Art Centers 2.0

This blog post contains some affiliate links to items that I have personally used and love.

Classroom management in the art room can be a tricky thing. That's why a few years ago I decided to try something new - I used art centers as the incentive in my classroom management plan.

So how does it work? Glad you asked!

In my classroom I have a table point system. When students are doing what they are supposed to be doing (coming in quietly, being on task, helping each other, cleaning up on time, etc), they receive table points. When they aren’t following directions (being too loud, being super off task, not cleaning up, etc), they lose them. To help me keep track of these points I use Class Dojo. Class Dojo is a free app/website created for teachers (learn more about it here). **Class Dojo did NOT sponsor this post. I just think they're awesome. :)
During my classes I typically have my projector on displaying the points on the board. I can give or take-away points from my tables directly from my computer and/or from the app on my phone and it updates in real time.
The way that I have it setup for my art room is that I have 6 classes set up (one for each grade-level).
Then in each class I have 8 "students" (one "student" for each of my table colors). The reason that I track points via tables instead of by individual students is because of the size and transience of the school I teach at. I teach approximately 1,200 students who mostly live in apartment buildings. Because of that, many of my students move away throughout the year and are replaced with new students. Tracking tables instead of individual students makes the system easier to keep up with since I don't have to constantly add and remove student names from classes. It also makes classroom management a bit easier since I'm not having to constantly be looking out for 25-30 students behaviors at the same time (instead it's just the collective efforts of 8 tables).
Since I see my students multiple days in a row before they rotate to their next special, I have only one class for each grade-level. At the end of their rotation I just reset their points so it's ready to go for the next group. If you don't have this type of multiple-day rotation, you could always set up a class for each classroom teacher you see.

So what is the motivation for students to earn points? Their ability to take part in my art centers!

The number of points each table has determines which art centers they can participate in during free time (once a project is finished). Each center has a point value assigned to it. Once a table has that many points or more, they can use that center. If the table does not have that many points, they cannot (and don't worry.. your students will police it for you). The way I determine how many points each center is depends on the interests of my students. If I know they’ll really enjoy something (like jewelry center), I give it a higher point value. If it's something not too special, it has a lower point value.
Points are NOT deducted when a student chooses to do a center.

My favorite part about this system is that is rewards my students with fun art experiences instead of tangible items (like candy). It also keeps them engaged and typically out of trouble while other students are finishing up their work.

So what centers do I have in my room?

Occasionally I'll switch a center out.. but currently in my room I have...

Classroom Library: 0 points

Students are always welcome to look at and/or read the books I keep in my classroom. I have a pretty sizable collection of picture books that I've accrued over the years (many of which I use with my little ones to inspire their art lessons). My admin loves it too! What a great way to incorporate literacy! :)

White Boards: 1 point

This center is the one fun giveaway that I have for my students who don't have a lot of points. The reason that I do this is because I still want my students to be engaged. If there aren't any fun and engaging low point centers, you might find students acting up because they're bored (and that's the last thing you want when the rest of your class is busy finishing up their art projects)!
I normally stock up on mini white boards during back to school time at Wal-Mart.. but this pack on Amazon looks promising.
This center is made up of lacing cards for students to practice sewing/weaving/lacing (whatever you want to call it) on. This center is just a practice center and does not give students anything to take home.

How to Draw Books & Free Draw: 2 points

I have a bunch of How to Draw books that my kids LOVE using to help them develop their drawing skills. It's important to have a wide variety of subject matter so you can be sure to peak student interest. I have a book on dragons, graffiti lettering, Pokemon, Nickelodeon characters, farm animals, marine animals, household pets, etc...

Pattern Blocks: 3 points

I had a TON of these math pattern blocks donated to my classroom a few years ago. So now I have them split up into 8 buckets and use them for centers (my kinders also use them a lot). Students can get pretty creative on their own with these. I've found that my little ones like making things like food and animals, while my older students create more complex things like castles and symmetrical designs.
Hexagon towers are also a pretty popular choice school-wide. How many can they stack before the tower comes toppling down?!

Texture Rubbing: 4 points

I do texture rubbing quite a bit with my younger students in some of their art projects... so this center is usually a fun throwback for a lot of my older students.
I have a bunch of texture plates that I purchased in the past as well as a few that I made myself from things like shelf liner, textured cardstock, cardboard and glue, etc.
Students place a sheet of paper overtop of the textured surface and then use the side of a crayon to rub on top of the paper to capture the textured surface below.

Puzzles: 5 points

I have a bunch of 24-piece and 49-piece puzzles, as well as a couple 100-piece puzzles. I also have 3 big floor puzzles that my kinders really love.
One thing I like doing with my older students is having puzzle races. I have 6 49-piece puzzles.. so sometimes we'll have a competition where the kids race to see who can put their puzzle together first. Every once in a while I'll face the winner in a head-to-head final round competition. :)

Origami: 6 points

So many of my students love origami so I printed out a bunch of simple to complex origami instruction sheets that I found online and put them into plastic sleeves for my students to reference.
My biggest pet peeve with this center: when kids leave their unwanted half-folded sheets of paper in the bucket. 😖

Spirograph: 7 points

I know what you're thinking - well it's either one of two things. Either you're like "WHATTTTT?! They still sell Spirographs?!" (you were likely born in the 80s or earlier) or you're like "Uhh what's that?" (#millenial - not judging).
Spirograph is a fun geometric pattern drawing toy. It takes a second to teach the kids how to use it.. but once they get it it'll keep them occupied for a while. Who knew drawing radial symmetric patterns could be so much fun?

KEVA Contraptions: 7 points

This center is a new one that I purchased this year off of Amazon. I wanted some more building/STEAM-type activities and this one had great reviews.
The kit I bought came with 200 little wooden planks and a couple balls. Students use the planks to build a contraption for the balls to travel along. My kids liked it so much I invested in another 2 kits (so I now have 600 planks). It's fun watching them come up with their own designs.

K'NEX: 8 points

I was never really into K'NEX as a child myself (I was a Lego kid through and through), but I've found that some of my students really enjoy this center.
I left the building instructions book in the center box, but most of my students just come up with their own creations instead (just a heads up if your students are like mine - about 75% of their creations will resemble fidget spinners).

Play-Doh: 10 points

This center is a huge motivator for my students!
Who doesn't like building stuff with play-doh?!
My only issue with this center was that when I left the doh in their original containers, my students would often not put the lids on all the way, so it would accidentally dry out. So to correct the problem, I got some plastic twist-top containers that I now use to store the play-doh. Problem solved!

Jewelry Center: 14 points

This center is the highest point value center in my classroom. At jewelry center, students can make up to 2 things to take home with them.
My kids get really excited about this center (both girls and boys alike). They love getting the opportunity to create something they can wear around. :)
Here's a link to my favorite stretchy-string that I use in this center!

If you're looking for materials for your art centers, I suggest checking out my Amazon List for Art Center materials!

So that's how I incorporate centers into my classroom management plan! Do you have art centers in your classroom? What types of centers do you use? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below! :)


  1. Love these ideas! Does the table have to agree on one center to take to their table, or do they just individually go get out what they want to do?

  2. Hi There! This is so amazing!! Thanks for all the ideas!!
    I also have the MANDALA center, where with markers they can do Mandala Art. They Love it!

  3. Hi! I just stumbled upon this post and I'm really liking it! I also have well over 1000 students a year so think using Dojo this way could be helpful. Do you ever reset points or do they just continue to accumulate throughout the year?

    1. The points reset at the end of each rotation (I saw my kids for 5 days in a row, then wouldn't see them for a few weeks). So they reset after 5 days.