Art Supply Essentials for Kids-Checklist
Selecting art supplies for your children can feel overwhelming, especially if your child has just taken an interest in creating and art making for the first time. Below is a list of the best art supplies to have on hand, so you can get to art making easily and quickly in your own home.
The KISS Method
Before we dive into the list, I have a little story to share: I had a theater teacher in high school who loved to preach “KISS” from his director’s chair whenever his students were working on a new scene. It took us nearly all year to figure out what “KISS” stood for…(ahem, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”). It may not be the kindest of terms, but in the end he was right. Keeping things simple is the best way to go, and especially when it comes to making art.
And making art with children is no different. And my KISS moto is: Keep it simple Sweetheart. Providing too many items for children to choose from can be overwhelming for them. They can feel bogged down in the options making it difficult for creative play to happen. If you can keep the art materials simple, provide a clean and designated work surface (doesn’t need to be larger than a place mat), and carve out just a few minutes here and there for creative time you and your child will be making art in no time.
This list of supplies will get you started:
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1. Large plastic place mat or Fast Food Tray
Why a place mat? For young children providing a designated work space is helpful to them in determining spatial awareness and setting boundaries to work in. It helps contain the mess, while allowing for creative free play- Chaos within a fixed structure. I love the place mats from IKEA, but my all-time favorite place mat we use for art making came from the Dollar Store. Look for affordable options (can’t beat a $1, unless it’s free!), a rectangular place mats provide the most functional space to work on, and plastic is easiest to clean. Place mats can also be stored flat, which makes them economical for small spaces. I also love Fast Food Trays to help contain projects that involve beads or paint dripping (like with droppers). They help keep the art making on the tray and off the table or the floor. To keep the mess off the floor I love the Kinder Mess Mats. So great for under an easel or small table.
You could also use white construction paper, however the sturdiness of watercolor paper always makes art projects more substantial and the paper is resilient to young artist’s not always gentle ways. Plus, watercolor paper can be used with a variety of art techniques from watercolor, to wet on wet, crayon and other resist projects, and used with other paint types such as tempera paint. The larger the paper the better too.
Washable Tempera paint is a typical paint type you will encounter in craft stores. It’s texture is often thick and creamy and similar to pudding. The paint often can be found in small to medium bottles making it easy to store. We prefer washable tempera paints for the younger artists.
If you want a novel about paint brushes I could probably write you one, but I will spare you for the moment. There are three types of paint brushes that are great to always have on hand. The first is the simple sponge brush. Often found in craft stores and comes in a variety of sizes. For young artists use the medium to large sized brushes. These brushes make it easy for young artists to cover a large amount of paper with paint at one time. The second type of brush is the Stubby Bristle Brush for children. Bristle Brushes often come in a medium brush and handle size making them easy for small hands to grasp easily. They are wonderful for watercolor projects and for mixing paints. The third paint brush to add to your art pantry is the Large House Painting Brush. Found in hardware stores and often used for painting walls of houses, these large brushes provide incredible opportunities for young children to work big.
If you want an art supply to fall in love with quickly then add liquid watercolors to your supply list immediately. Vibrant, economical, and versatile liquid watercolors make creating watercolor works of art or tie-dyed textile creations easy for the young artist. Liquid watercolors often come in small to medium bottles in packages of 8 colors. Purchase them from specialty educational learning stores like Lake Shore Learning or from art supply stores or websites like Discount School Supply.
If you want a tool to help your young children develop their pincer grasp abilities (The muscles needed to hold a pencil and the first muscles to exercise to encourage writing, and more drawing!) then look no further than the eye dropper, or dropper, or in the Science world it’s known at the pipette. Droppers are incredible art tools, and ones that can be used over and over again. Use the dropper to apply paint to your watercolor paper, or to fabric, or use the droppers to drip vinegar onto baking soda and watch it fizz. Or, use the dropper as a simple way to experiment with color mixing. So many options and ways to expand the use of this simple, yet effective, tool.
Crayons are a wonderful supply to offer to budding artists, especially for their amazing use when mixed with other art supplies like watercolors. Crayons are also a staple art supply that help develop that pincer grasp skill again. Out of all the crayons we have tested over the years we love anything by Crayola hands down. The colors are the smoothest and brightest and they offer so much variety.
Again, an art supply staple and the one that I think my children would say they prefer. We include the washable variety of Crayola traditional and Bold colors to our art caddies. We love the Bold color pack for the variation on the traditional color options. Children love markers as they easily make marks and have a deeper color tone than crayons.
Okay, really this could be all recyclables. There is just something so versatile about cardboard. When cut into larger sheets it can take the place of regular peg board, it can be cut into different shapes, cardboard tubes from toilet paper, paper towel roles and the like offer an interesting 3D added element. Plus, it’s a safe and sturdy art surface for young artists to play on.
Others might say that pipe cleaners are not an absolute necessity for at home art supplies, however hear me out as to why this item ought to have a place in your art making kit. Pipe Cleaners add an incredible manipulative element for young artists. They can be molded into shapes or attached together, they can be stuck and poked into clay or play dough, they can be threaded on with beads or transformed into crowns or picture hangers. They are sturdy and come in a variety of colors. Their versatility and open-ended sculptural possibilities make them a favorite art supply to keep on hand.
I am pretty sure there isn’t a better glue out there for young children than Elmer’s School Glue. I have tried a variety of others and I always come back to this brand. It’s non-toxic, safe, washable, and works like a charm every time. You just can’t go wrong with this glue.
12. Bits and Pieces
Okay, this isn’t really a specific type of art supply. It does include items like feathers, corks, buttons, stickers, beads, leaves, pom-poms, beans, and cotton balls. All of these items are small and children need to be carefully watched when they are engaging in these supplies, however they add such a wonderful element to projects. It’s thrilling to add a little bit of sparkle or texture to a project with one of these items. They are great for printing too. Many of these items can be found around the home or outside. Others (like the pom poms and beads) can be purchased from craft supply stores. If you need some inspiration for other types of bits and pieces to include I love the book Loose Parts and Loose Parts 2 for more ideas.
Having a pair of scissors that are designated for your young artist to use is so important in helping them learn to cut and take the time to practice their cutting skills. Look for scissors with a blunt end for young artists and a pointy end for older artists. I have always really liked the Fiskers brand. They are sturdy and long-lasting.
I know what you are thinking, you are thinking that Julia has gone off the deep end. Now, hear me out on this one. Small muffin tins and chip and dip platters make incredible containers to either put paint in, or to hold small items for art making, like feathers, beads, or those pom- poms that were mentioned before. Having containers that are designated for art making ensures you don’t have to spend a ton of time tearing apart your home for a container or plate to use for art making. My favorite place to find these items? In addition to these containers I also really love reusing large yogurt containers and small jars from things like jams and jellies to hold water.
15. Roller Brush
Perhaps the roller brush should have been mentioned with the other brushes, but I think it deserves a place in this list all on its own. The roller brush is an incredible tool for young artists that helps them activate their gross motor skills and allows them to work in the bigger scales of art that young children often naturally go for. You don’t need a huge roller brush. A small roller that is used for more detail wall painting and can be found in the hardware stores for a small amount is perfect for young artists.
There is nothing more satisfying or permanent feeling than painting on cloth. The best cloth to use for a variety of projects is a painter’s canvas that can be cut up. Purchased at hardware stores such as Home Depot or on Amazon the painter’s canvas is an inexpensive way to elevate children’s art and allow them to work on surfaces that are resilient as well as malleable.
I hope you find this list useful as you build your own art supply pantry at home. There's nothing better than making and creating with kids, and I hope this list makes that just a little easier for you.