Multiple Grades STEAM Lessons Teacher Education

Free Create Center: K+

The coolest addition to the art room this year was a Free Create Center. I got the idea from another teacher in my county and I love what it has transformed into. I believe all children need experiences in tinkering with open ended materials and the Free Create Center has brought a new level of engagement and creativity to our classes.

I have incorporated the open-ended materials in multiple lessons and sometimes use the Center as an incentive to finish projects. When my students earn a free choice day (after 7 awesome classes), many of them choose to use the center. Occasionally, I’ll invite students for indoor recess when the weather is icky and it fits in my schedule.

There are 5 simple rules and the center takes up a small  space next to our student accessible regularly used art materials. The drawer bins came from a teacher no longer using them, the shelves came from curb pick ups, the rest is random finds and reusing old containers. Organizing materials is an evolving process, I haven’t found perfect solutions for everything. When it gets really messy, I hire some of my older kids to organize it during recess and pay them by letting them take a few things to create with at home.

The RulesIMG_5912

1. Share the Materials

2. No Weapons

3. Stop and Clean Up When It’s Time To

4. Don’t Take What You Didn’t Make

5. Try Something New!

Here are some creations from Free Choice Art days!

Sometimes I give them challenges. I’ve used create a wearable, create a robot, create something that moves, and create a habitat. I’ve also incorporated the materials in Upcycle Art Projects like creating instruments, game controllers, table top and arcade game design, and community dioramas. We make ours interactive with Makey Makeys, so students really get the chance to play their instruments, make their game controllers work, and create interactive communities. I have postings about those projects on the site if you are interested.

The only items I purchase for the center is tape and hot glue sticks. Yes, I teach 3rd grade+ how to use hot glue guns, safely. I also teach them how to deal with the simple burns when they make mistakes!

The best part is i don’t worry about the Free Create Materials being overly used or wasted. It’s junk that might otherwise end up if the trash getting a new life. I collect the materials from the students and Alexandria Upcycle Creative Reuse Center, a non-profit reuse store and creative arts studio. Here is the list I send home with my students, teachers, and friends. ThingsWeLoveInTheArtRoom_AIL

Here’s some shameless promotion because I LOVE Alexandria Upcycle! Their stock comes from donations, many of which would end up in the trash because they are not recyclable. Shoppers can buy materials with the “fill a bag” method. Each bag is a different size and affordable price, or they can buy a year long membership. I have a teacher membership for $75 a year and I can pick out materials anytime I want. I’ve only had the membership for 5 months, and it’s paid for itself at least 2 times over already. They offer tinker studio time and classes for every age, plus work with he community on various projects. Check out their website and what they have going on at

Inspired by the center is the Free Draw Crate, which I’ll share a picture of soon. There are 4 sections, “How to Draw” books (most I bought from 2nd hand bookstores or were donations) for students to try out, coloring/activity books that I cut the bind off on the paper cutter,  my laminated handouts on Picasso, Anime, and Comic figures, and printer paper (recycled from when the school copier printed 600+ papers of a single Wingdings line).  I use this when students only have less than 10 minutes left, on Free Choice Days, or some Catch Up days when they are at different places in projects and opening the Free Create Center would be too distracting.

I have one thing to say to those who abhor over having coloring pages in their art room or shudder at letting kids trace with computer paper. Coloring and tracing build drawing skills and confidence in elementary ages. Free Draw is the only time I let them trace. I don’t teach with coloring pages or make them available at all times. But, I do work with a student population that doesn’t always have coloring books at home or the confidence to draw their favorite characters. Having them available is also great back up as an incentive for when they are having a bad day, “I noticed you aren’t as excited as you usually are in art, how about you do these steps and I will let you pick out 2 sheets from the Free Draw Crate to take with you.” 


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