There’s nothing that says “we got kids” like a refrigerator covered from top to bottom with “art.” It gets so you can barely see your frigidaire beneath the stick figure animals with way too many legs and crude renderings of puce houses. This is awesome if you have an ugly icebox. But honestly, you could have used all the money you’ll spend on art supplies through elementary school to get one of those counter-depth wood panel jobbers.
By the time your kid hits middle school, you will have purchased enough art supplies to stock a suburban craft store. But a toddler isn’t that discerning when it comes to what they’re creating and what they’re using to create. So what are the essentials that will keep your kid expressive while keeping the supplies to a minimum? That’s easy.
The Toddler Trilogy
When it comes to your kid slapping down some color, you’re not looking for sophisticated pigments or arcane mediums. It’s not like your 18-month-old is going to be pushing encaustic around a wood panel to create a Russian Orthodox style icon of Captain Barnacles. In fact, you really only need 3 big things (literally).
You don’t really need to get too caught up with brands when it comes to crayons. What you’re more concerned with is the shape. You want to go with fat, chunky crayons that your kid is able to hold in their little toddler fist and scrawl away. The thinner versions will just break and likely be eaten. Prepare yourself for crayon poop.
The grandaddy of children’s writing implements, chalk has been the go to for marking up the world for centuries. The best thing about chalk is that in warmer months any flat outdoor surface can become a canvas. The sidewalk varieties are perfectly chunky for small hands and come in oh-my-god sized containers.
Paint is a big umbrella, and obviously you’re not going to be investing in a set of luxurious oil paints for your kid. That’s because when it comes to toddlers, they dig things that make epic splooshy swaths of color. Think of them like way less sophisticated (and way more sober) Jackson Pollocks. There are a few choices of paints to consider:
Tempera: This paint is water-based and generally super washable. Tempera is pretty affordable for the amount you get. No need to worry about waste as your kid plops, scrawls and pushes the paint around. Do not confuse it with the deep fried Japanese dish.
Watercolor: These are shockingly messy. But the key here is the word “water.” You’ll want to have something to sop up the inevitable spills. That said, watercolors are fairly economical and a tray can last quite a long time.
Paint Dabbers: Ever seen an old lady play BINGO? Well, those marker-like things they’re holding are dabbers and they’re actually pretty awesome for toddlers. Apparently, they help kids go from splatty dots now to fat lines later.
Considering The Canvas
Following the theme of lowbrow gear, you don’t want to be too particularly precious about what your kid creates on. There is pretty much one key rule, given your child’s current level of coordination and skill: Go big.
Bright, colorful construction paper is fine. But it’s a tad pricey. If your kid likes to go to town with the tempera, you’ll be going through reams of the stuff. Also, the pages tend to be a bit teeny for toddlers who like slop.
There are alternatives out there, though they tend to be less colorful. Consider picking up butcher paper or newsprint paper. These can be found in massive rolls that will last you forever. And they’re big enough that your kid’s imagination is less confined. You can even snag rolls of paper in the paint department at your local big box DIY shop. It will be a bit thinner than the bigger butcher paper rolls, but more affordable.
Glass is an often overlooked canvas, unless you happen to be a mom-and-pop eatery. But the seasonal window paintings of small businesses are a good clue as to where you can direct your kid’s creativity. Glass doors and windows that face the backyard are perfect. They’re big and easily washable. You just have to be very clear that the paint should never be used on the adjacent walls. And know that it will anyway.
You know that driveways and sidewalks are meant for chalk. But keep in mind that washable tempera paint could be used outdoors too. The one caveat would be using it on overly porous surfaces where the paint could set into tiny holes and crevices. Still, you should give your kid the okay to paint all the sticks and leafs they can find.
A Few Accessories
There a few more things you might want to get before you let your kid get Basquiat crazy on some butcher paper. Here’s an inventory:
- Dropcloth: A cheap, white, flat-sheet set from a discount mart will do the trick.
- Smock: There’s no need to go fancy. Pick a button-up you’re not fond of, put it on your kid backwards and button it up.
- Paintbrushes: You’ll want to look for brushes that are adapted for small hands learning to grip. The ones from Melissa & Doug are well reviewed.
- Cleaning Supplies: Making your own is definitely an option.
The only thing else you need is a refrigerator. Luckily you probably already have one of those. And if it happens to be ugly, things are going to change quickly. Because soon it will be filled with paintings from your favorite artist of all time.