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This post and topic has been edited into a sort of "Art Workshop Manual." It draws heavily on posts originally made by members Neil MacQueen, Lisa Martin, Carol Hulbert, and comments collected from other posters on our previous website. 

You are welcome to copy and use it with your teachers.  Your additions and insights are welcome. Art Workshop project ideas and techniques can be found in the Workshop Design forum, as well as, in the many art lessons posted at this site.

An Exemplary Sunday School Art Workshop Lesson 

psalm8artIn 2017, the Writing Team revised and posted a terrific Art Workshop lesson plan written by Carol Hulbert for our Psalm 8 "When I look at your heavens," lesson set. As we worked with it, we realized that it's one of the finest examples of  how and why to teach a Bible story with real art. 

The lesson demonstrates how art materials and artistic techniques can combine to REINFORCE key scriptures, concepts and life application. The Psalm 8 art project uses several familiar art mediums in unique and expressive ways. It is inexpensive, scalable, and broadly graded. It also produces a true work of art students will be proud to show off. It may just be the most perfect Sunday School art lesson ever posted at   As with all Writing Team lessons, it is only open to Supporting Members.

(Pictured above: The Psalm 8 art project uses a combination of "crayon resist" and watercolor. It examines the swirling/embracing style of Van Gogh's starry night as a clue to our own expression of the Psalmist's words.)

The Art Workshop in the Rotation Model

What is an art "workshop" doing in Sunday School?

The term "workshop" describes a space that's permanently set up to facilitate its medium, and isn't merely a box of crayons sitting on a shelf, or stack of costumes in the closet.

"Art Workshop" also describes a lesson staffed by a teacher who likes art, and isn't simply a volunteer looking to fill class time with a craft project. In the Rotation Model, that teacher teaches that art lesson to a new class each week. Because they use the same project each week with different groups of kids, they can afford to take the time to come up with real projects that require preparation. But because they repeat their art lesson each week for a different group of kids, they only have to prepare and collect the materials once, which saves prep time.

It was the Art Room of our elementary school memories that inspired the original creators of the Rotation Model to create an Art Workshop for Sunday School. Our art rooms were exotic places with exotic smells, messy tables, and shelves full of exciting materials and possibilities we couldn't wait to get into and get hands-on with.  We wanted the same sense of anticipation and learning excitement in our Sunday School. 

We not only wanted to bring back the excitement of a real art room atmosphere, we wanted a Sunday School that harnessed the power and inspiration of artistic expression as a medium for learning God's Word.

The problem was that our teachers and kids were captive of traditional curriculum's reliance on "coloring pictures," pre-printed handouts, and construction paper "quickie crafts."  

But how? We had tried throwing more complex projects at our teachers, but always, we seemed to come back to "cut and paste." That's where the inspiration of our childhood experiences informed us:   A dedicated art room, with dedicated "art" teachers!  That idea of dedicating and decorating a room to a specific teaching approach, and dedicating a teacher, and rotating classes into it, was the inspiration and proof for the creation of the Workshop Rotation.

Converting classrooms into art 'workshops' was relatively easy.

And the idea of "rotating" classes into that workshop to be taught by the art teacher, who didn't rotate and repeated the lesson each week, was a tried and true idea.

Finding more artistic projects and lessons wasn't that hard either. Most churches have shelves of creative curriculum supplements collecting dust. 

The hard part for us in Sunday School was switching our mindset from "craft" projects to art projects. The traditional model had given us a lot of bad habits and expectations.  And even to this day in some Rotation lessons, we see art giving way to craft.

It this point about "art vs craft" where this article will focus most of its attention. 

The Problem with "Arts and Craft" in Traditional Sunday School

1. In the traditional model, most teachers simply don't have the time to come up with higher concept or more complex art projects. When you change the story each week, you end up doing a lot of quickie "Cut Here, Glue This" crafts and marker drawings. 

2. Most traditional lesson plans don't want to GIVE YOU THE TIME in the lesson plan to do art. They simply want an "activity" to appear "hands on" after all the talking. In the Art Workshop, the art project takes center stage.

3. Most volunteer teachers aren't particular artsy either. They had come to depend on what the printed curriculum gives them, and can easily be accomplished with a box of inexpensive craft supplies. Creative art projects require new materials. And when you change the story every week, you end up reaching for a lot of glue and construction paper.

4. Traditional lessons and the classrooms we were teaching them in were also "multi-purpose."  There was no time in the lesson or space in the room to spread out and do "messy" painting projects. And clean up was always dreaded.  In the Art Workshop, we expect to get paint on the floor, and don't worry about getting marker on the table.


Most Sunday School teachers have INTUITIVELY UNDERSTOOD that art is an awesome learning medium. The only question was "how to pull it off without killing ourselves."  And that's where the idea was born to "rotate" into an Art Room where an Art Teacher stayed each week and taught... just like they used to do it in the public school.  Once we figured out this model for Art, we simply applied it to every other medium, and the "Workshop Rotation Model" was born!

Here's how the Rotation Model elevates ART as a teaching medium in Sunday School:

1.  After scripture, the central activity in the Art Workshop is the art activity. It doesn't have to compete with a game or quiz. It isn't a 10 minute cut and paste project.  

The Art Workshop puts the art project at the center of the lesson, allowing for more complex projects and time to express and share. In the traditional model, your lesson plan simply didn't give you time to do real art, and it often stuck the craft at the END of the lesson to kill time (because we had bored the kids with the table talk? Probably!)

 2.  Teachers who like teaching with art are recruited for the Art Workshop. In the traditional model, the teachers were expected to be jacks-of-all-trade. This often meant that an "art challenged" teacher didn't do well even with the craft projects.

3.  The Art Workshop room is designed to support and inspire the making of real art projects. In the traditional model, "art" is a modest set of craft supplies on a shelf. By contrast, the Art Workshop is designed to give students the space and quality materials to work with. No more scrambling around the facility to find materials: they are IN the Art Workshop!  No more cotton balls glued to paper plates. The Art Workshop accumulates real art materials.

One VISIBLE EXAMPLE of how the Art Workshop is different is in the FURNITURE you see in many Rotation Art Workshops.   Stools are popular, not only because students of various ages/heights can use them, but because they can be slid under tables when the project requires more space. Chairs tend to get in the way of kids working together.

Projects displayed on the walls become exciting reminders of past lessons. And nobody worries about the floor: it's an art workshop. It's supposed to be messy!

4. The Art Workshop makes the art teacher's preparation easier and their lesson better. Because essentially the same Art Workshop Lesson is taught for four to five weeks, preparation time moves to once a month rather than every week.  The teachers' proficiency with both the lesson and working with the materials dramatically improves because they can tweak the lesson and project each week.  In the traditional model, you got one shot at it. 

The Difference between "Art" and "Craft"

In the early days of, a bunch of us debated online the difference between "art" and "craft".  It was more than an academic exercise. We were looking to stretch our teaching concepts and develop new art project ideas.

Definitions flew back and forth. Here is the result of that discussion: 

Definition of a Sunday School ART project:  

Individuals or groups selecting, manipulating, thinking about , arranging, displaying, and sharing physical materials in ways that tells, interprets, and/or reflects on the scripture and our understanding of it.


Now compare it to a definition of "craft" and you see the difference...

Definition of a Craft Project:

See this? Make yours look like this, and everybody else's.

Craft projects tend to focus on creating a "prop" from the story.



Sometimes the difference between Art and Craft is subtle, but has profound learning consequences.

Take for example the story of the Prodigal Son. A craft project might have the students cutting out the figure of the father and son and re-enacting the story using a script.  An art project might have the students SCULPTING the figure of the father and son out of wire or foil, then bending the figurines to represent different attitudes at different points in the story in the story. Expressive, reflective.

Or take for example the Psalm 8 Art lesson we have trumpeted here as "exemplary."  The technique of this lesson looks first at how Van Gogh captured the sense of "majesty," glory, and "surrounded-ness" of the nighttime sky, --which the Psalmist also speaks of. The lesson thus challenges the students to express those same ideas through their techniques. A craft project would simply have students coloring a bunch of stars, and not take the time to look at "Starry Night." That Psalm 8 lesson that does look at Starry Night, wants your kids to hear Psalm 8 every time they see Starry Night in the future!

Crafts tend to create "props" from the story. "Let's build Noah's Ark out of popsicle sticks" or construction paper.

Art tends to express meaning. "Build Noah's Ark and label the planks with promises God makes to you, and the names of people and things you can depend on. Add a scripture verse or two that you feel gives you comfort and strength."  

The following photo demonstrates how a simple "rock craft" project was re-purposed into an art project with meaning and reflection, and then used to tell a story! A "craft" version of this project would have simply had the students creating their own individual rocks, and likely without the signs or story context. 


(Click to enlarge)

The "State of Art" in Various Lessons

Not every art workshop at has a higher standard of "art" over craft. As a sharing community, we have let people post what they think works, while at the same time trying to demonstrate a higher standard, that moves beyond the quickie crafts you see elsewhere.

Many of the ideas for "art" projects listed in this forum and through the lesson forums here at are familiar and "old-school."  We have RECYCLED many great art project ideas found in creative curriculum throughout the years, and in many cases, tried to improve on them, ...make them more artistic.

Our Writing Team Lesson Sets, however, DO hold to a higher artistic standard, --each one demonstrating how to use materials and technique to express God's Word in a deeper more memorable way.

Art Doesn't Always Mean "Complex"

As you browse through the Art Workshop Lessons at our site, you'll see both simple and complex art projects. Even in Rotation there's a time to do something simple, and maybe even with some construction paper!   But as you read through these ideas and the lessons across our forum, allow yourself to be challenged by a HIGHER VISION of using artistic forms of expression and more expressive ART materials to power your student's learning of God's Word.  The Rotation Model gives you the permission and time!

Art = Wider Age Range

One of the great advantages of teaching with real art materials is that art materials ADJUST to a WIDER AGE RANGE than craft materials do. Older students will balk at crayons, but not paints, for example. 

If you are using those printable crafts or craft kits from a published curriculum, they need to sell you a simpler one for the younger kids, and one that "looks older" for the older kids.  

That picture above of the Cotton Ball Sheep illustrates the problem of crafts. No matter how many cotton balls you put on the table, it's still a simple craft that will not appeal to a 4th grader no matter how hard you try. And there's nothing "artistic" (expressive) or memorable about it.

You are welcome to add your thoughts to this thread.

The next post here by Lisa Martin has some great advice in it.



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Last edited by Luanne Payne
Original Post

Many of the following "Guiding Principles" were originally posted by member Lisa Martin in an art discussion here at our site. Lisa developed it for her teachers.


We have since edited and expanded it here with additional material. 

The Art Workshop: Some Guiding Principles


by Lisa Martin

(with additional material by our editors)


It seems like a lot of people are willing to teach art – much more than some other workshops. I guess it’s a comfortable activity that's familiar to traditional Sunday School teachers.  But what many moms and dads think of as "art" is really just a "craft".

So it's important to note that what we’re are trying to do in the Rotation Model Art Workshop is NOT a ten minute craft project at the end of the lesson plan! Instead, we are looking at REAL art projects that fill quite a bit of the lesson time, and unleash the child's creative mind to understand God's Word at a much deeper level.  


In general, we are trying to get away from "cut and paste" projects of the past. Our lesson plans are intended to engage the student's creativity and artistic "intelligence,"  just as in other workshops we are tapping into their other learning styles. Doing so deepens the learning experience, aids memory formation, and improves the student's sense of well-being.  


Creating helps the student and lesson move from being "informational" to becoming "transformational."   Head to Heart.


After the Bible study in the Art Workshop, you'll begin to discuss how the art project and available materials might be used to express an idea or reflection in the story. Then as they begin to create, you'll work with them to refine and explain their creations. After they're done, you'll debrief with some show-n-tell. 


Arts vs. Crafts

There is a great debate in the artistic and art education community about the difference between art and craft. There is a general lament that arts have been removed from public education (and private education for that matter) and been replaced with formulaic craft projects, "cut here, fold, and paste." The problem with this is that while children are learning some eye-hand, fine motor coordination and producing relatively nice looking projects, they are not engaging their mind's creative intelligence.  


Definition of an ART project:  


Individuals or groups interpreting and reflecting on the content, concepts, or meaning of scripture through the selection, manipulation, and display of physical materials.

Coloring a coloring book picture of Noah's Ark after reading the story does not meet this definition. Painting an expression of the sureness of God's covenant promise, would. 





We are created in the Creator's image. God breathed his life into us, he didn't just mold a lump of clay. Something of God's character and work was put into us. Metaphorically speaking, this is what happens when a student creates something that expresses a truth, or reflections on meaning. Something of THEMSELVES goes into the material.  They are investing themselves in the content, and that opens their spirit.


That means in the Art Workshop, we need materials that allow for expression. Construction paper and glitter probably doesn't fit that need!  Clay, sculpture, paints, fabrics... now you're talking!




Artistic "intelligence" is one of the 7 learning intelligences or "senses" identified by education research and brain research. When you do art, you're doing something the brain loves to do, and that means greater focus and memory.


"Assembly" projects usually take little thought, express little in the way of meaning, and physically don't impress content on our memories the way artistic expression does. They tend to be "busy work".  Art is a conduit for expression and learning.


Art projects also have the virtue of requiring more TIME to work with. And this simply means the students' brains are spending more time on meaning and reflection, than they would with a 5 minute popsicle stick craft. 


There is a time and place for "assembly" projects, especially those that "GO HOME" and keep reminding kids of the lesson. But some craft projects are not thought through.  Read on....


I have two experiences that illustrate the extremes of arts vs. craft.

While at another church, the teachers teaching arts and crafts in VBS decided that they wanted to do a different activity for the day teaching the crucifixion. They chose to make a wooden cross with materials that included wood stain and a hot glue gun – materials that the children couldn’t handle. The end results were beautiful crosses that the children could hang on their walls at home.


There was only one problem. If you walked by that room that day you would have seen children bored, leaning on their elbows, counting the minutes until their next workshop, and teachers frantically trying to complete 12 projects in the 20 minutes allowed. Clearly – nice as the final project was – this was not art. It was mass production. And on the last day when all projects were taken home a bunch of these were left behind – the children either couldn’t identify “their” cross, or didn’t care enough to pick it up.

Here’s the other extreme. Last year we had a parents’ day out shortly before Christmas. The children were to make gifts for their friends and family. We put out supplies from our craft supply closet, and had adults there to make sure there was no wasting of supplies without a purpose. The end results were of mixed quality, but the children were SO PROUD of their projects when we helped them wrap them up. They had poured their heart and soul into these precious gifts.


So whether its called "art" or "craft," let me suggest we look closely at HOW INVESTED the children are in the project, and the degree to which the project conveys an important idea about the lesson.




As we develop our curriculum, we need to ask ourselves is this an art project or a craft project? Here is a breakdown of craft vs. art.

  • Craft: Each project replicates (more or less) the example made by the teacher.
  • Art: Each project is individual and unique.

  • Craft: Teachers help students with difficult parts of the project to make it “look right.”
  • Art: Teacher provides instruction for the medium used, but does not do the work for the student.

  • Craft: The teacher makes a prototype. (which the children will inevitably try to copy.)
  • Art: The project is explained, but the children visualize the finished project for themselves.

  • Craft: The person who developed the craft is the main creative force.
  • Art: Each individual child is the main creative force.

  • Craft: Utilizes stencils, patterns, pre-cut items, etc.
  • Art: Uses “raw” materials.

  • Craft: A lot of preparation by teachers, prototype constructed.
  • Art: Assembly of materials. Teacher time centers around the Bible lesson and helping children visualize.

  • Craft: Finished projects are nice to look at.
  • Art: Finished projects range greatly from beautiful works to big messes.

  • Craft: There is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
  • Art: Creative expression leads to a great variety of right ways.

Does that mean we avoid everything that is a craft? No. A giant relief map of the Holy Land would technically fall under craft, as would making many indigenous crafts for Christmas Around the World. What we need to do is put an emphasis on ART, and recognize when we are falling wholly or completely into the CRAFT category.




We are the church. We value the individual, but we value collaboration and sharing. God speaks through us to each other. Thus, in the Art Workshop we should strive to have a balance between individual and group projects, and within group projects, a chance for each student to contribute their unique expression.






Art teachers need to make sure they don't just jump into creation without content and concept. Like a master painter, you need to PREP THE CANVAS.  This begins with Bible study, and then moves into talking about the art project, their choices, the ideas and materials they can work with.  You can also discuss "how" to paint or pattern or impress to express an idea.  HOW we work with materials becomes part of our expression, part of the way we convey an idea.


What part of the story would you like to focus on?  What character?  What idea?

What materials could you use?  
What colors or textures would represent that idea?

How should they be arranged or posed to represent that idea in the story? 

How could you represent this feeling in your project?

Should you use broad strokes?  


Tell us why you chose that....
Share how your project tells that part of the story....

Tell us about that part of your illustration...


Two Important Reminders:


(1)  If your project has called for the student to breath their life into the project, treat it kindly!  


(2)  The completed project is an opportunity for the teacher to engage the student further. It's not an art show.


Sometimes the real creative process is debating and discussing how to best represent the story. Example: an assignment to create a stained glass window about the Exodus story would lead to a discussion about what elements to include and where.  What are the most important parts of the story to you?  What colors would you choose to represent the Plagues?  etc etc.



Sometimes it's the creative choices you make that do your teaching for you:



For example:  

  • You're making cross necklaces out of nails and choose to use leather for the necklace rather than string because, as the teacher teaches, leather reminds of the scourging.
  • You're global missions "earth" is made up of fabric swatches from around the world.
  • Your students are weaving a swatch of Joseph's multi-color coat. What colors and textures could represent different parts of the story or Joseph's feeling and dreams?

Good art teachers look for connections between the materials and creative process --and the story. 





Some projects are meant to go home. Some stay in the church as a display, or become part of the classroom. 


Take home projects are sometimes the most difficult to work with, because they can involve "drying time".  You do not want to send an 8 yr old out to mom's car with wet paint.  


"Pick up next week" inevitably leads to projects not going home. Kids forget, or aren't there.  


Let me suggest that IF you do a great "take-home-next-week" project that needs some drying time, that you ALSO use it as an opportunity to DISPLAY completed projects on a table in the church hallway or Fellowship Hall where the kids and parents will be more likely to SEE them.  Leaving them in the Art Workshop doesn't work so well because the kids move on to another workshop the next week.   Display tables are also great ways to share what's going on with older adults.






Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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