Location is everything. If the art area is in the basement or tucked away upstairs, it’s less likely to get used—even if it’s really fantastic. “It should be close to where everyone is hanging out,” says Megan Schiller, founder of The Art Pantry, a design firm specializing in children’s creative spaces.
Say Yes to the Mess
Neatniks take a deep breath: Research has found that people may be more creative in untidy spaces. So designate a place where kids can get messy. The work surface should be something nonporous that wipes clean—and skip the rug underfoot.
Design Within Kids’ Reach
Store supplies in a way that children can easily access them; then they can create when the urge strikes. “Keep the supplies somewhere where the kids notice them and are inspired by them,” says Schiller.
Put Art on the Walls
“It’s empowering to see their artwork displayed,” notes Meg Nicoll, art educator at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. In fact, in the new National Core Arts Standards, there is an emphasis on selecting artwork for presentation and displaying it. Do the same at home.
The materials that your children use to make art are just as important as the space in which they create it.
Invest in the Best
Don’t cheap out on art supplies. Opt for the highest-quality materials and tools you can afford. “Children [subconsciously] understand the weight and the quality—that’s why they always want our toothbrush or our hammer,” says Jessica Balsley, founder and president of The Art of Education. Balsley also recommends that parents ignore toddler-specific supplies like fat crayons that fit their hands. As a teacher and a mom, she’s found that adult-size drawing tools are easier for kids to manipulate.
Curate Your Collection
Balsley suggests leaving out a good supply of always-okay materials to empower children to create whenever they feel the urge—like crayons and colored pencils, which can’t wreak havoc. Store messier supplies, such as markers (even “washable” ones) and tempera paint, in a separate location.
Edit for Toddlers
While supplies within reach spark creativity for older kids, they can be overwhelming for the youngest artists. Balsley’s rule of thumb is the younger the child, the fewer supplies; she advises parents to put out only one piece of paper and one or two crayons at a time.
Balsley recommends giving kids one black permanent marker in their basic art kit. “The Sharpie will be your children’s favorite art supply,” she says. The quality of the line a permanent marker produces is super-satisfying to kids and they can paint or glue on top of the non-water-soluble markings. Just make sure it is used with adult supervision! (How to get it off your walls is for another story.)
Tip: Protect a table with oilcloth for a wipes-clean surface. Use a staple gun to attach it to the underside of the tabletop. If you’re hesitant to use staples, stick-on hook-and-loop tape will also work.
As an alternative to a space-hogging easel, Schiller suggests mounting a piece of clear plexiglass on your wall. (You can have 1/4˝-thick plexi cut to size at a well-supplied home-improvement store; drill straight through the plastic to mount). Then, attach paper with suction-cup clamps.
The see-through compartments of a lazy Susan make organization a snap. “If it’s on a shelf or a table, you can twirl it around to find what you need,” says Schiller. Clear Linus Divided Lazy Susan, $25.
Make It Mobile
Stash your child’s art supplies in a rolling cart and wheel it out as needed, or fill a simple tote with everyday supplies that you can move around. Room Essentials Storage Cart, $30.