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Art teachers were STEAM-ing before STEAM was cool!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fostering Creativity: Supplies to Have on Hand

I'm in love with art supplies. I consider walking up and down every aisle of an office supply store, craft store or fabric store "quality time." At the beginning of the school year, when department stores have bins and bins of pencils, crayons, etc.--I get giddy! But, ahem, I guess that is not the norm.
This is the art bin we use at home. My oldest three children share it and it stays on the art table all the time.

Throughout my years of being a mom I have encountered many a parent who says, "Oh we do not have (fill in some basic art supply) in our house--it's too messy." I first encountered this when my first son was about three and one of my mom friends said her toddler was driving her crazy (she had a new baby and was short on sleep and patience). I suggested bringing out the crayons and letting the toddler go to town. My friend told me she had never let her two-year-old use more than one crayon at a time. Why? Because it was too messy and she might "get into trouble."

Was this an isolated incident? I guess not. I'm often told by parents and children that they don't have watercolors, colored pencils, etc. at home. I've found that with my children, just having a space with art supplies available gets them thinking creatively. In fact, we just came off of a very prolific watercolor weekend in which my three older children must have created 20 pictures!

Here are some thoughts about fostering creativity by simply having art supplies available to children:

1. What is age-appropriate for your child and household? If you have a two-year-old and a baby crawling around, then maybe the art supplies stay in a bin and come out when mom is prepared to sit with the child who is creating (maybe when baby is taking a nap?). If you keep the "approved" art supplies for your child in a bin, you can bring it out quickly and put it away quickly. Don't put all of your art supplies in this bin--only put the things that the child could use easily at one time (you don't have to out every coloring book, every sheet of stickers, the pom poms, glue and glitter all in there--you will be creating a cleaning nightmare and become frustrated). Have the basic supplies in the bin and have a cabinet or shelf out of sight for the other, special supplies.

2. Be prepared for mess. Young children do not use art supplies like grown-ups do. Some art supplies don't make a huge mess (like crayons and colored pencils--always buy washable!!). If you teach your children the rules about art supplies and remind them over and over that "crayons are for paper," someday you'll be able to trust them to use the supplies without making a mess. I have a child-size table that is well-loved and is called the art table. I still tell them not to draw on the art table, but if paint gets on it and stains the finish (as even so-called washable art supplies do), at least I don't have to worry about my dining room table. The art table is located in our kitchen where spills can be wiped up easily and bits swept up right away (if you let your kids do artwork on carpet, you are asking for trouble).

Since we have a crawling baby, I occasionally drag the art table a few feet to an area behind a baby gate. It's sort of an inconvenient place for mom to get around if I'm running upstairs, but it allows my four-year-old to play with dough without me having to worry that my baby is eating most of it!

3. Be prepared for waste. Well, no matter what the age of your child, they are going to "waste" art supplies. By this I mean going through endless amounts of paper just scribbling randomly or cutting it into little tiny bits over and over and over again....While this may seem wasteful to us as grown-ups, it has great value for children to do these things over and over. It is really forming connections in their brains and teaching them fine and gross motor skills. OK, so not every piece is worthy of being framed and being hung in a museum, but the process does have value to the child in terms of social, emotional and cognitive growth.

That being said, you need to know when to speak up and encourage using the supplies fully ("we use both sides of the paper") and when to let them go on a crayon or glue bender. This is also why I don't suggest putting all of your art supplies in  one basket, so to speak. If you set 5 bottles of glue in front of many children, they will use 5 bottles of glue! So, either bring out the glue when necessary, or leave a half-used bottle in the bin (and keep an eye out for glue dripping in your floors!).

There truly is a fine line here. You don't want your child purposely breaking crayons and refusing to use a piece of paper that has literally a dot-sized crayon mark on it, but think of the pressure on a little child to have to create a refrigerator-worthy masterpiece on every piece of paper! Or know that if s/he makes a mistake when experimenting that mom or dad is going to flip! Art supplies can be inexpensive, and they are meant to be used!

Bin Full of Art Supplies:

Remember, these bins are for most-used art supplies that are safe for your child to use on his/her own while you are nearby.

  • The bin itself. I show a variety of bin in the pictures, find something that works for your family and doesn't have too many areas for supplies to get lost. It should have a handle for a parent or child to carry and be easy for a child to put away his/her supplies.
  • A sketchbook. I like spiral bound sketchbooks because they lay flat. One for each child labeled with his/her name.
  • Crayons. I like Crayola brand. You can keep them in the box (hard to put away) or dump them in a yogurt cup for a more "grab and go" experience. A 24 count box is great.
  • Markers. I like washable Crayola brand. A package of 10 chunky ones is very versatile, but as children get older they may prefer the fine tip. If you have older children, you could put a Sharpie in their bin.
  • Colored pencils. Crayola is good for a start, but older children might like a gift of Studio brand or Prismacolor brand colored pencils in a case.
  • Glue. I throw a couple of glue sticks in the bin when I'm feeling adventurous. Older children could use a glue stick and a bottle of Elmer's school glue (also called PVA glue). Skip this with very young children.
  • Scissors. Very young children can use scissors under supervision. Add in a pair of age appropriate scissors. As your children get older, you can buy scissors that create decorative edges on paper.
  • Regular pencils. Also called Number 2 pencils, these are a must for any child's art bin. Very young children will need to be supervised with them and you'll have to inspect the parts of the pencils to make sure they are OK for your little one to be around (toddlers like to chew on the pencils and erasers), but gradually, you can include a pencil sharpener in their bin. I also keep those rubber pencil toppers on hand to prolong the life of pencils whose erasers have been worn down by overzealous artists. These are not appropriate for children under three though due to choking hazzard.
  • Rulers. A standard 12 inch ruler is great. I have flexible ones because they hurt less when your brother smacks you with one and they don't break when the children practice their muscle man moves.
  • Watercolor Paint. I like Crayola for the very young and messy, but I prefer Prang for the older children. I don't usually keep these in the art bins since my kids make WAY too much of a mess with them and I like to monitor their usage, but if you have older children and they are neat, go for it!
This is a smaller bin and might be good for 1-2 children. This bin still holds plenty of art supplies!

This bin is easy to carry and can be stacked. This is a nice option if you need a few of bins spanning a variety of ages. Make sure to label the outside with the name of each child (or a picture of the child if they cannot read).
    Enjoy the finished art bins! Create, create, create! Or as Ms. Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus" series of books says,  "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

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