Lauren Hodson | November 2018

Material Make-It Days: A New Art Project Idea

There is something magical that happens in a classroom when materials are spread out on a table and the possibilities are endless. There is something inspiring that happens when you see children manipulate pipe cleaners to make an invention or form foam pieces into a bouquet of flowers for their mom. When students have the chance to show their problem-solving skills, their critical thinking, and their ingenuity, something rich and meaningful happens.

In the art room, we have what we call, “Make It Days.” These are art class project periods focused on creativity, artistic freedom, and so much more.

What Are Make-It Days and How Do I Implement Them?

Goal: You must make something, in one class period, using only the available materials and following the given parameters.  

Materials are spread out on the art tables along with specific tools. These could be wire cutters, needle-nosed pliers, scissors, hammers, etc. The materials used can be anything that you have around the room. It is a fabulous way to get rid of some supplies that you have no use for anymore or extra supplies that you need to weed out like old fabric or yarn. When the materials are obscure or unconnected, the results can be more interesting.

Project Suggestions:

  • An Invention
  • A 2D work of Art
  • A Sculpture with or without a function
  • A Gift
  • A Miniature Version of Something in Real Life (Example: Airplane)
  • Parameters and Rules are set and explained

The parameters can focus on a specific skill you would like to cover. For example, if your students need more practice cutting or sorting, you can customize the parameters to fit. You can also use the parameters as a hook for the next project or give the day a theme. For example, if you are about to begin a unit on pinch pots, you can tell students that they must create a vessel. If you are about to introduce a project on bugs, then have students create a new species of insect. These themes can be random as well with no connection to future lessons or skills. Sometimes this is more fun.

Possible Themes:

  • Animals
  • People
  • Places
  • Food
  • Robots
  • Aliens/Monsters
  • Inventions
  • Container

Rules and Parameters

  • You have 5 minutes to Brainstorm your original idea. Your project might change as you work and evolve into something different, but you must start working after 5 minutes.
  • You can borrow or barter materials with other people and tables
  • You can change or manipulate the materials in any way. Give an example or explanation to the class while quickly brainstorming how you could change an item. If you have toothpicks on the table, ask students how they could use this material and how they could change the material. Can you cut it? Can you use them to stick objects together?
  • You do not have to use all of the materials, just ones that work with your project.
  • Students must finish in one class period.
  • You will share what you have created at the end of class.
  • You cannot use glue or tape. This is an optional parameter that I like to set because it leads to more innovation, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

Material Suggestions

  • Scraps of Paper
  • Scraps of Foam
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Fabric
  • Permanent Markers
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Wire
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Yarn
  • Cardboard
  • Toilet Paper Rolls
  • Beads
  • Buttons

Tool Suggestions

  • Scissors
  • Wire Cutters
  • Pliers
  • Hammers
  • Staplers
  • Hole Punchers
  • Needle and Thread

Wrap-Up Suggestion

  • Have students place all of their creations on a table
  • Hand each student a slip of paper or token of some kind
  • Have students place the token next to a creation that they like, have further questions about, think is the most interesting, or one that they would buy if they could.
  • This allows for flexibility based on time and creations. Try to ask questions or make comments about students whose work was not chosen. This allows everyone to participate in sharing their creations.

Try these Material Make-It Days in your room! These art class projects spark creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking. They use random supplies you might have taking up space in your room and they do not take too much time away from instruction. The things your students come up with will amaze you.

About the Author

Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.