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Reneé Weissenburger

At the end of each collaboration, teachers and artists meet to discuss ways in which our practiced art forms can be adapted for other projects. Teachers are always full of wonderful ideas, but one concern – that of materials – is invariable addressed. After all, materials cost money, right? Yes and no. With a bit of foresight and a little help from parents, all sorts of materials can be found for little to no money.

The easiest to find are natural materials. Tiny rocks, twigs, dirt, bark, seed pods, dandelion flowers and leaves can usually be found on school grounds. Dried leaves and flowers are less likely to crumble when they are painted with glue (for sealing). Students can also collect sand, shells and sea glass from the beach. These natural materials can be used in models, 3-d collage, assemblage, and artist’s books for a variety of subjects including animal habitats and ecosystems, Kumeyaay studies, community maps, missions and ranchos units, and environmental studies.

Some materials can be hand-made. If you have flour, a bit of salt and water, you can make your own clay. This formula works particularly well on a small scale. In the past, I’ve used it to create sea creatures in ocean habitats, sculpt tiny navigational artifacts and (once dried) painted it a glittery black to form igneous rocks.

Time and time again, I’ve been delighted at the materials parents are willing to provide if they know what to look for. Many families celebrate holidays with gifts. This means ribbons, gift bags, wrapping paper and embellishments are usually thrown away. A ribbon from a large gift can bind three books. A ribbon from a gift bag handle can bind one. Gift bags and wrapping paper can be cut up and used for collage, frames for text or pictures, and title labels in all sorts of projects. Metallic materials are especially useful in ancient world projects. With the popularity of scrapbooking, many families have all sorts of scraps left over. Discarded decorative papers, brads, jewels, fabric, twine and embellishments can be useful in classroom arts. Items around the house can also be repurposed. Old silk plants, outdated vase fillers (sea glass, beads, and stones), boxes, baskets, and tins can fill a collage or house an assemblage.

The best way to get materials is to let parents know what sort of materials your class desires. At the beginning of the year, generate a list. Make it clear that you are not requiring them to purchase items (although some families will do this on their own accord), but need them to collect natural, discarded and found objects for project-based learning. Once you learn (and teach) the art of scavenging, you be will amazed at how many resources are within your reach.