Classroom Management: Keeping Art Materials in the Art Classroom or Preventing Student Theft

Do you have trouble keeping Art materials in the in the Art classroom?

Maintaining Art room resources is one of the biggest concerns for any Art teacher. Often, we are seen as a supply closet of sorts and colleagues forget that in lieu of textbooks, we have materials. When the materials run out, our class is very difficult to teach. Finding the right balance of being warm and sympathetic enough to share, but still keeping boundaries can be tricky.
But, this post is not about that. It is about flagrant student theft. I’ve taught for seven years and I’ve never seen such a student thieving problem.. .

I received 120 permanent markers in my supply order earlier this year. As of the end of last quarter, every single marker has been stolen. I went and purchased 40 permanent markers at my local Target on Wednesday night for my classroom. On Thursday, I explained the theft and the new marker purchase to my students. I told them I would count out and count back in the markers. By 2nd period I was already missing one marker. When I held the class from dismissal, we waited ten minutes with the marker still not showing up. In exasperation, I let the kids go. I repeated this process two more times, and by the end of the day, I was down six markers.

I was also seeing red.

Today, I came up with an even tighter system. I explained it to students and was met with a lot of disrespectful comments about how permanent markers only cost a dollar. I explained that those dollars add up and they mostly add up to us not having markers in Art when we need them. . . And, that adds up to us not doing cool projects because we lack the materials. As they say in the South: “I’m done playin’ with y’all.”

At the end of the day, ALL of my markers were back in my classroom.

Here is my new, tighter, system:
I built a marker caddy labeled with a number. I then put a masking tap flag on each marker and numbered that. Then, I created a logout/login sheet with the names from my student rosters. Students have to come to me to get a marker. I dispense the marker and the students must write that marker number next to their name on the class roster. When students return the marker, they must initial next to the marker number on the class roster. If any markers fail to return, the student responsible for that marker receives a zero for his/her daily grade. It is timely, but it creates a lot of accountability. I also noticed that students were more likely to turn their marker in as soon as they were finished with it. I believe this is because they were afraid of losing the marker and/or having a friend pick it up when they weren’t watching.

I’m so proud of the marker caddy I built. The kids actually really like it. One student said: “Did you build that Ms. J.? That is swagg!!” In fact, I liked it so much I built a few more caddies for scissors, glue bottles, and lino cutters. I was playing with the idea of making one for Xacto Blades, but I prefer to keep those safely locked away in a metal sharp box. The caddies are super cheap, super easy, and super fast to make.

Step 1: Procure some floral foam. A lot of small floral foam bricks were donated to my classroom years ago.

Step 2: Use some cylindrical object to push spaced holes in the foam. I used a crayola marker.

Step 3: Join several pieces of smaller foam together to make one larger brick.

Step 3: Cover the foam brick with masking tape. You don’t have to cover the foam, but I suspect the students would smoosh their fingers into etc. You could also wrap the foam brick with paper, but the masking tape sticks and helps it keep shape better in my opinion.

Step 4: Use an Xacto Blade and cut small x’s into the holes you just covered with tape.

Step 5: Number your holes with permanent marker.

Step 6: Put numbered masking tape flags onto your markers if you wish.

Step 7: Push your markers into your holes.

Step 8: Voila! You now have a marker caddy.

Here are a few of the other caddies I built:

A glue one to aid students in storing the glue bottles upright.

A lino cutter one to keep track of all those blades!

A scissor one to do a quick eye check that all sharps have been returned.


32 thoughts on “Classroom Management: Keeping Art Materials in the Art Classroom or Preventing Student Theft”

  1. What a clever idea! BUT, what a pain that you have to go to all that trouble!!!! I share a classroom with other teachers and after school enrichment classes. I never know what will be used (or misused!). I have taken to hiding things I really value. The next step will be locking them up in my cabinet (I think I am the only one with a key!!)

  2. Awesome! I'm elementary art so I don't have much of a problem with theft, save for the occasional incident. But I love the idea for glue! I HATE that kids leave glue bottles fallen down and then they clog or worse, drip and puddle. Thanks for the idea!

  3. It is so funny you posted this because it is exactly what I am going through. I am going to use this method. I am down to a limited number of sharpies now and I refuse to buy any. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone! UGH. I know! It is so frustrating to spend so much time managing theft! On the other hand, I'm glad that some of you have found something useful here. Kristina, for the glue, you have to really push the glue bottles in hard. This gives a basic shape. Then I took a plastic spoon and scooped out a bunch of the foam to give it more depth. I hope that helps!

  5. I knew a teacher that would have students take off a shoe in exchange for use of the supplies and wouldn't get their shoe back until the supply was returned. 🙂 Considering the expense of their shoes, that might work.

  6. very good! I do the same thing, minus the checkout book. I am looking at a rack on my desk right now. I made mine by taking a 1 foot chunk of 2×4 and hot glueing the caps of old crayola markers to it. One glance and you can see if all your supplies are there. Keep up the good work!

  7. I've been teaching art for almost 10 years and I've never had quite as bad a theft problem as I've had during the last school year. My budget is tight, and getting tighter too. I also teach at a school where almost every single student is on free and/or reduced lunch, yet their parents have money for expensive clothes, shoes and (this is a new one for me) expensive acrylic nails….for students as young as third grade. SIGH. Today, I noticed one of the new ways students are trying to steal from the art room. They 'accidentally' knock the item they want to the floor, then kick it towards their backpacks and coats (lined up alone the far wall of my classroom). I've confronted several students just this week who had taken packages of Model Magic Clay and stuffed it into their shirts. When confronted, they said that they were not stealing. I had a wave of thefts last year as well, and I decided to make it a classroom rule. “DO NOT STEAL ART SUPPLIES OR TOOLS FROM THE ART ROOM.” I've been accused (by my principal) or being too harsh and too negative, but I'm sick and tired of having my supplies and tools stolen!!!

  8. Mrs. Art Teacher – Thank you so much for your comment!! I've used the shoe method with success before. But, honestly, I'd be taking at least one shoe from every student on the days we use the permanent markers. And, their shoes are $$, and they are protective of them. So, when I request a shoe, a big argument usually erupts and the student concludes that if they don't have a marker, they don't have to do the assignment, and then that means they don't have to give over a shoe. Also, the kids steal one another's shoes. Just this week another student knocked a kid over in the hallway so he could steal his shoes while the kid was on his rear. So, I don't want to trade babysitting $1 markers for babysitting $100 sneakers! Can you believe how crazy all of this is?!?!?Mr. MintArt – I like the sound of your system!! I love that you are re-purposing old marker caps; that is awesome!Anonymous – I'm sorry to hear that you are having a tough year. I haven't seen the “accidental drop and kick” yet. THAT IS CRAZY. I'm sure you keep your stuff locked up already. . .But, I have found that really helps me. I just keep out what is needed for the project, and even then, I give them exactly what is needed. I'm sure you are already doing all of that; kids are wily and manage to get their hands on stuff! I think sometimes in Title I schools there are so many issues that sometimes administrations just focus on the “major” stuff and let the rest of it go. The issue is that “everything else” can be pretty major too (like stealing). I'm incredibly fortunate in that my principal really gets it and is supportive. . .But, I have def. not always had that experience! I'm also dealing with a total lack of personal responsibility when it comes to students! I'm not sure what that is about . . .Maybe it is just middle school? Anyway, if you ever need to vent (privately) just shoot me an email . I'm 100% willing to read and listen!!!

  9. Whoa! Those caddies are amazing!! You should put a patent on them! Kudos to you for being so proactive and organized. I agree, since I've been teaching art, theft has steadily gone up and up each year. Sharpies and x-acto knives are the number one things to get stolen from my room. I used to be able to leave all my supplies out, including my digital camera. Once that was stolen, I knew things had changed permanently for the worse- I was soooo sad and sooo disappointed in my students as I had previously trusted them 100%. Whenever something is stolen in my room, I give the old 'karma' lecture and tell them something precious to them will be stolen next. Anyway, thanks for sharing these great tips- I'm going to pin them now!

  10. OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How FANTASTIC!!! What a great idea! I'm having the same problem!! I'm making a trip to the store this weekend for some floral foam!! Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Craig

  11. If you haven't considered for this year… you should apply for GAEA's awards- or even NAEA. I received IAEA Secondary Art Educator of the year 10 years ago and soon after was elected to serve 2 1/2 terms as VP of Illinois Art Education Association- the networking and learning opportunities are priceless.

  12. Thanks soo much for this!!!! I just made mine. I linked you on my blog…here is a link if you want to check it out I also know how you feel, teaching in a Title 1 school myself I deal with a lot of the same issues. Seems like they feel everything should just be given to them and they have no respect for things! Thankfully I have a few good kids but last year was hell! While I was out and they had a sub they how glued drawers shut on a bunch of my drafting tables and did some other things! But for the most part it's a great lil school haha! I guess no matter where you go EVERY place has its little problems. I hope that you have a great year! Love your blog and will be back to visit. Again, thanks for this! One quick question…how did you do your sign-out and sign-in sheet? I tried to zoom in so I could check it out but it wouldn't let me in too close haha!!

  13. This is wonderful! I found your blog on Pinterest. I was trying to figure out a way to do something similar but I never once thought of foam! I started labeling all of my supplies, counting each time but like you, things go missing. My biggest worry is always with the sharp tools – lino cutters, etc. because in the middle school level someone will always try to do something stupid, even if they think it's funny. I am definitely going to have to get some foam! Thanks!

  14. Love the Idea. I especially love the upgrade to the colorful duct tape. I keep some supplies for kids and some for me. My stuff is off limits. Yes, the kids are quick. They love the Sharpies. The beauty of this… no one leaves until I have them all. Ticket to Leave. Have the most likely offenders go first. You could make it a job. I teach 8th grade English. I used to teach engineering… lots of little things… The jobs cause the kids to take some responsibility. Yes, I am in a Title I, underprivileged school. The other thing I do is talk about Community a lot. We are a community. We work together, we clean together. It helped a great deal in keeping my room clean. The kids would say, “I didn't do it.” I would say, “We are a community, you help out.” It worked really well.

  15. I also use library cards and envelopes (available from school supply store) to “check out” some items. Student signs the card (numbered to match the item number, which is on the envelope taped to the item, on on the zip lock bag the numbered item is stored in) and returns the object at the end of class. I put the card back in and store until the next use. Any left over cards, I know who has it. Theft of x-acto knives and lino tools= 0! I also sign out brushes at the start of class…students sign a sheet of notebook paper with the number of brushes they took. At the end of class, they wash their brushes and return them. I inspect the brushes, send them back if not clean, and cross their name off of the list. My brushes are never dirty and can be used all year!

  16. Great ideas! I think not all is theft but sometimes they put that without thinking with their own materials…but the end result is the same…you lose your materials!At one point I was in charge of the computers (a long time ago) and I assigned a specific computer for each kid of each class because some students where removing some of the letters of the keyboard…that was not fun…but assigning the computer did the trick because they knew that I would know who was stealing!

  17. A variation – I have 3 bungee cords connected at each desk in my room, 1 for the marker, 1 for the glue stick and 1 for the scissors. Kids sign in for each space and if anything goes missing after their period, their parents get billed for it at the end of the term. This means I don't have to sit by the box of materials to watch out for their return and can walk around helping the kids.

  18. I have used the block system of numbered supplies in my art room. I had a colleague build me a block out of two glued together 2×6's with holes drilled in deep enough for sharpies and scissors or anything that needs depth. For x-actos I use builder's styrofoam insulation. I have this product in my art room for relief style prints so I use a dented piece. I use the styrofoam for anything that can “stab” in like cutting knives and art pencils. I use two different sign out methods depending on the material. A sign out sheet like you are using for things that are a set like colored sharpies, but I also use a class list method and number down the side beside their alphabetical list for items that are all the same like knives or black sharpies or scissors. Students then have a number that is theirs for the year, “Anderson” #1, “Wochuck” #30. The new enrollments get added to the bottom of the list. At then end of class I simply look to see what is out and ask the specific student where their item is. Anything not nailed down will walk out the door it seems so I too lock up anything not in use. Great blog, I am looking forward to exploring a little more. Thanks!

  19. Wow, I could have written the beginning of this post! Same type of kids, same attitude and same problems with theft. I am not supposed to even have sharpies any more because when they get stolen they get used for graffiti in the bathrooms. For colored pencils i have them in numbered baggies and they have to sign them out. Next year I am adding the new organization of a clear plastic door hanging shoe bags that will also be numbered to hold the baggies, so I can have an easy visual for when they go missing. Plus I am going to have the kids make an ” artistic license” with their pictures that I will laminate. They will need to swap the ID for the pencil bag.

  20. I am middle school art. It is very tough keeping things in the room. I sign out pencils, markers etc. It is so time consuming but once you slip up your materials are bound to grow legs and walk away!!!

  21. When I read your post I felt that I was reading my own thoughts! Thanks for such an awesome idea. It sounds as though we have the exact same group of children. I will use this in my classroom.

  22. I googled “what to do when students' steal art projects” and found this…however, my problem today is theft of another student's artwork. I have kids steal my stuff all the time and have done the same thing as you. Ice cube trays work well too for pencil sharpeners, erasers and other small items. But I had a kid take another kids' project today, ERASE their name, and write their name on top. When confronted, he said “I couldn't find mine.” Really?!?! Really?!!?

  23. I use gold spray paint over things like markers, scissors, and glue bottles, not solid, but enough that it really shows. Students know that the gold items belong to me, and are not to leave the room, or get deposited into their pencils boxes. It has served me well for many years now.

  24. I teach high school. I too have a lot of theft in my classroom. Sharpies are the number one thing that walks out the door, followed by needle tools used in ceramics. For several of my classes I give each student a kit of tools (I use the plastic tubes that crystal light comes in). These tools are listed on a contract along with the price. At the beginning of the semester the student initials beside each item that is included in their kit and signs the contract at the bottom. At the end of the semester we go through the kit one on one to make sure everything is there. Missing items are totaled and the fee is added to their account in the office. I keep the kits locked up. I have a crate for each classes' kits. In between classes I get the crate out, as the students come into the room they grab their kit and put it back in the crate when they exit. Students are less likely to steal when they know they will be charged for missing items. Now the problem is students stealing from other students kits when they have their back turned. UGH!

  25. This sounds like my students through and through! I'm so happy to find a blog that deals with a lot of the same issues that I deal with. I read so many and think “Yeah, in a perfect world I could do that.” Working with inner city kids is hard and you really have to think through every action. You have some very realistic and effective suggestions. THANK YOU

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