6 awesome and messy hands-on art projects that can double as classroom lessons

Making a mess can be a good thing, especially when it comes to being creative. Kids are naturally drawn to art projects and things they can dig into and get messy. Plus studies have shown time and time again how hands-on learning helps students retain information better and longer. This is the case even at a young age, as this study shows with toddlers learning about food. It’s also the case with older students, as you can see from this science oyster project with New York City students. 

As an educator, you likely already know this and see it regularly with your own students. When they have an opportunity to be hands-on, they enjoy the experience more and they learn about it better. Since so many students look forward to art, this is a perfect opportunity to get messy through learning. Here are some great projects to consider. 

Learn about color mixing with tie dye. 

Tie dye has some great built-in lessons in math and science. Plus it’s so popular right now. Your students will love being able to say they created their own design on a t-shirt, dish towel, socks, or any other material you have. Start with a tie-dye kit like the one here, and have your students read all the directions. They’ll have to put their math skills to the test with mixing and learning the right ratios. Then they’ll also get to practice color mixing, using the base colors that come in the kit. For older students, you can even talk chemical reactions and how the colors stay on the fabric permanently. This project takes a few days to complete, and it will definitely be one your students remember. 

Jacquard® Tie-Dye Kit

Learn about different cultures through needle crafting. 

Needle felting might seem like a complicated project at first, but it’s actually really achievable for students 10 and up. The act of felting is a process that involves wool and a barbed felting needle. For this project, students will first work on their design, and then they’ll felt it together. This kit has everything you need to make 24 projects, including a lesson plan. This project is a fun way for students to also learn about other cultures. With this one, they’ll be learning about the art of Molas, related to the Guna culture. 

Needle Felted Mola Classroom Kit with Lesson Plan

Learn about the stars with your own telescope. 

No matter what the season is, you can always talk to your students about stars or specific constellations. So here’s a fun art project they can do while learning about our solar system—make miniature telescopes! The simple cardboard designs, available in a kit of 12, are a fun way to get kids excited about taking their lesson outside. Plus, you can make this project as simple or messy as you want, from stickers, painting, and even glitter (if you dare). Try to pair this with a lesson about what constellations are visible during certain times of the year. After you learn about different patterns and stars, challenge students to go out on a clear night to see what they can discover. Also, here are some more outdoor learning activities to check out.

Hygloss Make-Your-Own Telescope Kit

Learn about butterflies while you make your own.

Along with your science lesson about butterflies, invite students to make their own little butterfly ornament with this project. They will use watercolor paint or markers for the wings. Then if you spray with warm water, you can see the colors bleed together for a unique design. This goes along great with a lesson learning about parts of an insect. You can even look up butterflies in your area and learn about the most common species. The kit here includes enough material to make 75 butterflies. 

Roylco® Butterfly Ornaments Craft Kit

Learn about Native American culture with dreamcatchers. 

The best thing about dreamcatchers is you can truly make them your own. There are so many ways to customize them, so it’s a good way for students to express themselves. Before this art project, talk to your students about dreamcatchers and the history they have related to Native Americans. The kit here has enough for 24 dreamcatchers, including hoops, jute, beads, and more. You can also supplement with other art items. Encourage students to research how Native Americans made dreamcatchers, and ask them for their ideas to make them unique. 

Nasco Dreamcatcher Kit

Learn about famous artists with quilt blocks. 

Encourage your students to make their own art by painting quilt blocks. This project is a good way to combine learning about famous art, artists, or art styles. It’s best to pick a specific lesson like art styles or famous works of art. Then have your students recreate those styles or art by using this kit, which has enough for 30 blocks. What’s great about this project is that it covers a wide range of skills and interest. Students can focus on simple designs, or they can really challenge themselves. You might even look for step-by-step art tutorials on YouTube if your students would enjoy that.  

Ultimate Quilt Painting Kit

Art is an awesome excuse to get messy and be hands-on with learning. As you think about other art projects throughout the year, look for ways to combine them with classroom lessons you already have planned. This will help students retain information and get more out of their learning for years to come. 

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