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The Best Art Supplies for Kids: a Quick Guide to Get You Started

If you’re just getting started with kids art, you may be wondering: What are the best art supplies for kids?

We know early exposure to art has been shown to improve children’s play, communication, creativity, and social skills, but choosing the right art supplies from a sea of options can feel absolutely overwhelming. Where do you start? Helping children get started with art doesn’t have to be complicated.

So what are the best art supplies for kids? Read on…

What we’re going to cover…

The Best Art Supplies for Kids: Start with the Basics

This list includes my recommendations for introductory, basic supplies for kids, families, and teachers who are just starting out with art. If you’re looking for inexpensive supplies with the high quality and value, the recommendations on this list are for you

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the best watercolor paints in the world, this is not that list 🙂 (Although I do have an opinion on that!)

  1. Keep things simple. 
  2. Once you have a few things in place, build from there as your child’s interests and your comfort level with making art grow.

As soon as my first child started to make marks on paper, I was over-the-moon excited to go shopping. What did I do? I invested in gallons of paint, reams of paper, and rolls and rolls of colorful tape. I have to admit that I went a bit overboard on that tape, and we still have rolls of that first order many years later.

I’d like to spare you some of the trouble and cost.

This post may contain affiliate links. 

What to Look for in Kids Art Supplies

We all want our kids art supplies to be safe, but what do you look for?

Art supplies are made all over the world. Some come with safety endorsements and other don’t. If safety is a top concern, here are a few things to keep in mind or look for:

  1. Look for the following statement on the art supply: conforms to ASTM [American Society for Testing and Materials] D4236. This means all of the potentially hazardous components of the art product have been clearly labeled on the product packaging.
  2. Look for an ACMI approval seal from the Art and Creative Materials Institute
  3. For some art supplies, you can make your own, giving you full control of the ingredients. For example, did you know you can make paint made from crushed berries or coffee grounds, or that you can make playdough made from flour, salt, and water? Keep reading for my homemade playdough recipe recommendation.
  4. Look for supplies that are vibrant, low-odor, and long-lasting. It can be hard to look at an art material and know how it will perform, which is where our list can be helpful.

How the Best Art Supplies for Kids were selected

Aside from waxy restaurant crayons, I rarely meet an art supply I didn’t like, but some are just more reliable than others.

I’ve been an art educator for 25 years, teaching art in preschools, elementary classrooms, middle and high school, museums, private studios, and in my own home. Some of the questions I considered: Which supplies do kids enjoy the most? Which ones last the longest? Which fall apart quickly? Hours of research, play, experiments, and trial and error has gone into testing art supplies to bring you the very best, all in one spot.

The Best Art Supplies for Kids

If you’re having trouble finding art supplies for your children or students, you can use this simple guide.

Open a new tab to take notes or pull out a piece of paper and pencil to take notes, and let’s get started!

1. Tempera Paint

Let’s start with paint! I’ll share three types of paint on this list, and first up is tempera, also known as poster paint.

This paint has a creamy consistency, like yellow mustard or house paint. When looking for tempera, you may also see tempera paint pucks (dry paint disks) or powdered tempera, and that’s not what we’re talking about here.

The tempera paint we’re talking about often comes in stand-up bottles that look like shampoo containers. These bottles can be squeezed onto a plate or into ice cube trays. Tempera can then be stamped with sponges, cotton balls, pine cones, paintbrush, you name it. I like to use washable tempera paint, for obvious reasons 🙂

For a DIY tempera paint, try making egg tempera paint with this easy recipe. I highly recommend trying this at least once.

What can you do with tempera paint? Make an interpretation of modern artist Jasper Johns in this whole body painting experience (shown above).

Recommendation: Crayola Artista II Washable Tempera Paint applies well and comes in vibrant colors. You can also buy an art set with multiple colors for a better price.

2. Large, heavy paper

Paper of almost any type will happily get put to good use in your art space, but there’s one type of paper that is so versatile for little kids. You can use it for drawing, painting, and all sorts of crafts. 

If you have a young child or young students, I want you consider investing in larger sheets of paper. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t have the fine motor skills to work small, and will prefer larger paper for their big, sweeping arm movements. Large sheets of paper are fantastic blank canvases for multiple ideas and projects, and they can be cut down if you want smaller sheets.

Look for a heavier 18″ x 24″ paper that can be used for all sorts of activities from painting at the table to taping against a fence. 

Rolls of white paper are also great for this purpose, and can double duty as table covering or rolled out for mural-making. Paper rolls can be pricey, so I offer this recommendation on this particular list with a light touch.

What can you do with large sheets of construction Paper? Paint a large mural (see above)

Recommendation for large construction paper: Prang 18″x24″ Construction Paper

Recommendation for rolls of paper: Pacon ArtKraft Paper Roll

3. Paint Brushes

If you’re painting, you’ll need brushes!

There are all kinds of kitchen tools and found objects that are so fun for painting, so feel free to get creative and make a rubber band brush. 

When it comes to finding brushes, it can truly overwhelming to choose as there are just so many options!

I want you to focus on two kinds of brushes:

1. Fat easel brushes

2. Thinner watercolor brushes for details and smaller work

For easel painting, get a set of fat bristle brushes. 

Recommendation: Chubby Toddler Easel Paintbrushes for Tempera Paint

For watercolor painting and smaller, detailed painting, look for an art set of brushes with some variety. Go with something inexpensive.

Recommendation: Crayola Arts and Craft Brush set

If you’re interested in detail brushes for older children and parents, check out this inside tip, and if you want to get experimental, try making your own brushes like the rubber band brush (above).

4. Crayons

Crayons are a childhood must-have! They’re also a low mess art material, which makes them extra appealing to most teachers and parents. 

My kiddos have gone back and forth between colored pencils, markers, and crayons. Crayons are so versatile and often make an appearance on our art table for projects such as camouflage coloring and melted crayon drawings

Pro tip: Break your crayons in half to make them more manageable for the preschool finger grip.

Crayon alternatives: If you want an extra splurge, pick up a pack of oil pastels (Sakura Cray-Pas are my fave) and a pack of paint sticks (Kwik Stix are fantastic). Two awesome supplies that take crayons to the next level.

Just for fun, read this poll on my Facebook page archives on crayons vs. markers that you might enjoy reading.

Recommendation: Crayola Crayons These are a classic for kids of all ages, with great coverage and vibrant colors. You just can’t go wrong.

5. Markers

From a pretty early age, my children preferred markers to crayons and I suspect it’s because the color from markers is much more vibrant and gratifying. For that reason, I suggest having a few different mark-making tools around to experiment with.

What can you make with markers? We enjoy bright markers for loads projects such as drawing art critters or a cool chromatography exploration with black markers. 

Recommendation for toddlers: Crayola Ultra Clean Washable Markers

Recommendation for thin markers: Crayola Super Tips

6. Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint is the second type of paint on this list.

Watercolor pans are one of my favorite art supplies because they’re portable, low mess, and great for on-the-go art making. When we want to add a whole lot of color to something quickly, they’re great for that and far faster and than crayons!

For toddlers and preschoolers I don’t generally recommend watercolor paint pans because they require so much work from the child and the payoff isn’t there for them.

Recommendation for beginner watercolor paints: Pelikan opaque watercolors aren’t the least expensive, but you get a whole lot of value for your money . The quality is excellent, it comes with 24 colors, and the size of the paint pucks is large enough to make them easy for kids to use.

7. Liquid Watercolors

Liquid watercolors are the third type of paint I’d recommend adding to your art area.

Liquid watercolors get used in so many different projects. Squeeze them into  playdough to add color, squirt them on coffee filters, or mix them with homemade Goop (see above).

Liquid watercolors are so versatile and easily the most used art supply in a home with creative preschoolers.

To paint with liquid watercolors, squeeze the desired amount in a jar and add a brush. For less intense colors or to lengthen the use of your paints, add water to to dilute the mixture.

Recommendation for liquid watercolors: Color Splash paint set It’s economical, non-toxic, and comes in vibrant colors 

8. Glue

I have a love affair with Elmer’s. I’ve tried other glues, but I’m incredibly loyal to this brand. It’s reasonably priced, non-toxic, and works like a charm.

If you have a toddler, this is an excellent beginner glue project for exploring glue, and you should also try setting up glue and leaves (above).

Recommendation for white glue: Elmer’s School Glue, also in gallon size for refilling (recommended):  Elmer’s School Glue Gallon/s

9. Tape and Stickers

I’m putting tape and stickers in the same category because they can easily serve the same purpose of decorating and attaching. 

Washi tape, blue painter’s tape, clear tape, stickers. We love it all.

Recommendation for paper tape: This art pack of 8 rolls in a rainbow of colors is a deal.

Recommendation for stickers: Round or rectangle office sticker labels are simple and the way to go.

Pro tip: For toddlers, tape and stickers are an amazing attention-holder for developing fine motor skills. Offer a toddler a sheet of stickers to peel and stick to a sheet of paper. They’ll be engaged and mesmerized.

Pro tip #2: You can make your own tape dispenser with PVC pipes or cut small pieces off for your child to easily remove (above).

10. Scissors

This one is pretty straight forward. Fiskars is my absolute favorite brand. They’re easy for kids to hold, last forever, and they come in right and left-handed versions. Choose blunt tip for toddlers and early preschool, and pointed tip for elementary children.

Recommendation for blunt tip scissors: Fiskars blunt tip

Recommendation for pointed tip scissors: Fiskars pointed tip

Recommendation for left-handed scissorsFiskars pointed tip left handed

Recommendation for versatile right/left hand scissors: Fiskars blunt right/left hand scissors

Pro tip for scissor cutting coordination: Here’s a little trick for helping young children learn to use scissors that I learned from Mary Ann Kohl’s awesome book, First Art for Toddlers and Twos: offer children fat worm forms of clay or play dough to cut up (see above). It’s much easier to cut than paper, teaches children how to use scissors, and a rewarding experience!

11. Play Dough

Play dough is a staple for little kids! I probably should have put it first on the list because it’s just that good and useful. The sensory experience of working with play dough is unmatchable. You can squash it, roll it, build with it, “cook” with it, set up a pretend baking session, and add toys or craft materials like googly eyes and pipe cleaners to it.

Recommendation for the best play dough recipe: Buying play dough is just not worth it in my opinion. It usually comes in small containers, and you can make an enormous batch for a fraction of the cost. This is the Best Play Dough Recipe, used by just about every single preschool teacher I know. It’s amazing, pliable stuff that lasts for ages and it’s completely non-toxic. 

Recommendation for store-bought play dough: However, store-bought play dough is better than NO play dough! For this, Play Doh is a trusted source and there are so many colors to choose from.

Recommendation for eco-friendly store-bought play dough: For a store-bought dough that acts like homemade dough, Baby Roo makes their dough with flour and edible pigment.

12. Treasures

Treasures are small craft supplies that delight such as feathers, yarn, sequins, and pom-poms. Offer these in multiples in bowls, along with glue or clay, and see what your child comes up with.

Safety tip: Please be cautious when using small objects with young children. We don’t want your child to curiously poke a bean up her nose in the name of creativity. 🙂

Storage tip: Store treasures in clear plastic or glass jars (to easily see what’s inside) with things like buttons, beads, pom-poms, and feathers.

Recommendation for treasures: feathers, yarn, sequins, pom-poms, beads, buttons, sea shells, leaves, pebbles, beans

13. Recyclables

Recyclables are FREE, don’t require a trip to the store, and help us do our bit for sparing the environment from new materials.

My favorite recycled supplies as art materials: 

  • Plastic lids (they make great paint palettes)
  • Cardboard: cut it into various shapes and sizes. Make a marble run
  • Yogurt containers: use to store paint or small craft supplies
  • Paper tubes — try making stamps
  • Egg cartons: you can build with them, paint them, and cut them up into imaginative crafts

Recommendation for recyclables: Set up a box or basket to collect clean paper and plastic materials from the home or kitchen.

14. Paper Collection

Start a small collection of paper scraps to use for collage and experimental drawing surfaces. Store them in a shoebox or similar container. Try this tip for saving paper scraps from old art.

Recommendations for Paper Collection:

  • wrapping paper
  • greeting cards
  • tissue paper
  • foil
  • pages from old books
  • brown paper bags
  • junk mail
  • newspaper
  • candy wrappers
  • homework
  • maps
  • brochures
  • graph paper/lined paper

15. Low-heat glue gun

This might seems like a strange supply to have on a kids art supply list, but hear me out!

If you have a child who likes to build things, a low-heat glue gun is a tool you will love having. The tip doesn’t get enormously hot and it can be used to easily and quickly attach sculptural items together. You can start with making recycled art sculptures and work your way up to making found object critters.

Recommendation for low-heat glue gun: Surebonder Cool Shot is super low heat and is cool enough for children to safely use.

16. Easel

one year old painting at the easel

If you have a toddler or preschooler, you may have noticed how much they enjoy making art while standing or sitting on the ground. Sitting at a table, not so much. Okay, this is a generality, but standing to paint is so much easier for small hands. 

Why? When young children are invited to paint, they’re often more comfortable working at an easel where their arms can have a full range of motion.

With the easel you can either use a roll of paper or the large 18″ x 24″ construction paper mentioned in the paper section.

Recommendation for easels: We love our reasonably priced IKEA Mala easel (older version above), which we painted to give it a little bit of personality. I also like the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Easel includes trays on both sides so that two children can create simultaneously.

What about the best art kits for beginners?

There are a lot of arts and craft kits out there, and many are disappointing because the quality just isn’t great. I prefer gathering supplies individually so I can pick and choose what I like, but kits are definitely a time-saving option with the bonus of containing all the pieces in one place.

If you’re considering the ease of a kit, I have two recommendations for you…

Recommendation for Arts and Crafts Kit: You may have noticed that category #12 on my list is TREASURES, which encompasses a whole lot of things. Kid Made Modern does all the curation for you with this all-in-one suitcase of crafty supplies with a huge kit of 1000+ pieces. The variety is astounding. We got this for our college dorm one year and they even loved it! While it’s not inexpensive, it’s all organized and contained in one spot.

Recommendation for Mark-making Kit:  You may have noticed my appreciation for Crayola art supplies, and they make a kit that works because the materials are all high quality. Crayola Inspiration Art Case includes crayons, colored pencils, and markers in an organized suitcase-style box. With 140 pieces, it’s ultimately a great deal and helpful for on-the-go art making.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you!

For more ideas on basic tools and tinkering supplies, look for my book: TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors.

TinkerLab Schoolhouse Online Art Club for Kids

Engaging kids art classes - from the comfort of home!

You set up the supplies & we'll offer the instruction.

13 Comments

  1. Keep in mind that while markers are so very exciting to children (and vibrant as you say) they are quite limited and don’t necessarily support nuanced drawing. The child is not creating the color, the pen is. One is very limited with shading techniques and overlaying of color when using markers. Crayons – especially real beeswax crayons – and quality colored pencils allow for the young artist to learn about gradation/shading….even for the youngest of artists they learn that if they want a darker line/fill that they need to use more pressure or create layers; if they want something with a lighter color they can use less pressure etc. It is partially about art technique and partially about fine motor skills that they will and need to develop over time.

    I would also advocate for higher quality brushes and other art materials and teach children from very early how to care for their tools. They will be more pleased with the outcome of their work and you will instill a sense of value for their creative materials.

    just my thought

    • Hi Nancy, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you wholeheartedly that children should use the highest quality art materials their families or schools can afford. We’ve used our fair share of waxy crayons with no real pigment, which left us feeling very unsatisfied. It can be a real turnoff to art making if the materials aren’t inspiring. And I appreciate your thoughts on crayons vs. markers — my kids loved crayons for years and then jumped ship for markers. I also prefer markers as I like making crisp lines, and perhaps they picked this up from me.

  2. HI Rachelle:

    I so appreciate all your ideas and enthusiasm for helping EVERYONE learn to tinker, make, and create. I love how creating with our kids reminds us that we too have little artists inside.

    Cheers!
    Amy

  3. […] All kids LOVE getting arty. The paints, glue, glitter and the go-ahead to get messy without consequence might have something to do with it! An arts and crafts set filled with stickers, paints, glue, scissors, pipe cleaners and all other bits and bobs will certainly make any child happy. You could purchase one from a shop or build your own. […]

  4. […] If you have a toddler who likes making art, you might be wondering what art materials to start with? For that, I’d like to direct you over to The Best Art Supplies for Kids: A Quick Guide to Get You Started. […]

  5. The metal cans you have the art supplies in in the header image – where are they from?

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