Tips for Collecting Classroom Artifacts When You Travel

Whenever I travel, I am always on the lookout for souvenirs for my classroom. I love pulling out the “real deal” when teaching culture lessons. Students are immediately engaged if they can see and touch a real art object.

Some favorite pieces from my collection include a weaving from Guatemala,

a carved mask from Mexico,

and a set of printing blocks from Japan.

When I’m shopping for my classroom on vacation, I always ask myself the following three questions before making a purchase.

1. Will the kids be able to touch and handle it?

If the answer is no, I generally don’t make the purchase. Being able to hold something is so much better than just looking, especially if you’re eight years old. The exception is if I can use something for a demonstration, like the ink stone I brought back from Japan. Even though I don’t let the kids touch it, they are engaged while watching me use it.

2. Can I easily tie it to an art lesson? 

Look for objects or artworks that are directly tied to the daily life, beliefs, or art practices of a particular culture such as masks, textiles, or pottery.

3. Will it fit in my classroom?

On the surface, this might seem like a silly question. If it fits in a suitcase, of course it will fit in a classroom! That said, I really believe in keeping an organized space for my kids, so if it can’t be put away somewhere, it’s a no go!

I’ll be the first to admit that I have been lucky with all the travel opportunities that have come my way. Between family trips and my husband’s job, my travel experience is much more extensive than I ever dreamed it would be. If international travel isn’t in your future, there are other great ways to acquire genuine artifacts for your classroom. Thrift stores, antique shops and garage sales are all great places to search for deals. If you’re not a fan of spending your own money on your classroom, ask if you can be reimbursed for these objects out of your yearly budget!

Insider tip: Another idea is to “bring back” a cool experience. Here I am with a calligraphy teacher in Kyoto! Search the web for places that might give lessons to visitors.

Are there any travel plans in your future? What trip has inspired you the most?

How do you use art objects in your classroom?

Amanda Heyn

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Those print blocks are awesome!  My grandparents traveled to Isreal and brought back a batik fabric wall hanging for me, the students love looking at it.  Thanks for sharing.

    • Traveling friends and family are a great resource too! 

  • I also like to take photos of myself in front of  museums, paintings, and milestones.  Then, I incorporate them into my Power Point for that lesson. The students get so excited to see their teacher in front of a real painting.  I also love your idea about brining home “expiriences” too! 

  • Judith Chabra

    My students are captivated with “real” artifacts that lead to art lessons.  I just returned from Kuna Yala and came home with 6 new Molas to add to my collection.  I also do what Jessica mentioned – if I am somewhere special that will help students make connections I have my camera ready.

    • Judith, that sounds like a wonderful getaway! I have yet to add an authentic Mola to my collection. Hopefully someday! 

  • Claudia Pitchford

    I too purchase “real” artifacts when traveling. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to receive a professional development grant and went “shopping” in Alaska. I brought home a whole suitcase of artifacts for my classroom and a good number of photos as well.

    I also was lucky enough to go to a Memphis, TN and see a George Rodrigue show. Not only did I meet him, get his autograph and photo with him. I was able to ask questions from my students. We even received an invitation from George to submit our version of Blue Dog to be featured on his website. He was ready to leave and I forgot one of the most important questions my students wanted answered. I asked his wife and she didn’t know.

    She asked George to answer the question and he gruffly said they had to leave. She then told him, “No the question is from the art teacher.” He immediately softened looked at me and said “Yes, what is your question?” My students wanted to know why Blue Dog started out with one set of dark marks above its eyes and now they are above and below. George thought about it and answered “I don’t know, keep watching and they may change again.” My students were thrilled and shocked to learn an artist said “I don’t know.”

  • Sarah

    I will taking a 2 week cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Not sure what I will purchse except an over top furry hat ;-).I already have Several Russian nesting dolls. I am really excited about the architecture. Any suggestions?

    • That sounds so exciting. I have never been to Russia, but even taking photos of yourself in front of some of the buildings like Jessica suggested would be great, inexpensive “souvenirs” to show the students. Fabric can also be a manageable souvenir- perhaps a pretty shawl with a traditional pattern?

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