Free Choice in the Art Room

YES, please! You’re probably thinking, “What!? Are you nuts? Nope, not nuts. Free choice is a great way to allow students to explore their creativity. Have a dedicated area or time for free choice can allow students to use their imaginations. I am sure that I don’t have to tell you that creativity helps students to develop critical thinking & problem solving skills. Why NOT encourage your students to expand on these skills? We have all heard our students shout out “I’m done! Now what!?”. You will always have early finishers no matter what you do to draw a project out, It’s just a given. So instead of giving them a sheet of paper and saying “Go draw something”, give your students the opportunity to explore their creativity & get them thinking like artists with free choice centers.  

Another great thing about centers, they make great Emergency SUB PLANS!!!

Setting Up Centers:
You may want to consider setting up 4 or 5 different centers that your students can rotate through.

Some great options for centers are Library, Partner Activities, Drawing Center & Puzzles & Origami. If you have access to technology in your art room utilizing art apps is another great option. 

Think about setting a 15-20 minute limit on centers, this way you do not have students staying at only one center.

Library: Students can choose a book from your art library to read.
Partner Activities: There are so many a-ma-zing are games out for kids. You can include:
Drawing: All you need is drawing paper or student sketchbooks & pencils or even dry erase boards. You can include How to Draw books, Roll & Draw worksheets, zentangles (my kids LOVE them!), Ping pong ball drawing  and observational drawing.
Puzzles: Head out and pick up a couple fun & engaging puzzles for your kids. Make sure it’s something that can be put together in the 15-20 minute time limit. My favorite is a puzzle that can change according to how the kids put it together. It allows kids to use their creative thinking skills! It was purchased at Barnes & Noble. 
Origami: What kid isn’t floored by some amazing origami!? All you need is origami papers and instructions on a 5-6 animals. You can switch the animals out as students begin to master them, this will keep students from getting bored with it.

Technology: There are a gazzilion fabulous apps out there for young artists. Why not take advantage of them? Just a few examples are ArtRage, Sketchbook Express & Adobe Illustrator Draw. Did I mention that the Lourve even has an app & it’s free!

Helpful Tips:

  • Students should only be allowed to participate in free choice once they have completed the lesson to the best of their ability. **This means that you may have to send kids back to finish their projects before they can “have fun”.
  • Students will need to be able to mover freely around the room
  • All
    needed materials should be located where students can access the. It’s a
    good idea to have a dedicated area in your room for free choice. This
    will help you to cut down on kids roaming around while others are still
    finishing projects.
  • Keep in mind, you may need to set up a new set of expectations for your free choice area. 
  • Only allow your students to use dry supplies during centers – no clay, paint, ect.  


  1. I'm a huge fan of centers, too! I usually incorporate some style of choice time into early finisher activities. Do you sometimes have kids that rush through your centers? If so, what's your strategy for managing that? Confession: Sometimes I feel a little overextended between coaching those early finishers and helping the ones who are finishing up the project!

  2. Great question! This can be difficult. I really stick to my 15-20 minute per center rule. I also like to remind kids that I expect quality work even during center time. By telling kids that they can't switch centers until their time is up I usually see kids going back and trying again.

    Me too! It can get a little chaotic, I think it's just about finding a happy medium between working with the students who are still finishing the project and engaging those in the centers. It's all trial and error.

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