Teaching art off a cart can be both exciting and challenging, but fear not – with the right mindset and some helpful tips, you can make this year a successful and memorable one.

With that said, here are 10 valuable tips and tricks to help you navigate your first year teaching art off a cart.

1. Organize Your Cart Strategically:

Ensure your art cart is well-organized and stocked with essential art supplies. Arrange materials in a logical order, making it easy to access and locate what you need during lessons.

As you will quickly see, space on a cart is limited, so get creative with storage solutions. Invest in containers, baskets, and totes, and label as many things as possible (preferably with visuals) to keep your supplies organized, easily transportable, and clearly identifiable for both subs and students alike.

Here’s how I organized last year’s art trolley:

  • Just for context, I currently use an old AV cart equipped with three tiers.
  • On the top tier of my cart, I have a few baskets which contain my smART direction cards, in addition to a small compact file holder which holds class folders (only the ones I’ll need for that day), teacher art examples, and paper.
  • I also keep on the top tier smaller baskets to hold my office supplies such as pens, pencils, markers, crayons, etc.
  • The middle tier is reserved for all my painting supplies: tempera (cakes) paint, paintbrushes, cups, and 3 buckets for painting (one for clean water, the other for dirty, and a third to hold dirty paintbrushes and cups).
  • The bottom tier is used to store all other various or miscellaneous art supplies that I might need (just in case), such as oil pastels, scissors, glue sticks, construction paper, etc.

2. Keep It Simple At First:

When teaching off a cart, you may not have access to an extensive art studio, however you’ll quickly learn to adapt. Embrace simplicity and focus on teaching art projects that ultimately require fewer materials.

In other words: opt for versatile supplies that can be used for multiple art activities (and groups), reducing the need to carry too many items on your cart.

I usually stick to only using two mediums in one day. For example drawing and painting, sewing & collage; self-drying clay & oil pastels. The reason is, there’s simply not enough room on my art cart to hold everything.

As you certainly know, some mediums are more time-consuming when it comes to set-up and clean-up time. Therefore, by picking art projects that will only require you to pull out a few materials at a time, you’ll be saving yourself the stress and headache of art management overload.

With time, feel free to take on more mediums or preps at a time. But for now, embrace the simplicity of your lesson plans and art materials as you find your bearings and your rhythm as a mobile art teacher.

Side note:

  • Not only do I stick to a couple of mediums at a time, but I also try to teach the same lesson plans to a few groups at a time.
  • In Quebec, we have Cycles. Grades 1 & 2 are Cycle 1; Grades 3 & 4 are Cycle 2; and, Grades 5 and 6 are Cycle 3.
  • I usually teach one art activity per cycle which spans over 2-4 weeks.
  • Sometimes I even teach the same lesson to two Cycles!
  • I might make a few adjustments to my teaching by modifying directions and expectations (art standards).

3. Maximize Mobility:

Prioritize mobility and choose a cart with sturdy wheels that can handle different terrains and loads (hello, clay!). This will make it easier to move around the school without any hassle.

Two years ago, I bought this really cute cart from Michaels thinking I could use it as a “small” art cart for drawing and simple art projects. But I quickly realized, the wheels were much too weak and there just wasn’t quite enough room to store everything I needed for the day. This meant not only were things falling off my cart as I rolled down the hall, but I was quickly losing track of where I had placed materials and folders. Long story short: I was one big hot mess.

I’ve since repurposed this trolley to be my stand-alone ELA cart, which I keep in one classroom at all times. I hardly ever move it out of its designated corner, which is just fine with my teaching partner.

To also help maximize your mobility, ask your principal to minimize the distance between classrooms you will teach throughout the day, ensuring you have enough time to get from class to class.

For example, every year I request to only take on after-school bus duties because it means I can use all my recesses to set up for my next group. And (oh my), maybe even take a bathroom break!

4. Embrace Adaptability & Flexibility:

Teaching off a cart demands adaptability. Embrace unexpected challenges and be ready to adjust your lesson plans on the fly. This flexible attitude will allow you to make the most of your teaching moments and create a positive learning experience for your students.

You’ll be constantly moving, so you should also embrace adaptability and be prepared for change. Stay organized and keep your materials easily accessible to ensure a smooth flow during classes.

Thinking off our feet doesn’t come naturally to us art teachers when we first begin teaching. However, I promise you, after a few months or years of things going wrong due to power outages, last-minute school assemblies, concert rehearsals, and, heck, even children in crisis, you’ll soon learn it’s ok to throw your art lesson out the door and opt for something simple to fill that half hour or hour you have with your students. And that’s ok!

FYI Expect the unexpected every day:

  • Be sure to always have on hand white drawing paper.
  • Maybe along with some markers, pencil crayons and oil pastels.
  • Be prepared to teach any of your groups an improvised drawing activity.
  • I’ll be the first one to admit: there’s always ArtHub for Kids when things go wrong! (Well, hoping your Internet is still up and running that is.) 😉

5. Engage in Collaborative Projects:

Encourage teamwork and collaboration by planning group art projects.  As you already know, collaborative efforts not only strengthen students’ interpersonal skills but also create larger artworks that can be displayed proudly around the school on bulletin boards.

Furthermore, consider collaborating with your colleagues, i.e. classroom teachers. Try to develop strong relationships with these teachers by collaborating on activities that align with their curriculum. By working together, you can integrate art into other subjects and enrich your students’ learning experience. That’s what we like to refer to as Arts Enrichment!

I’m a strong advocate and supporter of arts enrichment and teaching across curriculums. So I urge you to be open to collaborating and brainstorming with your colleagues to come up with project ideas that will help nurture both of your subjects.

Additionally, stop motion, podcasts, and videography are great ways to integrate STEAM into an elementary school. And I, for one, have done them all. Once you open up your mind to facilitating STEAM projects in your art class, you’ll quickly see that no one is more excited to get them going than the students themselves!

Seriously, you’ll be blown away by their resourcefulness, and how easily they can help each other troubleshoot issues you never saw coming (and admittedly have no idea how to resolve!).

Arts Enrichment, is it for you?
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6. Say YES to Technology & Social Media:

Make use of technology and digital resources to enhance your art lessons. Utilize online tutorials, virtual art galleries, and interactive tools to engage your students creatively, even without a traditional art studio.

Take your students on a virtual tour of a museum across the ocean. Or play an animated short to introduce a cultural holiday like Dias de los Muertos.

Not to be downplayed, Instagram and Teachers Pay Teachers can also be invaluable resources for art lesson ideas. Follow art educators and explore creative lesson plans shared by the community to keep your teaching fresh and engaging.

Start following inspirational and experienced art teachers on Instagram and YouTube. As you’ll see, YouTube art activities and tutorials from experienced yet very entertaining art teachers like Cassie Stephens are perfect for enforcing vocabulary and introducing students to famous artists from history. Additionally, videos can be easily replayed when demonstrating art techniques whilst gently reminding students of your expectations.

7. Incorporate Art History & Emphasize Skill Building:

Bring art history to life in your classes to enrich your students’ understanding of art. Use slideshows, videos, and interactive activities to introduce them to famous artists, art styles and movements.

Furthermore, while creativity is essential, remain focused on teaching fundamental art skills. From drawing techniques to colour theory, providing a strong foundation will empower your students to excel in their artistic pursuits.

I’ve written a few times in the blog about how I view art history as important when it comes to teaching young children in the hopes of sparking their creativity. You can easily integrate art history through picture books and slideshows (readily available online), in addition to art posters you may have on hand, or YouTube videos geared towards elementary students.

For almost all the famous artists I bring up, my students are always fascinated by their life stories. The artist’s struggles to succeed and find recognition in the art world, or personal hardships with family/mental health; students often make a personal connection with so many of these individuals.

In turn, they get inspired and are more willing to create artworks inspired by the style/technique of that artist.

8. Encourage Creativity on the Go:

Teaching off a cart can provide a unique opportunity for outdoor and on-the-go art lessons. Embrace nature and the school environment as sources of inspiration for your students’ creative endeavours. Take advantage of the flexibility your cart offers by incorporating outdoor art projects. Nature-inspired creations and plein-air sketching can provide a refreshing change of scenery and inspire creativity.

If you can believe it, I actually think winter is the perfect time to take my students outdoors for some Land Art 101! Of course, I’ll always start off class with an introduction to land art/environmental art with examples from Andy Goldsworthy. But every year, I try to bring a few of my groups outdoors (on a snowy but not-so-cold day) to construct winter sculptures with found natural materials.

9. Establish Clear Communication:

Communication is key when you’re mobile. Keep parents and school staff informed about upcoming projects and any specific needs you may have. Transparency fosters understanding and support for your art program.

You can do this via a group email, ClassDojo or SeeSaw. Feel free to set up a booth at Meet the Teacher Night/Open House and hand out a brochure introducing yourself as the new art teacher. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, send home an art newsletter every couple of months showcasing what your students have been making both in and outside the classroom!

By opening up communication between you and parents from the start, it’ll be even easier when it’s time to ask for donations of art materials or supplies (recycled or new), and parent volunteers.  

10. Take Care of Yourself:

Last but not least, don’t forget self-care. Teaching off a cart can be physically demanding and emotionally challenging. Take breaks, find moments of tranquillity, and invest time in activities that rejuvenate your passion for teaching art.

My motto is: any and all work must remain at school. The only exception happens at the end-of-term when, unfortunately, I must bring grades home to enter into the system.

I know it feels hard to set those personal boundaries during your first years of teaching, but I promise you it’s worth it.

To avoid bringing home artwork to evaluate, make sure to correct artwork as they come in or at the end of the day before you leave. Of course, shit happens, and I get why that isn’t always possible. And yes, I do get behind in my evaluations as the year process.

However, I realized a few years ago that I DON’T have to evaluate everything my students create. SERIOUSLY, we don’t! Therefore, my last bit of advice is: only evaluate artwork you think holds the most weight when it comes to student progress.

Teaching art off a cart can be an enriching experience with its unique set of challenges and rewards, but it also offers unique opportunities for creativity and adaptability. By staying organized, adaptable and fostering collaborative relationships, you can create a memorable and impactful art program.

By utilizing technology and social media, emphasizing the importance of skill building, encouraging individual creativity, and building a supportive community, you can create a dynamic and engaging art program for your students.

Embrace the journey with an open mind and a positive attitude, and you’ll find that the art classroom can exist anywhere your cart takes you. Remember that art can flourish in any space with the right passion and dedication. 

Best of luck on your first year, and remember to cherish every artistic moment with your students!

Are you a new art teacher?
What about teaching art, off a cart?!? If so, join our mailing list today!
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Are you embarking on your first year of teaching off a cart? If so, congratulations on your exciting journey! I would like to extend a warm invitation to join my mailing list, where you can learn valuable tips and strategies to navigate this unique teaching experience.

As a fellow art educator, I understand the many challenges you might face over the next few months. After all, I was you 13 years ago! As such, I’ve curated a collection of resources over on my TPT store that might pique your interest. From arts enrichment lesson plans to classroom management ideas, my shop offers a variety of valuable tools and resources that will help support your teaching endeavours.

Join my mailing list today and discover a supportive community of art teachers passionate about making a difference in the lives of their spectacular students. Let’s inspire creativity together!

Sincerely, your teacher-friend,



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