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Create a Child's Art Studio at Home

Encourage creativity in your child by making a room in the house an art studio

On a rainy afternoon, 8-year-old Nonie Thomas hunches over a piece of paper at the kitchen table drawing a portrait of Sugar Cube, the family's white cat. The moment Nate and Henry, her 5-year-old twin brothers, burst through the door, they too go to work. Henry grabs a pencil and paper, and tow-headed Nate reaches for some tape, pink feathers, and a pompom, though he abandons this project in an artistic pique when the tape won't cooperate.

A plate on the kitchen counter brims with the threesome's handiwork, including brightly painted clothespins and a bunny head made of pompoms with pipe cleaners cleverly bent to make floppy ears, a collaboration between Nonie and Henry. "We don't have a craft room, but we put out a lot of stuff for the kids," says mom Carrie, who previously taught and worked as a developmental psychologist. She set out to make arts and crafts a spontaneous part of her family's everyday life, something her kids can do on their own, with a simple, portable plan.

Her children tote around individual art kits: tackle boxes Carrie stuffs with materials the kids can use wherever and whenever they like. They also have paper, bound art journals, and minicanvases stashed around the house. Creating art "gives each child's personality an outlet," she says.

Nonie likes to spread out on the floor with pens, paper, and scissors. "I like paper cutting a lot," she says. Henry prefers drawing — he begins to work on his own portrait of Sugar Cube at the kitchen table. Henry says that Nate, who has slipped off to work at the train table in the boys' room, "likes to make things." A recent example: Nate shaped letters out of pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks to spell "I Love You Mom and Dad," and laid them out on a chest at the foot of his parents' bed.

"Instead of me always initiating a project, it's just there," says Carrie. "The kits promote the idea of art without it being more work for me." Once, she opened Nonie's art book to find her daughter had created a pictorial diary, filling every page with colorful drawings that documented her kindergarten year.

No Worries
So the children can play independently, the kits are stuffed with tools and supplies Carrie feels they can use safely and relatively neatly, on their own or with friends. Each child has blunt-nose scissors, tape, and glue. Second-grader Nonie has a stapler. Carrie has a very large tackle box filled with permanent markers, the better paints, and the expensive brushes, which she gets out for occasional family sessions.

Fully Loaded
Carrie fills the art boxes with what she describes as open-ended items, such as feathers, clothespins, and popsicle sticks, inexpensive raw materials that inspire the kids. She also looks for materials beyond the toy store, where she finds most craft supplies are pricey — and intended for girls. Twist ties, small rocks and pine cones, even office supplies such as blank labels work well. Nonie's kit has grown with her, now including sophisticated items such as sparkle glue, watercolor paints, and pastel crayons. Down the road Carrie may add some balsa wood for building.

Have Kit, Will Travel
Though the kids are happy to draw and color on the floor, it's also nice to have some table space. Their dad, Bob, made Nonie a low plywood art table on wheels, which works especially well for having friends over to draw and paint. Pictures can dry on the table's lower shelf. When not in use, the 2-foot-by-3-foot table rolls under Nonie's bed. [We've found that those clear plastic under-the-bed bins with flat lids — a good drawing surface — work well too.]

Carrie needed a spot for backup materials and things, such as oversized pieces of paper, that don't fit into a totable box. A small yellow chest of architect-style drawers in Nonie's room holds paper, googly eyes, beads, and stickers. Should the kids run out of something they need, there's a ready spot to go for extras. Because when the creative spirit strikes, you don't want to find you're out of pompoms.

Bins to Stash Art Supplies

The Portable Bins
Carrie prefers kits from ArtBin, which sells a variety of artist storage supplies. She uses the boxes with trays that pull out; ArtBin sells one-, two-, and three-tier versions (there's even a six-tier box for the supercrafter with superhero strength).

ArtBin sells many varieties of art kits, from classic to "upscale" models. We went for the middle-of the-road Essentials Tray Boxes, which come with removable dividers that allow for many kit supply changes and reconfigurations.

ArtBin Essentials One Tray Box, 15 x 8.25 x 6.5, available in black or green, $14, artbin.com
ArtBin Essentials Two Tray Box, 15.5 x 8.5 x 7.5, $18, artbin.com
ArtBin Essentials XL Three Tray Box, 20 x 10.25 x 10.375, $35, artbin.com

The Under-the-Bed Bins
Store-bought equivalents to Bob's low plywood art table can do the trick too. We recommend:

Long Underbed Box with Wheels.
This is a clear plastic bin with a flat lid —a good work surface —and wells for supplies. A joint in the middle of the lid allows access to either side of the bin without removing the lid. $22, available at The Container Store, containerstore.com (Item # 10023967)

Slimfit Underbed Storage Box.
This is also a clear plastic bin on wheels. It too has a jointed, flat lid. It's 43 x 19.5 x 6.7 inches, so it slides easily under many bed frames. $18 at Linens-N-Things, Int.com

An Art Kit Shopping List


Stock your child's art kit with age-appropriate supplies, and you'll unleash a world of pipe-cleaner people and popsicle-stick trees. To help ease your way through the craft store aisles, here's a printable shopping list of the basics.

For Preschoolers (Ages 3 and 4)
Broad-tip markers
Buttons
Chalk
Eraser
Finger paints
Foam brushes
Glue stick
Googly eyes
Modeling clay
Notepad
Paper crimper
Pipe cleaners
Pompoms
Popsicle sticks
Ruler
Sponges
Stickers
Washable crayons
Watercolors
Wikki Stix
Yarn

For Kindergarteners and First Graders
Acrylic paints
Alphabet beads
Blunt-nose scissors
Colored pencils
Glitter
Liquid glue
Prisma color markers
Seed beads
Stapler
Stencils
Thread
Watercolor crayons

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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