Shout out to Teacher Tom

Wonderful sponge glue!

Wonderful sponge glue!


I belong to  an online professional learning community of choice based art educators called TAB (teaching for artistic behavior).  We share our successes and challenges. We share cool ways of doing things in the art studio like putting a sponge in a plastic tub with  glue to facilitate gluing and not buying a zillion bottles of glue with tops that always clog!  We share cool books, websites, and blogs.  About a year ago Teacher Tom Hobson’s blog was suggested as a great teaching inspiration in our group. I started reading his daily posts and really enjoyed them.  Tom Hobson is a coop preschool teacher and I used to teach coop preschool and prethree. He is an artist as well as a teacher and writer and I relate to the way he’s organized his classroom to support open ended learning experiences that include lots of process art activities and choice.

 A month ago kids were arguing over who was going to paint which parts of the box. Thanks to Teacher Tom I was able to support students in solving this dilemma themselves.

A month ago kids were arguing over who was going to paint which parts of the box. Thanks to Teacher Tom I was able to support students in solving this dilemma themselves.

I believe however that the best things I’ve picked up from reading his blog posts have to do with how I handle problem situations between children and how I handle cleaning up the classroom.  Today was the perfect example of this.  I had set out a building toy called Straws and Connectors.  Several boys were making light sabers and pretending to be Jedi. One boy almost whacked another’s face.  I said, “Isaiah, I am really enjoying watching you and your friends’ imaginative play, but I’m worried that Daniel almost got hit. I’m wondering what we can do about this problem?”  Isaiah then showed me how he could use slow motion with his light saber and stay a safer distance away from Daniel.  Several other kids chimed in with possible solutions too and then began playing in those newer safer ways.  A few minutes later one of the boys began whining.  “I’m all by myself, I don’t have a team.” In the past I probably would have immediately jumped in and asked who would include this boy. On their own, several boys immediately offered to include him. Me observing, but allowing them to solve their problems really does work! (Of course I intervene if anything is truly unsafe!)

Play is an essential part of creative expression and leads to more formal artistic activities.

Play is an essential part of creative expression and leads to more formal artistic activities.

Later I announced it was five minutes until it would be time to clean up the art studio. All of the jedi swordsmen put down their light sabers and went to the tables where they could draw, collage, paint, etc…They became very productive artists.  First of all….in the past I would have discouraged  play which was not strictly building, especially play with sword fighting. Now of course I know how much imaginative play is such an important food source for artistic output. After four minutes I asked everyone to sign their names to their art and/or add a finishing touch to their pieces. When the five minutes was up I asked everyone to put down their markers, paintbrushes, etc…. and help clean up the classroom.  In the past that would have meant me doing 70% of the clean up and a few helpful kids doing the rest while most of the kids milled around and talked to their friends as if they were being helpful,  but did not clean up at all. Today other than handing out some wet paper towels for wiping down tables I did none of the clean up though I did offer some suggestions in terms of what needed to be taken care of.  It took the kids 20 minutes to clean up.  At first it was just those helpful kids. Then more and more joined in.  I did have three hold outs.  Two helped during the last minute of the time we cleaned and one who never did clean up anything. In fact they just kept on creating despite the fact that all of the materials were being removed from the tables and kids were wiping down tables, chairs, and some spilled water on the floor. When we got to removing the last marker from the table, the last boy working had a meltdown because his friends had removed all of the materials except for his drawing. I matter of factly restated that studio time was over and it was time to stop. He continued to pout, but no one paid him any attention.  Everyone lined up (except for him) to go have a snack and went to wash their hands. He sat on the floor and missed snack time. But that was his choice.  It wasn’t a punishment.  It was a consequence of not being willing to make a transition. Perhaps next time he’ll help clean up, and even have a snack. It will be interesting to see.


Do I spy any clean up helpers?

The kids really enjoyed helping! They loved washing the tables and chairs.  They enjoyed putting the drawers of markers, colored pencils, and scissors back in my rolling cart. They washed all of the brushes and dumped out the dirty paint water without being asked. They put all of the play dough in the plastic tubs and they put all of the playdough tools away too.  Sadly…we didn’t get to have our gallery walk and sharing time because it took them 20 minutes.  But maybe next time more will start helping sooner and we will get done more quickly.  Or maybe I’ll just have to give the five minute warning 10 minutes sooner.

I was happier too! I didn’t feel as if I was having to do the majority of the clean up.  I was excited to see the kids actually enjoying cleaning up. The regular classroom teacher came in and wanted to help with the clean up.  I told her not to, because it’s the students’ responsibility.  She said, “Yeah!  I like that! I don’t mind not cleaning up their mess!”

And this new thinking about responsibility is also helping me out at home with my two teenaged sons and for that I’m definitely eternally grateful!


Everything’s turning up daisies! (Yes….I know these are actually black eyed Susans!)

Thank you Teacher Tom!

Here are some links to the blog posts that really have transformed my teaching and parenting  :



About francifularts

I am an independent art educator. I had my first experience teaching ceramics when I was 24 and worked in the University for Youth program at the University of Denver. As an elementary school teacher I always found myself integrating the arts across the curriculum, which led to me working as an artist in the schools. In May of 2008 I began a master's program with Lesley University in their Creative Arts in Learning Program. It was a truly transformative and incredible experience which led me to decide to devote the rest of my teaching career to teaching art, and through the arts. About the same time that I completed my master's degree in January of 2011 I was hired to teach art in two different programs. I have never been happier in my work as a teacher, and I really appreciate the wonderful professors and cohort of fellow teachers I studied with at Lesley University. I also want to thank all of the wonderful arts educators that I have met online through the TAB/choice list serv for their thoughtful posts and insightful suggestions for teaching art!
This entry was posted in art education, play, reflections on teaching and learning, Teacher Tom and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Shout out to Teacher Tom

  1. Teacher Tom says:

    What a wonderful shout out! Thank you so much. What a nice story. I wish I’d been there.

    • Hi Tom! I’d enjoy visiting the Woodland Park Coop. I have two Mondays off per month. If you’re not open on Mondays I could probably come during summer session. It’s funny, but when the box painting incident arose, I thought to myself, “I’m having a Teacher Tom moment!” It’s so cool that the kids are so much more capable of solving their problems than I gave them credit for! Thank you for all of the great ideas and reflections in your blog posts!

  2. artwithmsk says:

    Do you do TAB with all grade levels? This is something I have been interested in (especially for my wiggly kindergarteners) but I am hesitant to implement that sort of teaching strategy. Cleaning up is always the most chaotic time in my classroom, especially for kids who still want to work. I have come up with a few things to make it into a sort of game. Towards the beginning of the year, I would randomly give the first table who cleaned up a prize. Now they all clean up very quickly and have even started to put their heads down quietly — whether or not they get a reward. To clean up paint, I give the kids a wipe they they use for their hands first and then the table. They LOVE watching it change colors as it picks up all the paint and seeing how the colors all mix together to make brown. I have buckets on all of the tables and lately I have made a kind of Dr. Seussish sing-song where I say really fast, “put the pencils in the cup, the cup in the bucket, the bucket with the box, the box with the crayons, the glue with the caps, the glue in the bucket, heads and hands still, mouths quiet, tables clean!” They seem to enjoy that too or at least be somewhat amused. 🙂

    • Hi! I’m on my way to teach my preschool art class, and you had a lot of questions that I will answer when I have more time to give you some in depth answers. Kindergarteners thrive in a choice based environment, but you need to prepare them over the course of a couple of months by teaching studio procedures (if you meet with them weekly). I teach in several programs so don’t operate a K-5/6 choice program full time. I do offer modified choice and open ended explorations in all of my classes which are pre-k-8th grade. Got to get going! More later!

  3. roylcoblog says:

    This is a very cute story; your behavior allowed the children to use their problem-solving skills when figuring out how to overcome the issue with the ‘jedi swords’ or with team arrangements. This is so important for their independent development. Sometimes guiding figures such as teachers are not always present to remind children how they must behave respectfully towards each other, so guiding them towards independent problem solving is a wonderful technique for getting them to retain the information that they are taught. I noticed you mentioned the Straws and Connectors that you use in the classroom! 😉 Looks like your students enjoy them quite a bit!

    • HI! I wish I could post all of the great photos I have of the kids and their Straws and Connector creations! They are a real favorite building toy with my students! I don’t have them out all the time, because then they become “part of the furniture” and are overlooked. So periodically I get them out, and they are always a big hit! I’ve had middle school students have just as much fun with them as the elementary students. I had one 12 year old boy construct several large sections and put them together to make a giant person that was about 7 feet tall which was really cool!

  4. Beth says:

    When you have toys are there times when the children don’t get to art making? How do you introduce how to go about clean-up. My classes are starting in a week and a half and I want to start off on the right foot. I hope I don’t wear you out with my questions but I admire your approach very much. Thank you, Frances, dear guru. Beth

  5. Hi Beth, I do have construction type toys in my studio classroom. I vary what I have on offer, though I have to admit that unit blocks and Roylco Straws and Connectors are favorites. Some kids really gravitate to the block area because they enjoy creating in three dimensions. Some students will stay in the block area most of the class, and some visit for 10 or 15 minutes. The vast majority of the students are drawing, painting, and creating mixed media pieces. One thing I’ve observed is that kids that don’t feel as confident with two dimensional activities like drawing, really find their niche in the block area. I had one boy for instance that was always roaming and really not getting engaged in any of the choices in the art studio. After I introduced unit blocks he worked cooperatively with other children and was very proud of his structures.

  6. P.S. Thanks for your guru comment. It tickled me!

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