Part 3: Stocking up on the Best Supplies
So this is where it starts getting really fun! Last night, after the kids went to bed, I unpacked a new box of craft supplies from Discount School Supply. Colorful feathers, sparkly pom poms, sea shells, funky paintbrushes, oh my! I was forced to hide the loot so that we’d be able to get out the door this morning! Our home studio is going from stocked to super-stocked. (Note: We are homeschooling, so I have a totally credible excuse for going a little overboard, right?).
Whatever you buy, make sure it’s high-quality. Better a small assortment of smooth, vibrant crayons than a huge box of Crayolas. Your child will appreciate the difference, and you’ll enjoy the results! Cheap nylon paint brushes waste paint (they hold paint) and don’t apply as nice. Lightweight paper results in disappointing paintings and drawing with cheap colored pencils is plain frustrating! When in doubt, avoid everything Crayola. Don’t plan on finding your supplies at your favorite mass-marketer. It takes more legwork, but if you buy quality supplies they last longer, work better and add up to more fun! As any artist will attest, it takes the right tools.
Now, this is not to say that everything has to be expensive. www.DiscountSchoolSupply is an excellent source for savings and they have free shipping too! There are items on which to splurge and items on which to save. If you’re a do-it-yourself kinda person, checkout www.ChubbyPencilStudio (dedicated to eco-friendly supplies), www.AToyGarden (great prices & service, poor organization), www.Palumba (great prices and best painting supplies), www.ImagineChildhood(sturdy furniture and unique items) and www.theWoodenWagon (excellent assortment!). Or, save yourself some time and browse through these lists!
Basic Art Supplies for Toddlers & Up
Crayons: Beeswax Crayons from Stockmar. You’ve got to start with these! They apply beautifully and smell like honey! A small pack of 8 sticks or 8 blocks will do at this age. Learn why block crayons are best for babies and toddlers here. Your 4+ child will enjoy more colors if you can afford it. If not, she can make every color of the rainbow with those 8 blocks, since they can be blended (ex. blue with a little green over it makes teal). At the Wooden Wagon: 8 Stick Crayons $12.50, 8 Block Crayons $12.50, 16 Stick Crayons $24.
Blank Paper: You don’t need coloring books. They don’t even help! Coloring on blank paper invites true creativity and doesn’t hem your child in with lines. Use regular printer copy paper for everyday, if you’re going to give your child free access. If you’re going to parcel it out a bit or want some paper that won’t show-through when you color on both sides of the sheet, buy heavier paper. 100 sheets of heavy, 160# paper is just $24 at AToyGarden. And at 9.75″ by 12.75″, it’s just the right size for coloring. This is what we use at home for our weekly “coloring time.”
Tempera Paint: Tempera paint has a texture kids enjoy, and is not as messy or as pricey as watercolor. You can fingerpaint with tempera, if you like, so don’t bother buying special “finger paint.” Crayola paint looks awful when it dries – cracked and flat. Plus, it smells strongly of fumes. I just bought Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paint, which comes highly recommended. It’s not as fumy as Crayola, and the prices are great at Discount School Supply – a pack of 11 liter bottles is just $18.60!
Paint Brushes: At this age, you’ll need one paint brush per paint color being used. Make it a natural bristle brush. The cheapest brushes fall apart and may not apply as nicely. But, don’t get a really nice brush (like those $11-15 brushes) for a 2 or 3 year old. When your child pulverizes the brush with his painting gusto, you may feel a bit sick to your stomach. It doesn’t matter if you choose a round or flat brush – your toddler won’t notice. You can buy brushes at your local craft store, where you can touch to ensure you’re buying a quality brush. I like to shop online, so I bought a set of 24 Wooden Chubby Brushes for $19 at Discount School Supply. It’s more brushes than I needed, but the quality is excellent for the price, and they fit perfectly in our paint pots. Another good choice is the variety set shown here, which retails for just $11. These brushes will be suitable for watercolor too.
Paint Pots: I resisted getting these. Probably because I hate plastic. But, they’re genius! Each plastic pot has a non-spill lid that stays on while you’re child paints, plus a second lid that seals for storage. No more washing out paint pots, waisting paint and time. If you prep the pots, your child could self-serve paint too, if you’re that brave. This set is only $6.50 at Discount School Supply. The color-coding makes it easy for little ones to dip their brush in the right pot, without mixing colors. Also available in white.
Large Painting Paper: Kids love big paper. You can use a roll of paper which attaches to your easel or sits on the tabletop ($18 from Imagine Childhood). Try to find a roll of thick paper, or the paintings aren’t going to be very nice for keeping. Also buy some large, heavyweight paper (usually considered watercolor paper). Larger is always better, because you can cut it in half when it suits you. A pack of 25 premium, 24 x 17.5 sheets is available at Palumba for $8. I use our paintings on heavy paper to make cards and backgrounds for new projects.
Smock & Splat Mat: These are good investments for your sanity. Do NOT buy vinyl, which released toxic fumes into the air. Choose from safe, wipeable options from www.MimitheSardine or even use something made of cloth. A tablecloth you don’t want makes a find mat – just throw it into the wash from timeto time. We have cloth apron-smocks, because they’re cute hanging in our art room.
Easel: An easel seems like a luxury for a young child, but I’m sold on the concept. When my two-year-old paints on a table, he gets paint all over his arms and stomach. If he uses our tabletop easel, the paint is just on his hands. In addition, an artist will tell you that painting on a vertical surface provides a better perspective of work-in-progress. Choose a double-sided easel, preferably with paper attachment and adjustable height. Ours is a sturdy, plastic-free design from Imagine Childhood for $102.
Play dough: Kids get a lot out of working with play dough. It’s three-dimensional and very tactile. If crumbly, dry-out Crayola play dough just doesn’t do it for you, try Eco-Dough! The texture is very smooth! Colors are great. It’s dyed with natural dyes (which are healthier if ingested). And…. if it drys out just add olive oil to bring it back! 18 oz (including 5 colors) is $20 at www.ecokidsusa. At Mama K’s etsy shop, you can buy 20 oz (including 5 colors) for $20 – but her all-natural dough is also scented with essential oils: lavender, bergamot, sweet orange, lemongrass, and geranium. There are also countless online recipes for making your own dough!
Glue: Here’s something you can pick up from Target. Good old Elmer’s glue always does the trick. You can also experiment with stick glues, but most dry out before you have a chance to use half.
Scissors: Last, but not least, add some child-safe scissors to the mix. Just look for something with the razor enclosed in plastic, so there is not sharp point. Your child will joyfully cut and paste for hours on end. Here’s a good way to put junk mail to use!
Whew! My list for your 3-4 year old will have to post tomorrow! But, your time is well-spent getting set with these supplies. They’re the backbone of your Artist Nook or Dedicated Studio and will be used for years to come!