7 Keys to Staying Organized on an Art Cart


Are you an art teacher struggling to get organized?

Are you new to teaching off a cart, and just simply don’t know where to start?

Maybe you’re limited in time (aren’t we all?) and just want to prioritize what really matters? Although a cute and colorful art cart never hurt anyone.

Well, friend, if you said YES to any of these intrusive questions–I’m so happy you’re here! Because I wrote this post with people like you in mind!

That’s because… I too teach off a cart. And I too struggled to stay organized as an art specialist those first few years.

However, it didn’t stay that way forever. And after several years of teaching this way (unfortunately, because I’d much rather be in a studio), I can finally extend a helping hand and say “Hey! Teacher-friend, can offer you some advice about staying organized on a cart?”

In this blog post, you will find some humorous yet quick ways to get your sh#t together, so you can stop stressing and worrying about the mess that awaits your sub whenever you have an emergency absence.

I’m a mom of 4. So it’s fair to say, my mind and priorities are often elsewhere. Along with being the only art specialist at my elementary school, with thirteen art groups to teach, I also have multiple preps for other subject areas.

So I get it!

The struggle is real. But don’t fret, I’m here to help!

The life of an art teacher on a cart is always a daily adventure filled with creativity, chaos, and laughter. So as we journey through the colorful world of teaching together, let’s dive deeper into these 7 keys to staying organized and sprinkle in some humor along the way.

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Key 1: Create and laminate labels for everything

Let’s talk about these labels for a moment. They’re not just any labels; they’re the superheroes of organization. You know, the kind that swoops in to save the day when you’re desperately searching for that one missing paintbrush. They make your cart look like a well-organized rainbow, and trust me, your students will think you’re an art wizard.

And let’s not forget the joy of laminating! It’s like adding a protective shield to your labels, ensuring they stay pristine even in the face of spilled glue or paint splatters. Just imagine your labels saying, “We’ve got this, bring on the mess!” You can’t help but chuckle at the thought.

I have labels for just about everything! Many of the labels I use I found over the years on TPT. I have them stuck to plastic totes, whiteboards, and the doors of all my storage cabinets. Other labels help identify baskets placed atop my art cart. Sometimes I go as far as labelling the tiers of my cart and specific spots on my desk.

That way everything has a spot in case I have a sub (or a student teacher). Everything is where it should be. Furthermore, at the end of the day, it forces me to put things back in their designated places.

Key 2: Color-code your schedule & group folders

Ah, the beauty of colors! They’re not just for art projects; they can tame the wildest schedules too. As you color-code your subjects and cycles, you’ll feel like you’ve unlocked a secret artist’s palette of organization. It’s like assigning a unique personality to each group, and they’ll surely appreciate the special treatment.

Plus, who needs a boring white folder when you can have a vibrant blue or fiery red one? Your folders will be the talk of the teacher’s lounge, and your colleagues might just want to borrow your artistic flair for their own organization.

Over the years I have been color-coding my teaching schedule by subject (I teach ELA, Science, and sometimes other subjects in addition to Art). As for my art classes, I color-code each groups by cycle. In Quebec we have three Cycles. Cycle 1: Grades 1 & 2; Cycle 2: Grades 3 & 4; and, Cycle 3: Grades 5 & 6. I don’t teach kindergarten.

With that said, this means I also color-code my class folders where I keep student artwork by the same colors (red, blue & yellow). Cycle 1: yellow. Cycle 2: blue. Cycle 3: red.

There’s honestly no reason why I decided one day to associate these particular colors with each cycle, but it has been that way for over 5 years now! And it’s a system that works, so I intend to keep it as such.

Key 3: Have things laid-out for the next day

Picture this – you walk into your art room, and everything is in its place, just waiting for you to work your magic. It’s like the art gods granted you a moment of serenity amidst the chaos of teaching. And your sub? They’ll be singing praises for your impeccable organization, making their day a breeze.

You may have a knack for being forgetful at home, but at work, you’re the master of planning. You’ve got your lesson planner ready like a trusty sidekick, ensuring you never lose sight of your artistic missions. It’s like having a personal art assistant, always ready to remind you of your next masterpiece.

As mentioned earlier, I make sure to put things back in their place or exactly as I found them at the end of the day.

I’m terrible at this in my home life, to be honest. However, at work, I know it’s key to making my days run smoothly. Most importantly, it makes it a breeze for my emergency sub to locate materials and art supplies.

Furthermore, I also make sure my lesson planner is filled out two days in advance. At the end of each day, I’ll leave it in the center of my desk for reference. Consequently, my sub will see it right away when they arrive in my office space to replace me. Also, it’s the first thing I see every morning (which helps with important reminders).

Key 4: Have photocopies printed in advance

Ah, the infamous “sick days.” They always seem to sneak up on us, don’t they? But not anymore! You’ve got the power of foresight – having photocopies ready in advance. It’s like predicting the future, except instead of predicting lottery numbers, you’re predicting perfectly prepared classes.

And let’s not forget the occasional worksheet on color theory or principles of design. Your students might not know it yet, but you’ve turned them into undercover art detectives, searching for clues in those printouts. They’ll be thanking you for days to come!

I have learned time and time again that it is SO important to have all photocopies ready to go a week (or at least a few days) in advance.

Too many times I’ve been caught off-guard by an unforeseen “sick day”, usually kid-related. All that to say, after my photocopies are printed, I make sure they are sitting in their designated spot (or respective drawer, ex: Wednesday) waiting for someone to distribute them to students; in case I need to be replaced.

Obviously, photocopies aren’t used regularly by art specialists, however, I do use how-to draw/art reference sheets with many of my groups.

Key 5: Have a folder filled with teacher examples

Ever see your students’ eyes light up with inspiration? That’s all thanks to your trusty folder of teacher examples. You’re like a magician, pulling out colorful rabbits (well, artwork) from your folder hat. Your students are in awe of your artistry, and little do they know that you’re secretly a proud parent showing off your kids’ artworks.

And those 2-3 examples for each project? It’s like having a step-by-step guide to art success. You’ve mastered the art of simplifying complexity, and your students are forever grateful for your artistic wisdom.

I keep a folder of teacher examples on my desk, or on my art cart, clearly labelled. That way subs can easily locate art project examples to show my groups and pin them up on the whiteboard.

Sometimes I keep a few examples of the same project, demonstrating different stages or steps. It saves my sub from getting a headache trying to figure out the project on their own, and allows them to visualize the steps/procedures before they even step foot in a classroom.

Key 6: Use filing crates/hanging folders to store artwork

Let’s talk about these filing systems, the superhero sidekicks to your art cart. They swoop in to save the day, keeping your student artwork organized and secure. Your students’ masterpieces are like treasured artifacts, carefully preserved in their designated folders.

And folding larger projects without creasing the paper? You’re like an origami expert, performing magical paper-folding tricks. You’ve turned storage into an art form, and the cluttered chaos of old is a thing of the past.

As I mentioned earlier, I use hanging folders that are inserted into a large filing cabinet in my shared office. In the past, I used crates; one for each day I teach art. These hanging folders are legal-sized and allow me to easily store student artwork. If certain projects are larger than 9 x 12, they can be folded in half (without creasing the paper) and inserted sideways.

Key 7: Keep your office supplies on your trolley

With your larger trolley, you’re the art teacher on wheels, a mobile marvel of organization. Forgetful moments? Not on your watch! You’ve got everything within arm’s reach, making you the go-to guru of art and office supplies. Your colleagues admire your preparedness, and they secretly wish they had an art trolley of their own.

But here’s the best part – your cart isn’t just a mobile supply station. It’s a reflection of your artistic spirit, bright and filled with the tools to create masterpieces. You’re not just an art teacher; you’re an art superhero, navigating the cart like a pro, bringing color and creativity to every corner of the school.

In the past, I used to keep all my office supplies in my desk drawers/office. I had a very small trolley at my old school, which made real estate on my cart pretty competitive.

I’ve since changed schools and my trolley is almost twice the size of my old cart. As such, I keep all my pens, pencils, highlighters, whiteout, stapler, tape, glue, scissors, dry-erase markers, magnets, YOU NAME IT… on my art cart.

The reason being, I’m so forgetful and chances are I will have to send a student to my office to retrieve such office supplies. Whereas, if I keep extras on my cart, I’m less likely to ask a colleague to use their supplies, especially their dry-erase markers.

So, my fellow art teacher, I hope you can embrace these 7 keys to staying organized. And please, let humor and creativity be your trusty sidekicks on this wild and wonderful art-teaching adventure.

With your organizational prowess and artistic spirit, there’s no challenge too great, no mess too messy, and no art project too complicated.

Happy teaching and keep spreading the joy of art! 

If you have any specific questions regarding art cart organization or general questions about teaching art to elementary students, feel free to send me an email or contact me over on Instagram.

Cheers, Stephanie

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