As spring break nears and the days get longer, many parents are searching for meaningful ways to keep children occupied. What better time to make sure your family's crafts cupboard is well stocked and up to date?
Here are 10 essential arts and crafts items that are easy on the budget and simple to use:
1. Age-appropriate scissors - Even children as young as 3 can begin using safety scissors with supervision. Pay attention to age recommendations on packaging. Let tiny tots cut pictures out of old magazines to make a collage. Older kids can snip favorite shapes for all sorts of projects including paper dolls.
2. White craft glue or glue sticks - Little hands can manipulate glue sticks more easily than liquid glue, and parents can better control how much is used. Kids who can handle squeeze bottles may also enjoy colored or glittered glues. Consider putting a dollop of glue in a plastic container and give your child a Q-tip to apply it with less mess.
3. Construction paper - It's not just solid colors anymore. There are printed patterns and glittered pages, and fade-resistant papers that will keep projects looking cheery longer. Let young children paste strips of paper onto another piece for a simple project. Older children can practice origami, among other projects.
4. Felt and craft foam - Both add durability and texture to artwork. They're also more budget-friendly than many fabrics, and felt won't fray. Craft foam can be bought in pre-cut shapes, from trucks to dolls to holiday decorations.
5. Markers and crayons - Washable is the word for many households when it comes to markers. Besides traditional markers, there are ones you can use on windows or dry erase boards. Crayons are one of the least expensive craft items you can buy. If your child uses crayons to color a picture on an old shirt, pillowcase or other cotton fabric, you can iron it for a lasting piece of art.
6. Paints and brushes - Young children should use non-toxic paints, and most parents prefer washable. Finger paints are perfect for even the tiniest tots. As kids enter preschool they'll move on to tempura paint and large brushes. Then it's smaller brushes and watercolors for grade schoolers, and acrylic craft paints for older kids. Check the packaging for an Approved Product (AP) seal, which means it's certified as non-toxic by the Art & Creative Materials Institute Inc.
7. Popsicle sticks or pipe cleaners - Pipe cleaners are a colorful way to bind together other materials. Young children can create a caterpillar with an empty toilet tissue roll and pipe-cleaner antennae and appendages. Popsicle sticks give artwork structure and are super cheap. You can paint them, color them or glue on embellishments.
8. Yarn - Another item that comes in just about any color. Create yarn pompoms and add felt eyes, ears, feet and hands to make soft monsters, bugs or animal friends. Make a picture frame with popsicle sticks tightly wrapped in colorful yarn. Embellish for a keepsake.
9. Masking tape - Relatively easy for tiny fingers to manipulate, and can hold together sculptures made from household goods. Turn a piece of newspaper into an Easter egg by crumpling it and covering it with tape to hold its shape. Paint any way you choose. Tip: Use blue painter's masking tape to keep drawing paper from moving around on the table. The painter's tape comes off without tearing your kiddo's masterpiece.
10. Embellishments - Once you've got the other essentials, add some extras to jazz up craft time. Kid favorites include pompoms, feathers, plastic gemstones, stamps, stickers and glitter. Dollar bins are a great place to find them. Look for paper punches that make shaped holes such as cupcakes and snowflakes.
Don't forget the artistic potential in household items such as cotton balls, straws, empty soup cans and detergent jugs, and yard debris.
"Kids are great at turning recycled materials and found objects into art," says Emily Weerts, technology education coordinator for the Austin Children's Museum. One of her suggestions: Use scissors and masking tape to turn an old paper towel roll into a periscope.
Building a family arts and crafts supply with the items above can cost less than $50, depending on how wild you get with the embellishments.
The best time to stock up is during back-to-school sales and at major holidays - think Easter baskets and Christmas stocking stuffers. Many suppliers offer online deals.
"It's just so important to get kids to use their imagination," says Paula Puleo, chief marketing officer for Michaels Stores.
Once you've got your arts and crafts essentials, where can you store them? Puleo suggests something as simple as a cardboard box, plastic bin or toolkit. Just label it so you remember what it is. Plastic baggies and shoeboxes work well as dividers to cut down on mess and keep track of inventory.