Updated: Aug 10
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 ; )
As an Occupational Therapist, I use art play to not only develop fine motor and pre-writing skills, but also to foster 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
Art Tools for Little Hands (tested and approved!)
Ikea Mala Paints - bright colors, easy squeeze bottles
Kwik Stix - super slick and bright tempera paint sticks, great for travel
Sponge pieces (cut into 1" pieces)
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
Bostitch Reduced Effort Hole Punch (pictured) - easy for little hands to squeeze
Drawing Pad (pictured)- Nice thick paper and a great way to store all those drawings
CLAY and PLAYDOUGH