How Far in Advance do You Prep Materials?

papercutter copy

I am, by nature, a planner. I feel like if I don’t have things done three weeks early then I am, in fact, late. While some of you procrastinators out there may be thinking, “I wish I could be more like that!” don’t be too sure. While it’s true I’m usually prepared for the month ahead, I’m still in a tizzy trying to get things done for the month after that. Nothing’s ever done. Sigh.

So today I’d love to know, how far in advance do you prep materials? What time frame makes you feel ready and at ease? If I need 100 12”x12” pieces of drawing paper ready for April 3rd, I’m having those suckers cut, stacked and counted by March 20th at. the. latest. But I know that there are other teachers out there that do each day’s prep when they get to school. You teachers make me nervous.

While we’re on the topic, have you considered employing your students to help you with menial tasks? Choose a few responsible kids that never seem to leave the art room and give them special jobs. You’d be surprised how many kids would jump at the chance to hang out with you and sharpen pencils.

So spill, are you a planner or a procrastinator?

Does it work for you?

Do you wish you could do things another way? Let’s chat!


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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. 


  • Artrojectgirl

    I had no idea people did stuff so far in advance! Lesson plans yeah but if the material is not something you need to collect or get like paper…

    • I’m with you. I can’t imagine getting paper cut weeks in advance. About a week out is as good as it will get for me.

  • Laura M

    Wow.. At the high school we teach six classes a day ( approx 120 students) with two preps ( 1/2 an for lunch) We see these students each day. I am usually prepping a week ahead,( or doing a demo) It just there is no time in the day.. seriously..

    • I agree, Laura! I feel like I just don’t have time in my day either.

    • I agree, Laura! I feel like I don’t have time in my day either.

  • Danni

    Although I consider myself a planner, I find it takes up too much space to prep more than a week in advance. I work in a children’s museum so it’s a little bit different because we are talking about 100’s of people coming through the doors and doing an activity. I have people that help me prep items so I usually ask them to start doing that the week prior to the activity, and then as needed during the week of the activity.

    • So true about storage, Danni. At my current school, I’m lucky to have a big space to store materials, but I’ve worked in other schools where that wasn’t possible.

  • Vicky Siegel

    For me I like to be ahead, but it really depends on the week. Sometimes I have a lot to display and can’t get ahead with cutting paper, etc. But other times it seems like one week I display work, the next I am getting materials ready, the next I can make signs and gradesheets, etc. Also, when I have older elementary students (4th grade), depending on what they are doing, I can cut a little paper, walk around, cut some more, etc. I also have the older elementary students take down work and sort it, and do other odd jobs for me either when they are done early or during recess. The only time I am 3 weeks in advance is the beginning of the school year!

    • Good point, Vicky. It totally depends on the week. I’m not 3 weeks ahead ALL the time!

  • Laura

    I honestly cannot imagine prepping more than a day in advance, I just do not have the mental capacity for it. My room is very organized to begin with, so I get to school around 7:45, and by 8:30 I have all the stuff for all of my morning classes ready to go. Whatever is for the first class gets put directly on the counters, and while those classes work, I tend to prep the afternoon classes.

  • Doug

    I usually have about 10-15 minutes between classes. That is my prep time. Or maybe first thing in the morning. I have to admit at times I struggle with getting ready for my afternoon classes. But I usually get things together somehow anyway. I do alot of prep for projects. I make the kids to it. I’m not going to cut out a bunch of little parts for them to use. They can do that themselves. “I ain’t got time for that” -HAHA

  • Kristy

    Yikes, I’m cutting seconds before they come in the room! It is a miracle I haven’t lost a finger! :) Seriously, the furthest in advance I prep materials is the night before, unless I am teaching the same lesson to a different section in an earlier rotation. I teach elementary and have the same class for 5 days in a row, then switch to the other section of the same grade. Sometimes it makes sense for me to mass produce for classes that are coming a week ahead only because I am teaching the same lesson. But honestly, I often don’t even do that just in case I need to tweak something after teaching it the first time. I also get as many student helpers as possible. They take down (but never hang!!) and sort art work, clean glue bottles, cut string, clean counters, and I even have a couple kids I trust to organize my closet. They love it! They ask to come in during their recess time even.

  • Kristen

    I am the worst procrastinator!! I WISH I could plan ahead but it just isn’t in my blood! I am usually planning what I am teaching a day or two ahead of when I do the lesson, and sometimes come to school not knowing what I am doing that day with the kids. I often am cutting paper as they are walking into the classroom. I always feel like a chicken with my head cut off…running around aimlessly. I would love to be more organized but I just can’t seem to actually do it!

    • Sounds like we both need to find a balance, Kristen! I WISH I could be more relaxed!

  • Camille

    I am both. I will plan ahead and know what I want to do but then will procrastinate on getting samples and materials together.The sad thing is that I do all the research and plan in my head but fail to execute until the last minute. I cut paper right before class and sometimes during class. And now that I have ababy, no work gets done at home.

  • Lisa Hartz

    If it’s a new lesson I’ve never taught (which is a lot, because I’ve only been teaching 2 years), then I plan in my head about 2 weeks ahead, usually. I do the physical preparations usually the afternoon before, or when I get to school that day. I don’t like a cluttered room. If I have materials out and ready for one lesson that hasn’t started yet, it’ll bug me until the previous stuff it picked up.
    I often come up with a great lesson idea at the last minute that takes much more prep time than I think, so I have to come up with a one or two-day lesson quickly while I give myself time to prep for the larger lesson! This isn’t fun for my stress level, but sometimes the kids love the quick lessons just as much as the longer more involved ones!

    The hardest thing is making examples. My first class often doesn’t see one, and by the time my 6th class of the same grade comes in, I have finished, partially finished, and just started examples.

    • I hear you on the examples. It’s really nice to have the projects in steps so that the kids can see a beginning, middle and ending point. It takes a while for those to be built up! I found that I really got into the swing of things during my third year of teaching.

  • JABC

    well I am a last minute type of gal (unfortunately) I get overwhelmed if I have to cut 100 pieces of paper… sometimes I do i as the kids are walking in!! I feel the kids can do more than we tink they can.. get their own water, help with brushes.. etc.. for clay I do get all the materials together and do a a sample… BUT I make them get in line to get the clay! I don’t cut ahead of time. I plan mostly in my head but write in my plan book at the END of the week.. I’m doing research ALL the time though and sometimes if it’s an elaborate lesson I write a rubric so I know what to expect.

    • I’m the same way with clay. They can totally wait in line for three minutes.

  • Leah

    I’m totally the “prep in the morning for that day” girl. I plan each weekend for the following week because sometimes I just don’t know how far they will get in one class, so for me I don’t always know what they’ll be ready for. They always seem to take longer than I think they will! And right now I’m so busy getting ready for two art fairs and two art shows, I don’t have the time to prep that far ahead!!

    • I’m with you in regards to the art show prep, Leah. Mine is in two weeks and I’m not planning as far ahead as I’d like to. Putting on an art show is SO much work, but always so worth it!

  • Susan

    I have ideas for what I want to do with each grade for the year, but do not plan things more than a week ahead. I organize for each class the day before, usually in the afternoons, as I have breakfast duty in the morning. The lessons are written on the weekend, along with the power points. As for students helping out: when painting, I have the weekly helpers in my 3rd, 4th and 5th grades wash the brushes and change out water. I also make sure I put a wet sponge at each table, so the students can wipe up any paint accidentally left on the table.

    • I don’t have designated weekly helpers, but I do have kids that get done early help out with prep for the next class coming in. I write needed jobs on the board (fill water cups, pass out place mats, etc…) on the board. I always have more willing helpers than jobs!

  • Dana

    I used to plan a project ahead -so as one project was starting, I’d have everything cut out and ready for the next one, but with all the different resources and changes in the schedule, I would find a lesson that worked better than the one I had planned for then I had all of these papers cut and wasn’t using them! Now I have the lessons planned out, but don’t usually cut the paper or pour the paint until the kiddos are almost there (or as they are gathering materials)

  • JessicaS

    My detailed plans are together the week before. I always have a finished example. Paper is precut the day before or during planning time day of. Other than paper, my supplies don’t need much prep… my students take care of distributing the proper amount. I have helper jobs at each table. I regularly have 4 kiddos at each table. Each table leg is numbered 1-4. This number corresponds with a monthly helper job. There are four helper jobs: Sink Captains (seat 1), Floor Patrol (seat 2), Supply Specialists (seat 3), and Washcloth Crew (seat 4). If there is a 5th kid they get to help anyone. At cleanup time, students look at the board to see what supplies the next class needs on the table. As they clean up their mess they also set their tables up for the next class. If precut paper is needed, I snag a kid who is finished with his/her job and they help me pass out the precut paper to the tables. Once the supplies are on the table the kids distribute the paper/supplies to each seat… much like setting the dinner table. I time the kids and they can beat my 2 minute timer pretty much every time. Tempera paint is pre-poured into paint trays with screw top lids (school specialty 090905). All I have to write on the board is warm color tray/ cool color tray/ neutral color tray etc. The supplies the kids regularly access are on one bookcase divided into 6 containers each (one for each table). I pull out any special supplies and put them on the counter. Water bowls are rinsed refilled and stacked so that they are always ready for the next class that needs them even if it’s the next day. Another trick I use to keep glue bottles filled is to have all the kids take glue caps off after they are done with their project. They put the glue bottles back in their table glue tote and return it to the shelf. I can easily refill the bottles after school with their caps already removed! In order to distribute clay, I call all of the supply specialists (that means one kid per table) to pick up all the clay they need for their table from the back counter. My line is only 6 kids long and each kid takes the appropriate amount of pre-cubed clay. I treat other bulk supplies this way also.

  • Rachael Wick

    In the morning what I do is sort out which types of prepping can be done during a class once I get them going. I can cut paper, sort materials pour paint for the next class during a class. However, I need to think when planning lessons or replying to email so I only do that during prep. I try to be efficient in that way and plan my day accordingly.