In my first year of teaching, I got a one-day-a-week position in a grade 4/5 classroom and I sucked at it. It was rough coming in partway through the year and only being there once a week. I looked inexperienced, I was inexperienced, and I didn’t have the skills I needed to be successful yet. I had to teach all the science and art curriculum, but have everything wrapped up by the end of each day. It was brutal. To top if off, I was terrified of teaching art, a subject I had always struggled with.

Not only did I not like art, I walked into a class with a group of four boys that didn’t like art either. In fact, they hated it. It was incredibly hard to get them to engage in any of the art projects that we were doing in class. At first, they flat-out refused. After a few weeks of them sitting on the couch sulking and glaring at me, I finally leveled with them. I printed out the provincial art curriculum and handed them a copy.
               “Here’s the deal,” I said. “You don’t like art, and I get that. But if you don’t do some visual art this year, you’re going to fail art. Failing art would be ridiculous, because everyone has a different idea of what ‘good art’ looks like, so it’s almost impossible to fail if you do basically anything. I don’t want you to fail art. I’m assuming you don’t want to fail art. But I do know you want to play outside. I want some art to mark, you want the playground. We’re going to put those two things together.” I showed them the Big Idea in our curriculum that said “[a]rtists experiment in a variety of ways to discover new possibilities and perspectives” and said – “this is what I want from you. I want you to do some playground art. We can call it [in a fancy voice] ‘artistic experimentation’.”  

               Immediately, I got buy-in from all four boys. It was pouring rain outside the first time we did this, and they didn’t even care. Out into the rain they went with their papers and crayons and paint brushes. They had finally bought into one of my ideas. Did that buy-in last for the rest of the year? Not for all of them and not in every activity, but it completely changed my relationship with three of those boys and they would at least put a half-hearted effort into the rest of the art projects we did together. We also were able to develop a pretty good rapport, so even when they struggled to engage, we could level with one another pretty well.

Playground Art

I will say that I was only able to do this while the rest of the class worked on my original art plans because we had a playground directly outside of our exterior door. I could stand in the doorway and watch the boys and the class at the same time. However, you could try these ideas as stations with your whole class!

Teacher Tip: Unisex extra-large t-shirts make great paint shirts. Kids can crouch down and tuck their whole bodies into them for splatter painting!

Other Visual Art Ideas that ‘Art-Hating’ Students Have Loved:


And of course, art is more than just visual arts; it also includes dance, music, and drama! I’ve explained some of my favourite drama games in this post, and I’m always on the lookout for dance ideas because I am the world’s most awkward dancer.

Drama games that will have your students roaring with laughter

Do you have any other art ideas for kids who “hate art”? I’d love to read them in the comments!

Art for kids who hate art: Unconventional projects for inside and outside the elementary classroom. Background is a collage of various art projects.