Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Do you let your little ones have free access to art materials ? Our tendency as parents is to keep art supplies tucked away in a cabinet, drawer, or up high on a shelf, out of fear of a mess and safety concerns. But here's the thing I learned that really changed our lives.... making art materials accessible to young children creates a feeling of empowerment and self-confidence for the child, and (even better), gives parents a minute to themselves ; )
Art play is one of those natural early childhood activities that not only develops fine motor and pre-writing skills, but also fosters exploration, creativity, independent play skills, sensory play, motor planning, and self-regulation skills. And can you believe there are actually 34 tiny muscles in the hand that all develop during early childhood ?! Playing and experimenting with art tools is a super fun and easy way for little hands to develop all those muscles !
Tips for Setting Up Art Invitations for Younger Children
Setting out just a few materials at a time (as an open "invitation") is a great way to give independent access even if you do not have space or desire to set up an accessible art area (i.e. something simple and novel such as a small tray with a piece of paper cut in a circle shape and 3 markers).
Art play activities don't always have to be done inside at a table either... Grab some chalk and head outside, bring some washable paints and trucks and make some colored tracks, or make a nature collage by glueing some found items to paper. Offering a few washable markers and a small notebook while in the car is another perfect time to get some drawing / scribbling practice in (and yes, your child will experiment and color and draw on their face and legs, but it's all part of the fun (and learning ! ).
Using clear containers and placing tools at the child's eye level allows children to use materials when they feel inspired and gives them a sense of excitement and empowerment, and using a child sized table or an easel allows children to use art tools more efficiently and effectively.
Tips to Contain the Mess:
TRAYS: This is a great way to contain materials - use a cookie sheet or a plastic tray from Ikea
WIPES: Keep wipes or a wet cloth nearby and wipe hands/table as needed. If your child is sensitive to getting their hands messy, give a wipe and get back to it !
OLD SHEET: Place an old sheet or table cloth on the floor under the work area to protect floors
MINI BROOM: Keep a mini dustpan and broom nearby and have child help clean up (they love it!)
GO OUTSIDE: Do art activities outside, use the sidewalk, a balcony, backyard, or take it to the park
WASHABLE: Only use washable markers/paints with younger children
ART CART: Store materials on a cart, low shelf or wall mounted containers at the child's eye level
The BEST Art Tools for Little Hands
Ikea Mala Paints (pictured) - bright colors, easy squeeze bottles
Liquid Watercolors -Lasts forever, make your own shades, washable
Richeson Fluorescent Tempera Cakes - bright and fun, non- toxic
Kwik Stix - super slick and bright tempera paint sticks, great for travel
No Spill Paint Cups - contain the mess !
Doorknob Handle Beginner Paintbrushes (pictured)
Q-tips (broken in half)
Sponge pieces (cut into 1" pieces)
Cotton balls, held by clothespin
Potatoes cut in half (great for developing those arches of the hand)
Dry Erase Crayons (pictured) - great for bath time and any whiteboard or dry erase surface (break into smaller pieces for little hands)
Beeswax Crayons - non toxic, beautiful shades and texture
Gel Crayons - perfect first crayon, bright and glides easily
Pip Squeak Markers (pictured) - smaller markers great for small hands
Spring Assisted Scissors (pictured)- spring assist option is great for kids learning to use scissors, and design elements help with thumb placement
First Safety Scissors - great for very young children, cuts paper and playdough but not much else
Mini Loop Scissors - great adaptive scissor for ages 3+
Mini OT Scissors - designed by an OT, perfect size for small hands, great 3+ for preschool/ kindergarten
Bostitch Reduced Effort Hole Punch (pictured) - easy for little hands to squeeze
Mini Single Hole Punch - perfect for smaller hands
Drawing Pad (pictured)- Nice thick paper and a great way to store all those drawings
Thick Watercolor Paper - perfect to use with liquid watercolor paints
Small Notebooks/Notepads - grab these at the thrift store or dollar store
Post-its - fun way to learn how to make smaller more controlled marks
CLAY and PLAYDOUGH
Extruder - we love this one ! Easier for ages 5+
Cookie Cutters - use with playdough or clay
Stickers of any kind
Lemon Squeezer (great for placing sponges in and squeezing out water)