Recently I experienced a surprise when an otherwise delightful group of first graders went crazy with liquid glue... one kid started unscrewing the lids and pouring glue in a big puddle on the (carpeted) floor, another was waving his glue bottle around high in the air over his drawing, randomly dripping glue all over it. Some of the students' drawings had so much glue on them that it dripped right off the edge of the drying rack and onto the floor. What a mess!

Now, I know that this is all par for the course, and I've cleaned up many accidents before in the last 14 years of teaching art. However, in my mind I knew I needed some questions answered. This is my first year to teach art full time to grades PK-12; I had been teaching art to middle schoolers for 13 years!

1. Was this a discipline problem?
Were several kids in need of consequences for being destructive and/or not following the directions?
2. Was it a motivation problem?
Did the kids not care about doing a good job; all they wanted to do was play in the glue?
3. How about a teaching problem? Was there a way I could have presented the lesson differently, or was my lesson too advanced for first grade? Are first graders developmentally ready to use liquid glue? I thought they were, but perhaps I was wrong!
4. What about special needs? Was there a chance that my little glue pourer has special needs that have not been diagnosed yet?

Where did I go wrong? I had done a detailed demonstration about how to use the glue bottle, listening to it "breathe," opening and closing the lid, how to apply glue along the lines of a drawing, etc.

I asked for help in the Elementary Art Teachers Facebook group and I got lots of advice! I also did some reading online, searching for as many tips as possible about managing liquid glue. It turns out that first graders are perfectly capable of handling themselves when it comes to liquid glue (this was not a developmental issue), so for our next class I worked one on one to coach my two culprits. They did great!


1. Teach, re-teach, and teach some more:

  • Show them how to, "Dot, dot, not a lot!" Have kids repeat this phrase over and over, like a chant. Using a very small amount of glue will be much more effective than using a lot.
  • Demonstrate how to check if the glue bottle is "breathing."
  • Have them practice drawing dots and lines with glue with a paper throw away"Glue Test" if your budget will allow.
  • When drawing with liquid glue, train kids to "touch the paper" and drag, with the glue held vertically. Kids tend to hold the glue horizontally, so teach them what works best. They also tend to hold the glue in the air above the paper instead of touching the paper... that is a disaster waiting to happen!
  • GIVE NON-EXAMPLES: show the kids what NOT to do, not simply what TO do. Wave your arm high above the paper, dripping random streams of glue. Squeeze the glue bottle too hard, or not hard enough. Show what could happen if you take off the entire lid instead of twisting the orange cap.
2. When the glue bottle clogs:
  • After cleaning out the clogged nozzles (I soaked them in hot water and used a bent paper clip and tiny bottle scrubber), let them dry and spray the interior with a little bit of vegetable oil or use a q-tip to apply vaseline. It also helps to wipe a tiny bit of vaseline around the screw top to keep the lid from getting stuck on. (Some art teachers do this immediately with new glue bottles to prevent clogging.)
  • Have a "Glue Hospital" bin next to replacement bottles. Train the kids to get their own new bottle instead of pestering you! With a little time, you can also train kids to unclog their own glue bottles.
  • Store the bottles upside down, tightly closed. This helps to keep them from clogging.

3. Glue Bottle Alternatives:
  • Make glue sponges in plastic bins for everyday gluing: this is a simple idea to keep messes to a minimum, and will be successful if you spritz with water at the end of the day and occasionally add an antibacterial agent, such as rubbing alcohol, to the mix. Some art teachers have found these to be a hassle, and some swear by them!
  • Use cheap, disposable paint brushes, cardboard strips, popsicle sticks, or q-tips to dip into small condiment containers of liquid glue. Teach the kids to "dip and wipe" the q-tip to prevent dripping. These containers come with lids, so you can keep the glue fresh for days! (Helpful hint: minimize the level of glue in the cups - a little bit of glue goes a loooong way!)
  • Buy a class set of small plastic bottles with built-in brushes here or here. Some teachers use glass baby food jars, but in my experience, the students dropped them, creating a safety hazard of shattered glass all over the floor. I will not use these again in my classroom.

4. For tiny hands, get the 1 ounce glue bottles! Their muscles are still developing - these little bottles are much easier for preschool, kindergarten, and first graders to use.

5. When hands get sticky: instead of sending kids to the sink or using up all of your hand wipes, teach them to rub their fingers/hands together to get rid of the glue residue on their skin. They love it!

More Resources:

Too Much Glue, by Jason Lefebvre, children's books read aloud by Allie Lamb, YouTube

A Dot Is a Lot (Clap, Clap), Art Class With Ms. S., YouTube

"Art Teacherin' 101: Episode 6; NO MORE GLUE BOTTLES," YouTube

Glue Practice Pages, theinspiredtreehouse.com

The Glue Unclogger 2000, Mini Matisse

3 Glue Methods, Mini Matisse

Procedures: Learning To Use Glue, by Sally Haughey, fairydustteaching.com

Teaching Kids How To Use Glue, by Claire Heffron, theinspiredtreehouse.com

Our Favorite Ways To Glue In Preschool, teachpreschool.org

A Kindergarten Smorgasboard How To Video; Glue Sponges!, by Mr. Greg Smedley-Warren

They Don't Tell You This In Your College Art Ed Program, by Phyllis Levine Brown, There's A Dragon In My Art Room

No More Glue Blues, by Patricia Fuglestad

How Do You Glue, by Jessica Balsley, theartofed.com

Glue Stick or Glue Bottle? That is the Question, by Heather Crockett, theartofed.com


"I CAN'T DO THIS!" ...Part I

If you have reached the point in the year where you want to give up, remember that you are probably already doing the thing you feel that you "can't do." 

I reached this point two weeks ago. I hit rock bottom and couldn't stop crying... until I remembered this:

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, "I can't draw," I would be rich! 

Every. single. time. a student says these words, I look down at an ACTUAL DRAWING they created and I am tempted to (and sometimes actually do) LAUGH. The truth is, everyone who has the mental capability and manual dexterity to write their name CAN draw. They are just believing a lie, that's all. 

Don't believe for a second that you can't do this job. 

...You are already doing it. You show up every day and teach. 

You. Can. Do. This. 

I started from scratch this year at a new school where I serve every grade level from PK-12th grade (after teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grades for 13 years). 

I am a first year teacher all over again; every day I teach a new lesson to any group other than middle school IT IS THE VERY FIRST TIME. 

Growth Mindset. 

I wrote the following notes last year, and I am sharing them again because I need to focus on the truth... I hope these words encourage you. 

The only art teacher your students have is YOU - you are there for a reason. Believe in what you are doing! Others may criticize you or they may say you are doing a wonderful job. What they think really doesn't matter. Nothing can change the fact that you have a unique opportunity to effect a student's life for the better. Nobody else can do the job you are doing; nobody else teaches like you do. Don't compare yourself to others! Your students may not show it all the time, but they admire you and the knowledge you have to share. ROCK THAT CLASSROOM, TEACH.

If you are feeling unappreciated right now, please know that the kids show you they care in so many ways! They don't have to say it out loud to communicate how they feel about you:

...When your students bring you a little piece of art they made, they are really saying how much they admire you. All these little gifts are acts of love, even the wrinkled, smudged, and slightly torn ones!

...When they offer to help sweep, or clean, or carry something for you, they are saying, "I love you!"

...When the kids who normally goof off in their regular academic classes listen and put forth a lot of effort in Art class, working to learn what YOU are trying to teach, they are saying, "You are a great teacher and I care about pleasing YOU!"

...When students come up to you during class to talk your ears off about the car they are restoring in the garage with stepdad, or about the amazing Youtube channel they found, etc., they are saying, "I want to spend time with you! You are an important person in my life and I love to share my thoughts with you!"

Teachers, you are amazing! You are doing one of the most important jobs on earth - serving and teaching our children, making a difference in the lives of future generations. Keep up the good work!

Here are a few other excellent resources:

From the video, "5 Ways You Are Making a Difference," by Patty Palmer:
"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU. Keep the channel open.” – Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille –

"Sometimes it’s hard to believe when you get on social media that these awesome art teachers that you follow might actually experience burnout, but they do. If they tell you they don’t, they be lying. Don’t believe them." 

Everyday Art Room, Episode 9, Burnout, Cassie Stephens

My Name Is Tom. I've Been a Teacher For Nearly 10 Years and I still Get My Ass Kicked Nearly Every Day , by Tom Rademacher, educationpost.org

Finding your Inner Spirit Animal and Ultimately Yourself…, by Jennifer Pulbratek, NAEA Monthly Mentor article

Editor's note: A few days after this article was originally published, a reader challenged the attribution of this quote, "I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it," saying that Vincent Van Gogh actually is the one who should have been credited. I did a little research and found out that, sure enough, many sources mistakenly attribute this quote to Pablo Picasso. Thank you for the correction! 



So, my new school has a tiny art classroom, carpet on the floor, and NO SINK. So far this year, I asked for parents to donate hand wipes and I have also set up an old fashioned bucket system for kids to clean their hands after really messy projects. (We use the wide plastic dish pans from the dollar store.) It has worked out pretty well, but the biggest concern that I have is that everyone has their hands in the same water. I do offer hand sanitizer after the kids dry their skin but it is NOT ideal. 😷😬 

I teach every grade level from PK-12th grade, and we have been able to work with clay, paint, paper mache, etc. using this bucket system for clean up ... BUT I am always open to better ideas. 

Recently, I saw a post in a Facebook group about using heavy duty paper towels immersed in a buckets of soapy water... 

Here is elementary art teacher Suzanne Dee's brilliant idea to dispense sanitary homemade hand wipes: she uses distilled water or boils the water first.

Suzanne says, "The buckets were 7 bucks apiece here. The sticker came off okay. The bucket holds a full roll of Brawny paper towels but you have to smoosh the roll slightly after it’s wet to keep it down below the lid. Cut the cardboard core with scissors down both sides, then remove it so the toweling will pull from the center. These are Brawny 'select-a-size' and I think I may switch to blue shop towels after this. Sometimes they rip too much; if I remember to push the prongs inside the dispenser up it’s better, but when the kids close the lid they poke them down in. I bet if I trimmed them a little......anyway. I use five squirts of school hand soap, five squirts of school hand sanitizer, and about 2 1/2 cups of distilled water. Definitely boil your water if you can’t get distilled. Let it sit tightly closed and flip/rotate every now and then until water is evenly absorbed, which takes awhile. Then, thread the center towel into the dispenser, seal the lid, pull to start it and you’re good to go."

Thank you for sharing your idea, Suzanne! 

Here are a few more great resources to check out:

Need More Sinks? Try One of These 5 Practical Solutions, by Jennifer Borel, theartofed.com

Paint Instruction Without the Sink, Heidi O'Hanley, Tales From the Traveling Art Teacher



Every kid is like an uncut diamond, waiting for these flashes of remarkable beauty and light to be revealed.
I try to see the students for their future potential, not for their maddening behavior in the present. In my mind and heart, I separate the poor behavior from WHO my students are as people.
I actually say out loud that I care about them and that they are valuable, just because they are themselves.
They don't hear it often enough.
I try to show kids that I care about them as people... respect them, honor their voice and their opinions, I laugh at their jokes, and above all, I listen.
If they KNOW you care, they will be more likely to respect your efforts to discipline. Disciplining is one more way we care about our kids, after all.
"What is this students special talent?" I ask myself. Everyone has gifts, everyone has something special and unique to share. No matter how disruptive, rude, loud, or off task and destructive they are, they still matter.
Value them.
Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Everyone needs to feel that they are important.

Everyone needs to feel that they are loved.

In light of the recent tragedy in south Florida, many of us have been trying to find ways we can do something to help. We have cried, prayed, mailed cards and notes to Parkland to be displayed in the hallways for the students' return this Wednesday, and hopefully written our legislators with our ideas. I believe with all my heart that THIS TIME we will learn from our mistakes as a society and we WILL see a change. I am so proud of our students at Stoneman Douglas High School for doing the hard work of speaking out even in the midst of their grief.
I don't have any answers other than that: 
1. Each of us has a personal responsibility to love and value others, to see them for who they could be and not for the foolish things they are saying and doing now. 
2. We also have a responsibility to teach our students that they need to value each other, and HOW to go about doing that. There are too many kids growing up thinking they can belittle, demean, bully, and torment each other. Last week, my 3rd and 4th graders practiced honoring one another by writing a compliment to each person in their class. We talked about uncut diamonds, that they look like ugly gray rocks before a jeweler sculpts and polishes the stone. I told them, "Everyone is a diamond in the rough," while passing around a lumpy gray rock and some plastic "diamonds." We also watched a Youtube video about a little girl in California who gives away "Kindness Bracelets" and we made some cardboard paper mache bracelets to give away.  
3. As art teachers, we can keep an eye out for subtle signs that a student needs extra interventions: below is a link to the FBI document that outlines hard facts about school shooters, one of which is that all of these individuals "leaked" ... they showed signs of an inclination toward violence long before picking up a gun. These tendencies emerge in students' writing, artwork, conversations, etc. 

"School shootings and other forms of school violence are not just a school's problem or a law enforcement problem. They involve schools, families, and the communities. An adolescent comes to school with a collective life experience, both positive and negative, shaped by the environments of family, school, peers, community, and culture. Out of that collective experience come values, prejudices, biases, emotions, and the student's responses to training, stress, and authority. His or her behavior at school is affected by the entire range of experiences and influences. No one factor is decisive. By the same token, however, no one factor is completely without effect, which means that when a student has shown signs of potential violent behavior, schools and other community institutions do have the capacity -- and the responsiblity -- to keep that potential from turning real." The School Shooter - A Threat Assessment Perspective, fbi.gov ...
(Thank you to Cindy Olson Erickson for bringing this document to my attention in the Art Teachers Facebook page.)

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols



This was a difficult article to write; I actually started it several years ago. Why has it been so hard? Two reasons; one, I miss my dog, and two;  to be brutally honest, I am really, really bad at being calm-assertive. It takes a huge amount of effort for me; it doesn't come naturally. 

This article is for all the teachers out there who, like me, are trying to figure out ways to be a better leader in the classroom. The dog training book, Cesar's Way, is simply one of the most profound books I've ever come across on the subject of leadership. 

Yes, I know it's about dogs, not children, but bear with me! Believe it or not, there are some poignant correlations between leading a dog on a walk and leading students in a classroom. Have you ever heard people say about teachers, "S/he means business!" That internal steeliness, the ability to maintain strong leadership, is hard to describe and downright elusive for a lot of people.

So, here goes! 

Toby, our beloved black Labrador mix
My husband and I adopted Toby and Little Ricky (a rather eccentric Chihuahua)  when our good friends' daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three months and they could no longer care for the two dogs. 

Toby was my dog, she was the one we kept when our friends' lives stabilized enough for them to invite one of the dogs back into their home. 

She was gentle, affectionate, obedient, and a wonderful companion as long as we were at home

However, my beloved black lab mix was absolutely terrible on a leash!

Every single time we went for a walk she would try to drag me down the street - my arms would ache from the effort to keep her at my side. Sometimes I would try anchoring the leash by wrapping it around my hips;  when my son was a baby I would attach the leash to the stroller so Toby could help pull it up the sloping hills in our neighborhood. She was a "puller" - she thought she was supposed to lead us, not the other way around! 

While at a thrift store one day I found the book, Cesar's Way. I had heard of Cesar Millan before; I knew he had a television show called "The Dog Whisperer," so I grabbed that book thinking, "I will give this a shot!" 

From then on I learned to carry myself differently from the inside out; learning to be calm-assertive not only with Toby, but with my students as well. As an art teacher, especially a middle school art teacher, calm-assertive leadership is vital! 

How did I teach my dog to walk at my side instead of dragging me down the street? The secret was a simple change in my attitude (along with lots of repetition and practice!)... Teacher attitude is the pillar of support for everything else that happens in a classroom. All efforts at providing quality instruction, motivation, and discipline will crumble if the teacher is unable to maintain strong leadership. 

Here are 5 things I learned by applying Cesar Millan's advice for being a "pack leader:"

Toby's favorite position for relaxing
 1. Leadership is not a form of intimidation or control; it is a form of influence. Believe it or not, I never had the desire to lead or influence anybody; the idea actually makes me a bit uncomfortable! I have always been one to leave people alone and wish to be left alone! I am extremely independent and an introvert to the extreme; it is simply a miracle that I wound up being a teacher at all. I have always had the attitude that there was nothing I could do about the behavior of other people, so why bother (I was wrong). 

I never understood anything about influence until becoming a teacher, and I didn't understand how to be a strong leader until I read Cesar's Way. A lot of teachers in my past tried to use fear and intimidation to control their students, so for the first few years of my career, I thought that was what I had to do with the "tough" kids in my classes. I was wrong! 

Leadership has nothing to do with controlling someone else; it has everything to do with trying to improve the lives of others. It is servanthood. 

2. A good leader has the heart of a servant and understands that discipline exists for the benefit of the "pack" (or children!) Instead of thinking about my own comfort, I send the message that, "I am here to take care of you... I have rules and boundaries... I discipline you because I love you." Providing structure is not easy or comfortable, neither is having to correct behavior. However, it is in the best interest of the dog (and children!) to do so.

Cesar Millan says dogs need exercise, discipline, and affection, exactly in that order. He also says that Americans lavish affection and attention on their dogs but do not exercise or discipline them correctly (the same might be true for children as well!) This recipe makes for neurotic dogs who will be much more likely to take on bad habits. 

So many teachers are afraid to hold their students accountable, as if they are being abusive if they issue a consequence or correct bad behavior! Discipline in and of itself is not abusive, it is exactly the opposite. Discipline, if done correctly, is a very healthy thing. We discipline because we love. 

3. Having positive energy/thoughts (and controlling the negative ones), is the only way to be a strong leader. Cesar Millan says that a dog will not trust or follow a human who is "unbalanced;" feeling frustrated, angry, anxious, or otherwise negative. So, whenever Toby's behavior annoyed me, I wasn't able to lead her effectively. I had to learn to control my own response to her behavior before I could teach her better habits. Dogs will only truly follow a leader who is calm-assertive. Children? They might comply with your instructions regardless of your attitude, but they will never really "buy in" to what you are teaching unless they trust you. I am human, so I know it is pretty unreasonable to expect never to get frustrated! The key is in not allowing that frustration to affect those around me. Last week, I had a rough time managing a kindergarten class. I was still feeling pretty stressed when a high school group came in a few minutes later, so I just told them about it. They understood, gave me a few minutes to just be quiet, and we still had a great class! 

4. My body language affects whether or not the dog (or child!) perceives me as a leader. Both dogs and children can sense whether or not you are in charge. They know! Am I walking erect, with shoulders back and my head held high? Or, am I looking at the ground, with sloping shoulders? 

If I don't "feel" like being a leader, I can pretend to be one: 

From Cesar's Way:
Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
"The best actors learn to dig deep inside themselves, to use the power of thought, feeling, and imagination to transform themselves into different characters. I asked Sharon to concentrate on a simple exercise: to think of a character she identified as being calm and assertive. Because of her (actor's) training, Sharon immediately understood what I was asking her to do. Without hesitation she answered, 'Cleopatra.' I then suggested she 'become' Cleopatra every time she walked (the dog.) Right before my eyes her posture became straighter and her chest higher. She raised her head and gazed imperiously around her as if she were the queen of all she surveyed. Of course, the dog had never gone to acting class but because he picked up on her energy shift he had no choice but to become Sharon's 'scene partner'... he instantly became more relaxed and less fearful." 
5. Non-verbal communication is extremely effective. As a matter of fact, giving verbal instructions to my dog was utterly useless while training her. What DID work was leading with firm tugs on the leash when she started to pull, and walking in circles. I would sometimes even turn around and walk in the opposite direction, trying to teach her to follow me. It took daily walks for several months to see a difference, but she did eventually learn to walk calmly at my side without pulling!

Lecturing students is counterproductive - how many times have you tried to talk a child into behaving rather than enforce a consequence? Which works better? Kids don't know the reasons why they act up, but they know when they are wrong. Getting into a verbal sparring match with kids is useless. Two of my favorite authors, Michael Linsin and John Rosemond, are staunch supporters of using very few words when disciplining children. 

3 vet techs. trimming Charlie's matted fur
My sweet Toby passed away in 2013, and just a month later Charlie the Shih Tzu was brought to our doorstep. He was a mess, a one year old shaggy, scared, dirty, wild little thing who had spent months alone, locked in a kitchen. His owner was terminally ill and was unable to care for him. We took him in with the idea of providing a foster home for him, but four years later he is a permanent member of our family! He has come a long way since then, biting and bullying people, running away, peeing in the house, tearing everything up, you name it! Charlie used to be the worst behaved dog we've ever known - my husband despised him for a long time. Now, even he sees that Charlie is a pretty good dog, thanks to the wisdom of Cesar Millan. I love him!

While writing this article, I heard my son yell at Charlie to get out of the kitchen (it is our house rule that if someone is eating, the dog stays out of the kitchen). Yelling? Oh, no... I explained to him that a dog will not likely obey you if you are frustrated or yelling. It is much better to CALMLY and silently use your body to communicate what you want. I told my son to use his arm to gesture, "Get over there," and if the dog doesn't do it he can get up and walk toward the dog, who will most likely comply by moving back. If the dog respects and trusts you, it will obey you. I can pretty much guarantee that the dog knows exactly what you mean! Dogs and kids both have an uncanny sense in reading true intentions! 

Charlie, our stubborn Shih-Tzu

Further Resources:

Meaning Business Part II; The Body Language of Commitment, Fred Jones, educationworld.com

"Seven percent. That’s how much speaking impacts your students. The other 93 percent is attributed to non-verbal communication. Part of that 93 percent is the way you use your voice—tone, volume, pace, enunciation, etc. The rest is body language." Michael Linsin, Body Language and Classroom Management

"Most teachers talk too much. Their voice is a looping soundtrack to every day—reminding, warning, micromanaging, and guiding students through every this and that. If you cut the amount of talking you do by a third, and focus only on what your students need to know, then what you say will have greater impact. Your words will reach their intended destination, and your students will begin tuning you in rather than tuning you out.How To Speak So Students Will Listen, by Michael Linsin

How To Improve Classroom Management By Talking Less, by Michael Linsin

"An adult does not demonstrate power to a child by yelling or threatening. True power is calm and purposeful." John Rosemond, family psychologist and author

"Obedience on the part of a child to legitimate adult authority figures is an act of trust; to wit, the child trusts that said adult is always acting in his or her (the child’s) best interest, even when the child does not like what the adult has done or decided. The child trusts; therefore, the child obeys. The opposite is equally true, by the way." John Rosemond, family psychologist and author

"Great leaders don't need to act tough. Their confidence and humility serve to underscore their toughness." Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek, YouTube

"Right or wrong, we in America expect our leaders to project a charismatic energy that infects and energizes everyone around them - consider Tony Robbins. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr .projected an energy that was what I call 'calm-assertive' - the ideal energy for a leader....... In our human landscape, (calm-assertive personalities) are few and far between, but they are almost always the most powerful, impressive, and successful people on the block. Oprah Winfrey ..... is the epitome of calm-assertive energy. She is relaxed, even-tempered, but undeniably powerful, and always in charge." Cesar Milan, Cesar's Way

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols