Organize a Self-Serve Creativity Zone

“The drive to master our environment is a basic human characteristic from the beginning — from birth.”

--Jack P. Shonkoff, Harvard University (From Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky. New York: Harper Collins, 2010).

Do you have self-serve spaces in your home that are dedicated to creativity, art, science, and tinkering? Today I’m sharing our creative zone, the space where most of our art and creative explorations take place.

The key to this space is that it’s all self-serve. I jump in and participate, of course, but my kids know where everything is and it’s all accesible to their little hands. And they’re capable of cleaning it up when they’re ready to move on to the next thing.

We live in a small home, and I’m not suggesting that our plan will work for everyone, but the general spirit of it is something that I think we can all stand behind: when children can execute on their own ideas, it builds their confidence and encourages curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.

My objective is to give my children room to take charge of this space in order to test and follow through on their big ideas.

This space has moved all over our house, but for now it’s in our dining room space, just off the kitchen. It’s perfect for us because the light is the best in the house and there’s room for our self-serve art supply furniture. The table and chairs (Pottery Barn) are sturdy, meaning that grown-ups can comfortably sit in them and there’s plenty of natural and artificial light.

In order to execute on their ideas, children need to have access to creative materials, so all of ours are stored on low shelves where my kids can find them (and then, theoretically, put them away). Having a garbage can (Ikea) in the space is also key to keeping it neat. I don’t know why it took me so long to get a waste basket for this area!

Not all of our creative materials are stored here: I keep less-often-used materials like bottles of paint and play dough tools in a closet and the garage. I also introduce new materials when my children seem to tire of what’s in the space — maybe once a week. This week our table is consumed with a big batch of slime! If you’re interested, you can watch our video tutorial on how to make slime here.

There’s a letter writing center on top of one of the book shelves, which includes envelopes, cards, small homemade booklets, string + tape (both in action at the moment), a stapler, art dice, compass, and an address stamper. Next to this is a 3-tiered dessert tray, repurposed to hold collage materials and stamps.

Beneath this shelf is storage for clean recycled materials (including a phone book that just arrived — I can’t believe they still make these!), sketchbooks, a magnifying glass, and this hammering activity.

Next to the shelf is a unit of drawers, and one of them is dedicated to my kids and their creative pursuits. It’s filled with various tapes, extra clear tape (we race through this stuff), scissors, hole punchers, extra scissors (because mine constantly walk away, like socks in the laundry), my card readers, and a few other odds and ends. This drawer is in flux, but for now it’s working for us.

The other day I set out this invitation of pre-cut paper and a bowl of stickers to greet my kids when they woke up. So simple and it took me three minutes to arrange it. When my kids saw the table, their imaginations turned on and they got right to work, dreaming up all sorts of possibilities as they pulled various materials out to help them realize their visions.

More Creative Zone Inspiration

Organize your Art Station

New Creative Studio Corner

Art Supply Organization

Organizing Art Supplies: Day One

Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

Organizing Art Supplies: Pantry Labels

Art Table in the Living Room

What are your self-serve tips and tricks?

Bonus: 50 Art Materials for Toddlers

50 Art Materials for Toddlers is a fun post that rounds up our favorite supplies for little hands. We asked our readers to share some of their favorites, which are added in the comments. See what you think!

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Comments

  1. says

    I love how this turned out!! I don’t have the actual space for it right now, I’m planing on it. But We have some basket and boxes with supplies and the kids carry them to our dining table. Does the trick for now!

    • rachelle says

      Hi Teresita,
      Thanks so much! Things are always shifting in my space, but it’s really working for now. I didn’t have space dedicated to it either, and had to purge ome furniture to make room for this. Your solution sounds good to me — as long as your children have access to materials and a space to create, you’re golden!
      Cheers,
      Rachelle

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing – I find it very difficult living in a small house to set this out – but seeing your space I know it’s possible. At the moment I have crayons and paper constantly available but other materials have to be asked for as there isn’t an area where I can place it for the children (space wise) but with some tinkering I think I can achieve something that will work for us at home

    • rachelle says

      Yes, you can do it, Cerys! As you can see from my journey, it may take some time, but anything is possible. I had to do a lot of purging to make this happen, but it’s so worth it, especially given how much time we spend in this space.
      xo Rachelle

  3. says

    I LOVE seeing your pictures! We have very similar tins for storing crayons etc. I’m looking forward to sharing our creative learning spaces with you (soon I hope!) This is a very inspirational post- I hope LOTS of people see it! xx

    • rachelle says

      I can’t wait to see your space Anna! I bet it’s amazing and look forward to getting inspired from you.

  4. says

    Please come to my house and make it look like yours! :) I’ve tried to put most materials out for the kids to access, although some is still up high (choking sized things to keep away from the baby for instance.) It’s not quite as pretty a set up as yours though!

    • rachelle says

      Oh, Chelsey, you’re too kind. My house is often a mess, but this one area is holding up really well and we’ve been working at it! With little babies or toddlers underfoot, this sort of space wouldn’t work out too well for you, but in a few months you’ll be ready for it.

  5. says

    So many great ideas! I’m also in the process of reorganizing so your post came at the perfect time. One quick question: where did you get your bookshelves? My son loves books but finding a way to organize them and for them to be easily accessible has been the trickiest part.

    • rachelle says

      Thank you Grace. I picked up the bookshelves at a shop in Cambridge, MA, and I’ve tried to track them down since (I love them), but no luck. If you have room for a couple more cubbies, IKEA has some really nice options that are just a bit bigger than these. I know, finding the right furniture for a space can be a challenge!

    • rachelle says

      Wow, thank you Mariah! Coming from you this is a huge compliment and a sign that we’re on the right track!

  6. Sheau says

    This is so lovely. Yeah, have a tiny space and the art/play kitchen space is shared with our dining space. Can you imagine? I have been wanting to change it up to include more materials for Eiya and including a writing station as well. This is inspiring. Will need to set some time aside to reorganize o it materials and though out the space. Thank you for sharing this. Love the cake rack repurpose!

    • rachelle says

      Oh yes, Sheau, I can imagine it because I’m living under similar constraints!! It can be frustrating, but it’s not impossible to merge the two. It took me a while to get rid of the right amount of furniture and knick-knacks to make this happen, so just keep in mind that it can be a work in progress and you’ll be there before you know it. One thing that helped me was being able to free up some space when my youngest outgrew her baby gear, and I know that you’re in the thick of it right now. Hope all is well with you! ~rachelle

  7. Jenni Djafari says

    You just gave me so many ideas! I love the letter writing box. Where did you get the paper holder in the top photo? (I don’t know the real name which is maybe why I can’t find one) My favorite idea is the garbage can. I’m adding one to our art area tonight. Then it will never get messy, right?

    • rachelle says

      Hi Jenni!
      I’m so happy to hear that this inspired you. The paper holder is from IKEA. I think it’s a new product: KVISSLE. The paper trays slide out, which makes it especially awesome for little people — I just bought another one for myself. Love it. And yes, of course if you have a trash can in the area it will stay spotless. Scientific fact.
      xo, Rachelle

    • rachelle says

      Hi Billie,

      If you have a very active toddler, this might not be your time. Quite yet. But you’re almost there. However, a few months ago I was in your shoes and here’s what worked for me (and a few thoughts on how this might work for you):

      Whatever you think your child will be okay with could be at her height. When the materials are accessible it gives me the opportunity to teach her how to properly use them, so I slowly brought more materials out. Now, at 2 yo, she’s good with markers, kid scissors, and the tape dispenser. There are still things that I keep up high, mainly for my own sanity: paint, Sharpies, grown-up scissors. I’m not trying to control her access, but I’m realistic about my inability to monitor every step she takes.

      Does that help? Good luck!

      Rachelle

  8. says

    I love seeing other people’s art areas! I have a little nook in the back of our house where all of our supplies are that they do have access to and in theory it seems like it would be amazing…but they end up bringing everything into the kitchen instead. Seeing your space has me thinking about moving just some of it into a room off the entryway which is also off the kitchen. Thanks for sharing!

    • rachelle says

      Hey Megan,
      Our creativity zone has moved all over the house, and this spot seems to be the most successful. It may take some tinkering before you nail it, but definitely take your cue from the kids.
      Rachelle

  9. Magdalena says

    Thanks Tinkerlab!! Its really helpful (and inspiring into action!) to get visuals of creative spaces. Mags

  10. jena says

    I love serendipitous moments! Just when i have all but given up on early childhood educators understanding that its the process not the product that children need to experience, i find your website full of creative and inspiring open ended activites! i feel like i have just opened a window and let some fresh air in ! Now if i can just get ” ” teachers” to breathe it all in ! Lol
    Thanks so much for the re- inspire- jena (early childhood educator)