I’m too embarrassed to admit how many hours I’ve spent on Pinterest looking for kid’s craft ideas.
I found a craft project that I thought was perfect. These letter B butterflies with a stained glass look. Easy enough for both my 5 year old and 3 year old to do.
And they were easy. They looked great when they were finished. BUT the kids were finished in about 2 minutes flat. And it took me around 40 minutes to prepare it all.
That’s not a good return on investment of my time!
The perfect craft activity is where I say Go create, my little muses! and then I sit back with a book and a cup of tea (yes, I drink a lot of tea).
I’ve since found out there are two types of art and craft activities (all that reading comes in handy too). The type of activity you choose will influence how much hands-on time you spend on the activity, and how much creative licence your child has.
The two types of art and craft are:
- Outcome based craft
- Process art / craft
Outcome based craft is where you’re aiming for a specific finished product or result at the end of the craft session. Like my letter B Butterflies.
Older children tend to enjoy and get more out of outcome based arts and crafts than younger children.
Process art, which is my favourite, is where the creative process is more important than the finished product.
Not only are kids exploring different art and craft mediums and techniques without the pressure to create something, they get to exercise their own creative muscles, instead of copying someone else.
This kind of craft also keeps younger children entertained for longer with only a small parental input. I find that any activity where I have to stand over the kids and give them constant direction ends in tears and frustration and stifles their creativity.
When it comes to what craft supplies you should have available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or carried away (I flip-flop between both). There’s just so much to choose from.
We have our fair share of pop sticks, pipe cleaners, pom poms and googly eyes, but my kids rarely use these and if they do, it requires a lot of my direction and input (outcome based craft).
But there are a few craft supplies that my kids come back to every single day. These supplies listed below encourage open ended creativity and a whole lot of fun.
And the great thing is, you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money. In fact, you probably have a lot of these things already.
Essential Craft Supplies that Spark Creativity
I’m sure watercolour paper or high quality art paper is nice, but not in our budget and we’ve done fine for years without it.
Instead, recycled paper is always a good option. My kids go through heaps of paper (especially after watching Paper Planes, surely the best Australian kids’ movies since Dot and the Kangaroo), so recycled paper is a must.
If you work in an office, you might be able to bring some recycled paper home (just check with the boss that you’re not bringing home anything confidential).
We get lots of coloured paper as junk mail, and then there’s magazines and newspapers.
For new paper, look for specials on office paper at the supermarket or discount store. The discount store is also great for coloured construction paper, card and other specialty papers (and just about all craft supplies).
Paper plates are also good to have on hand for something a bit different.
Children love cutting stuff. Paper. Their hair. The pot plants. Scissors are essential for a whole range of craft projects and they are great for developing fine motor skills and hand strength.
I’m not convinced children need safety scissors. We’ve has our fair share of child-friendly scissors and they’ve caused a whole lot of tears and frustration because they don’t cut! Crayola have some amazing products, but their plastic scissors are not one of them!
On the other hand, children’s scissors are small and fit little hands better than adult scissors. I like metal scissors like these ones, they cut well but are still small and have rounded ends.
3. Masking Tape
If I could only choose one craft supply, this would be it. Get it cheap from the hardware store, kids will use it for just about anything. Today my daughter stuck scrap of paper to an empty toilet roll, giving ‘Mini’ a dress. And I use masking tape to label the kids lunchboxes.
While you’re at the hardware store, pick up a ball of cotton twine. The children in Enid Blyton’s books all have pockets full of useful bits and bobs including pieces of string. It’s amazing what inventive games and crafts kids come up with, with just string (and possibly some masking tape).
Crayons are a child’s second writing implement (after a stick in the dirt) and it’s important to choose quality crayons.
We ignored the advice to get quality supplies and wasted our money as a result. Good quality crayons actually draw and are so much more satisfying to use. Your child will draw more as a result. Pay the extra $1-$2 for good quality crayons. You can’t go past Crayola for good crayons.
Good quality pencils are also important. I like Fabre Castell for quality and they’re still pretty cheap to buy.
8. Recycled boxes and containers
Empty yoghurt containers, toilet rolls, egg cartons, empty boxes…these all have great creative potential. I keep a craft box full of recycled containers, magazines, paper, yarn, old ribbon, envelopes and other recycled craft materials for the kids to dig into.
A glue stick is easy to use for very young kids and it’s good for gluing paper. For other craft projects, plain white school glue is a good choice. This is only a dollar or two from discount stores or you can pick up PVA glue from the hardware store.
Playdough is easy to make at home and is great for all ages. It’s super cheap, and a good introduction to model making. We recently watched this amazing cake decorating video on YouTube (high tea on a cup cake) and I had fun recreating a very humble version with playdough while my three year old rolled snakes.
11. Tempera / Poster Paint and Brushes
We have basic poster paint in primary colours (red, yellow and blue) plus white and black. This allows the kids to mix their own colours and shades, which is my children’s favourite part of the painting process. Children learn colour theory very young when they are allowed to mix their own colours.
You can buy poster paint cheaply at the discount store or Crayola do a set of paints in primary colours.
Nice to have but not essential
12. Watercolour Paints
The trays with the dried blobs of watercolour are awful (or I’ve never found a good one). We use the Tim and Tess kids brand of watercolour paints in squeezable tubes, which we picked up for 50% off from our local Riot Craft store, but an inexpensive adult brand would be fine too.
13. Beads – Children love threading and it’s a great fine-motor activity. Large pony beads (or small beads for older children) can be found at the discount store. Other things to thread include dried pasta, buttons and straws or bits of card with holes punched in them.
Shoelaces make good threading cords for young fingers.
My kids are 3 and 5 and we keep all of these craft items within reach for when the creative mood strikes (except the watercolour paints – I’ve seen them use the toothpaste tube). Yes, we have paint and playdough forever squished in our carpet, and once my son decided to cut the arm of the lounge. But when they wake up at 5am, I’d rather they do something creative than watch TV. I’m often amazed at what they create.
The only other tip I have is to keep your creative space tidy (she says as she gazes over den of trolls that is our house). A messy space is a turn off for adults and kids alike. Children will be more likely to engage with craft items if the place isn’t overwhelming and messy.
A few amazing creative books for parents
The great thing about these craft supplies (and process art in general) is you can put it out and let the kids go wild without having to stand over them and give them direction.
But if you’re in need of a little inspiration, here are three wonderful books on children’s craft and creativity that I love and have found inspiring:
- The Artist’s Way For Parents: Raising Creative Children by Julia Cameron
- The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity by Jean Van’t Hul
- The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule
What’s your child’s favourite craft supply? What are your tips for helping kids explore their creative side?
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.