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 Gluestick Pledge, The Kindergarten Chronicles, Facebook video

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

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