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Keep Your Art Students Safe with These Tips

By alisonc

This article explains some of the health and safety hazards elementary art educators need to be aware of in order to ensure their classroom is safe and hazard-free.

Safety First

Learning is paramount in the art classroom, but safety runs at a close second. All art teachers need to be aware of the potential health and safety hazards posed by certain art and craft materials, and choose these materials accordingly. While teachers can mitigate some of the effects of exposure by instructing students on the proper use of certain materials and having them follow rigorous safety procedures, it is also necessary for art teachers to pre-empt these situations by evaluating the suitability of certain supplies. Children in grades K-6 are especially vulnerable due to their small size, higher metabolic rates, and immature immune systems.

Materials to Avoid

For students in grades K-6, there are a number of products that should be avoided all together. These include products that pose inhalation hazards, such as:

  • clay in dry form
  • clay glazes and pigments
  • powdered paints
  • wheat paste
  • any type of aerosol, such as fixative and spray paint

Other products to avoid include commercial and cold-water dyes, hazardous solvent-based products, and products containing heavy metals or asbestos fibers, including:

  • rubber cement
  • rubber cement thinner
  • turpentine
  • paint thinners
  • solvent markers
  • instant papier-maché

Good substitutes for these materials include water-based markers, glues, adhesives, and paints, vegetable-based dyes, and papier-maché made from flour and water, water and white paste, or Elmer’s water-based clear papier-maché paste.

Hazards in the Art Class

One of the most obvious classroom hazards in the K-6 art classroom is a sink with running water. The art teacher must have a strict set of rules pertaining to proper use of the sink and running water, as water spilled on the floor presents ample opportunities for students to slip and fall. For example, the teacher may consider minimizing the students’ use of the sink by placing large cans of water inside the sink’s bowl and requiring students to place used paintbrushes inside the can instead of standing at the sink and washing individual brushes. The teacher also must make sure there are no electrical outlets or objects near the sink, and that students should know how to use potentially dangerous supplies such as scissors.