My kids use their art supplies every single day. They are always making something (and I have the walls and refrigerator to prove it). It’s really a blessing to have too much art to deal with – I get precious gifts every day, and it’s tough to know what to keep and what to send to relatives/recycle/toss, etc. I know all parents have this struggle, but I think homeschooling parents have it especially tough. I mean, my kids have access to their art stuff every free moment of every day, by design, and they can crank out a lot of art! I love it, but it’s kind of a hazard for a born packrat to have such creativity and productivity to sort through daily.
First, a word about setup, and then on to the Top Five. The kids have a child-sized table set (made by their grandfather) right next to our family table in our great room. This is the center of activity around here; all the hubbub centers around here. We do school here, and they create lots of art here every day. The girls write stories here, too. I think kids are just more comfortable with things at their level, especially if their feet can touch the ground. Right next to the table is an armoire with lots of homeschooling stuff in it. There is one drawer devoted to easily accessible art supplies, and it’s low enough that everyone who can walk can pull the big drawer out and get what they need. In it, there are things like scrap paper, scissors (yes, I leave child scissors accessible to my toddlers), glue/glue sticks, colored pencils, crayons, pencils, markers, paints/brushes, stickers, etc. (There is tape in there when the girls guy their own; they used so much tape that I started making them buy it. They are a bit more judicious with it now.) Another shelf nearby has all of our coloring books (and there are many) and activity books (mazes, crossword puzzles, dot-to-dots). So that’s our basic setup.
Like most areas of life, I try to keep things simple. I am not an artist, and I am not inherently an art project kind of mom. I feel badly about this, as I always imagined I’d try to do more fun art stuff with my kids, but it’s just not who I am. Crafty? Yes. Artsy? No. I have to be very intentional about incorporating art into our lives, and I also rely on my artistic hubby to balance me out in this area. I also hope to enroll the kids in art classes from time to time, as money and time allow. Or get together with another more artistic homeschooling mom and have her teach art (and I’ll teach math or grammar or cooking) (and I’m looking for this “more artistic homeschooling mom,” by the way – wanna volunteer?). But for now, I make up for my lack of talent by providing easy access to basic stuff so the kids can create on their own, and they seem to appreciate that.
Okay, so top five art-related things to have around so your kids can create to their heart’s content:
- Colored Pencils – these are a fixture on our table. I don’t know why we even bother to put them away; they are used all day, every day. We store them in ceramic mugs, tips up, so they can be easily transported, identified, and corralled. Colored pencils are fantastic for helping children use a wide array of colors while also allowing them to make precise lines and employ shading. Crayons are fun, and we use them, but I’ve found that my children love to use nice, sharp pencils. You can’t draw small, detailed things with crayons or markers. Not only do I love their creative uses, but I also appreciate that they don’t get all over stuff like markers do. Quality is important here; just like Crayola crayons are pretty much the only ones worth buying, colored pencils also should be high quality. Crayola is just fine, and affordable (stock up at the back-to-school sales every summer). For every day use, these are my first choice, as we go through a set of colored pencils every month (and they get expensive). Rather than getting sparkly markers that glow in the dark or smell like peaches, invest in a wide variety of colored pencils (the more, the better, and make sure there are a variety of skin-colored pencils). Don’t forget a good pencil sharpener, too. I also like to buy pencils from Stubby Pencil Studio (okay, I would buy just about anything from this store, honestly) for gifts and such. The art supplies there are so great.
- Paper – This may seem obvious, but kids need lots of paper for creating. One of our best inventions has been the Scrap Box, which I fill with all kinds of re-purposed paper that still has one good blank side. Most of their daily art goes on this paper. They also can have blank paper (printer paper), but they have to ask first. I nearly always say yes, but it makes them use the scrap first. I won’t stand in creativity’s way – if they must have blank paper, I give it to them. You can buy recycled printer paper now, and it doesn’t cost that much more than the standard stuff. They also have access to lined writing paper (good for writing and illustrating stories), card stock (for signs and cards), and colored construction paper upon request. Additionally, they know where the paper recycling bag is kept (next to the trash under the sink) and they can often be found fishing around in there to find something that suits their needs. (This is where they usually find their cardboard, from old cereal and cracker boxes previously destined for the recycling drop off.) We also gave Maya this set of sketch books for her birthday, which was a hit. It’s nice to have a special place to draw special things, and sketch books are very portable for drawing by a window or under a tree.
- Scissors – Kids need scissors that fit their hands. I let my kids start cutting paper when they’re two. Supervised, of course. Kid scissors are small and blunt-tipped. You can find plastic blade scissors that are supposed to cut only paper (not hair or skin), but I have not tried them. Standard kid scissors with blunt metal blades can be found very affordably at your local office supply store or Target. I think I paid less than a dollar per pair.
- Glue Sticks – These are so much neater than liquid glue, though we use both. I like the glue sticks that go on purple but dry clear, as it helps the child to see where they already put the glue.
- Inspiration – Many children have an innate sense of what they want to create, and you don’t really have to tell them what to draw. However, we all draw our inspiration from somewhere, and some kids need more direction than others. If I see a bored-looking kid, I will often give them a good quality picture book and see if they can copy a picture from it, or draw something like it. Or I will casually observe something interesting or beautiful outside our window and suggest that they draw it. Or I will pick one of our how-to-draw books (a whole different post could be written about these, but my girls have been loving them lately) and have them pick something to draw. While free access to art supplies and free time to use them are fantastic, directed art time can be equally as wonderful. I am reading the book Drawing With Children to learn how to draw with my kids, and I recommend that you read it, too. It came to me highly recommended, and I’m finding it a helpful and surprisingly interesting (for someone who’s never been interested in drawing before); I might actually try to learn to draw more than my standard cartoon figures and flower doodles. I also like to take nature walks with my kids, bringing along clipboards, paper, and pencils. They pick one thing they want to draw from nature that day, draw it, title it, and date it. It’s so fun to see what they choose to draw, and how they interpret things they see.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, but those are the things we use most often. Simple and affordable, and I can’t tell you how much great stuff our kids have produced from such humble beginnings. I also recommend you look into getting a child-sized table and chairs, an easel, basic clipboards, and just about anything at the Stubby Pencil Studio. But overall, the key is to keep the art supplies accessible, because kids will get a flash of inspiration, but will quickly lose interest if they have to go 14 different places and seek permission before pursuing their idea. I used to keep art supplies under lock and key, basically, years ago – but no more.
For prolific art storage: consider keeping an Art Box, which, next to the Scrap Box, is the most genius art-related thing we ever did. Simply have a nice box or basket, and store all finished art there. At the end of the month, or when the box is full, sort through it and choose some for keeping/filing, some for sending to friends/relatives, and the rest for recycling. This has revolutionized the art clutter around here and kept our counters, desks, and drawers free for…other clutter. But really, it’s so helpful. We still let the kids hang up their favorite pieces whenever they want (and there’s available space), and of course they can keep special pieces for themselves, but the rest goes into the Art Box.