ART SUPPLIES FOR little kids 3-6 yrs that encourage Open-ended creative play
It’s not easy being told what to do all day. You may feel this way at work sometimes, but children feel it all day, every day. So it can be a really healthy thing for them to spend some time creating something exactly the way they want it. I’ve seen a lot of kids find their voice through art, when they weren’t comfortable expressing themselves in words.
In this article I will go over some basic art supplies for young children ages 3 and up. All non-toxic, and easy to clean-up. Grown-up artists use art supplies that can be extremely dangerous if not handled correctly, so be sure to read all labels before letting your kids use anything.
As your child grows older, and they start taking their artwork a little more seriously, you can advance them to higher-quality art supplies. But while they are still small, it’s better to keep things relatively inexpensive since they will blow through it quickly.
I’ll start with painting because it is one of the more stressful art projects you can take-on by yourself. But if you follow a few tips, you can pull it off without too much trouble. It’s all in the prep, which needs to happen before the kids are allowed into the room or area in which you’ll be painting.
Start with a large tarp or dropcloth to cover the floor. I bought a nice canvas dropcloth from a painting store years ago, and have used it many times since then. You’ll also need a low table or easel on which to tape the paper ‘canvas.’ In a pinch, I’ve used an extra-large piece of flat cardboard leaned up against a wall at an angle. There are smocks and aprons available for kids, but it’s just as easy to use an old shirt from a grown-up. If any part of your child’s body or clothing is exposed, it will likely get paint on it. In the summer, I strip my kids down to their undies and let them paint outside on the deck.
For paint, you’ll want to use tempera paint. Tempera paints contain organic compounds (traditionally eggs) that make them safe for kids to use, even if swallowed, but this also means they eventually will spoil if left out. Be sure to always close the lid tightly and store them in their original containers. Pour some of each paint color into a plastic cup – you can buy a nice set of purpose-made containers, or use glass jars or sturdy plastic cups that you already have. It’s also nice to have separate brushes for each color, otherwise you’ll need a large jar of water nearby to clean-off the brushes when switching colors. You can also let your child experiment with mixing colors on a palette before applying.
For their ‘canvas,’ use a thick stock of paper. The really thin stuff might be labeled ‘for painting’ but it will rip and wrinkle too quickly. Standard copy or brown kraft paper doesn’t handle the wetness of tempera paint very well, either. I can recommend something like this for painting.
Colored markers are, by far, the favorite drawing tool of choice by most young children 3. They give you a nice, thick, bright line of color without much effort. However, they are also the messiest, and dry-out if you don’t put the cap back on. I’ve spent too many futile hours of my life trying to get my kids to put the caps back on after use. For small children 3+, I would recommend getting the Pip-Squeaks Marker Telescoping Tower set from Crayola. The smaller size is good for small hands, and it only takes one ruined shirt to appreciate how important the ‘washable’ part is. Any quality white or kraft paper or cardboard will be a good surface for marker magic.
Cool Dad Tip: before throwing out large cardboard shipping boxes, let your kids go to town on them with markers. Cut windows or doors for them with a box-cutter (not scissors).
Colored pencils are a good option for kids 5+ who are more skilled with drawing. They can yield much more delicate or detailed drawings, but are more delicate, and require sharpening every so often. But for kids who are interested in increasing their drawing skills, colored pencils are a good next step after markers.
If you’re looking for a gift that will really impress an aspiring artist (and any adults present), check out the Faber-Castell Young Artists’ Essentials Gift Set. This gift-set is definitely Instagram-worthy, with a selection of colored pencils, watercolor pencils, graphite pencils, oil pastels, markers, and a little pad of paper.
The best sculpting clay I’ve found for young children is Crayola Model Magic. It’s soft enough for tiny hands to mold, but firm enough to keep its shape. It comes in lots of bright colors, and it doesn’t stick to your skin or your house - just itself! And after air-drying for 24 hours, you can pain it. Or just display it as art. If you’re child is having trouble getting started, show them how to roll little balls and snakes to build with.
ARTS vs CRAFTS
There is a difference between making crafts, and free-form creative play. Often, an organized activity for children will involved creating something specific, step-by-step, like making a snowman from a white sock. This is what I would call a craft, where there is an ideal outcome, with instructions on how to get there. Kids usually try to make it look like the example the teacher shows them.
What I’m talking about is free-form art play, where the child can let their imagination run wild with no rules or objectives (other than having fun). We keep a big box of craft supplies for the kids to dig into anytime they want. Here are the really cheap but fantastic materials that our kids of enjoyed working with:
Colored Paper and Cardboard
As you start to build a collection of art supplies at home, you can keep them together in a box or baskets. That way, whenever your kids feel the urge to create, everything is in once place. We use a rolling utility cart from Ikea for our art supplies, which is easy to access and can roll around the house.