Top 10 Art Materials for Preschoolers

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A while back I received this question on facebook:

I'd love some advice. My daughter is turning 3 in a few weeks. I'd like to get her some new art supplies for her birthday. Besides the basic crayons, markers, watercolors and tempera paint… what do you think are the top 10 art supplies every 3 year old should use? Thanks so much!

I responded and then decided to share my answer here (and expand on it while I'm at it).

Remember this doesn't include the basics such as markers, watercolors (We LOVE liquid watercolor paint!), or tempera paint which are really at the very top of my list and are also on my top eleven list for toddlers.

So here are my top 10 art materials for preschoolers in no particular order. Please add your own favorites in the comments!


1.  Oil Pastels because the color is bright and they go on so smoothly.


2. Contact Paper for suncatchers and collages.


3.  Colored Tissue Paper for suncatchers and collages. I especially like the Bleeding Tissue Paper because you can do lots of cool projects with it.


4.  Droppers! To use with Liquid Watercolor Paint and coffee filters. So fun! You can use these lots of ways.


5.  Collage materials such as beans, pasta, nuts and washers (from the hardware store), cotton balls, PomPoms, Googly Eyes, Sequins, Wood Craft Sticks, Glitter, string, ribbon, and items from the recycle bin.


6.  Mini paint rollers are great fun for painting. Also fun brushes, foam bottle cleaners, scrubbers, q-tips, matchbox cars, flowers, pine boughs, etc.


7.  Playdough. Homemade is great! And we're late at really getting into Clay but it seems like a wonderful preschool staple.


8.  Pipe Cleaners. Good for all kinds of twistable and sculptural fun.


9.  An easel is awesome, although spendy. We love our Melissa and Doug Adjustable Easel (although the DSS Roll of Easel Paper is thicker and better than the Melissa and Doug easel paper). You can also make your own makeshift tabletop easel with a pizza box or other cardboard box. Or tape a sheet of paper to the wall or fridge.


10.  Chalkboard (small or large) and Chalk. Maia has a chalkboard in her room and also one on her easel. You can make your own with chalkboard paint, or try one of these Lap Chalkboards. You can also get Chalkboard Contact Paper which sounds intriguing. Or chalkboard wall decals.

What belongs on your top ten list of art supplies for a preschooler?

(This post contains affiliate links.)

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  1. arb says

    Jean I’d love to see a future post with links to recycled art paper products for kids. It seems crazy to me, for example, that easel rolls aren’t at *least* 30% post-consumer waste content. I know that recycled fibers are a little weaker so maybe it’s harder than I think, but the thought of cutting down trees for this stuff makes me batty. I am not picking on you in the least (hope that is obvious), but rather pining (no pun intended) for some massive change in this arena. I know that smencils, for example, use recycled newsprint, but they are imported, so not exactly as green as one would wish. I’ll let you know if I find a great source if you’ll do the same!

  2. says

    Jean- I think you should include scissors on this list. I know they seem like a “given”, but I teach art to kids and you would be surprised to know how many elementary school-aged students have trouble using scissors! I think it’s partly because parents are scared to let their children use them because of the risk of them cutting themselves. I think parents need to not worry so much, and get a good pair of round-tipped scissors and let them cut with scissors – often! It helps them develop that skill!
    And, then as a side note, I would include a hole puncher – I have seen preschoolers just love making holes and also collecting the confetti!
    Thanks for posting – this is a great question and a great list!
    -Crystal Rea Pyren
    The Drawing Board Art Instruction

  3. Shelly says

    Wonderful list!! Thank you! We have these items and maybe I’ve just started too early. I’m trying to incorporate art into the day and am struggling. My son is 2 1/2 and I’ve been trying to do this for at least a yearwith limited success. I have a table that he can stand at or another where he can sit. He has access to the supplies and I also get stuff out to do. His attention is usually very limited, which I expect at this age, but some days just getting him interested doesn’t happen. He’s a very mobile child who would rather be outside. I haven’t tried any outside activities yet this year and hope to this week. I find myself daunted by the set-up and clean-up. Any suggestions for making it more appealing? Is it just something that comes with age? Thank you

  4. says

    I would add fabric paint (we use Setacolor). My girls love to paint t-shirts and dresses (blanks from Dharma usually) and also kitchen towels and the like. I love that they get to create something both beautiful and USABLE/WEARABLE. Cheap prefolds painted up pretty make great kitchen towels, btw!
    Also, while not “technically” art supplies — how about things like acorns and pine cones and rocks? Items that can be collected in the yard and made into projects are awesome!

  5. char says

    My son LOVES glitter glue–it’s practically a fetish around here. His preschool teacher informed me that it is a safety hazard, because the little glints of glitter can get rubbed into kids’ eyes accidentally, causing injury. So, we are ever careful about that, and wash hands right when we finish. But nothing could stop us from playing with glitter glue…
    I’ve been exploring easels. Are they really much better than painting on a table? Or drawing on a chalkboard mounted on the wall? (Read: is it worth the money and space they require?)
    Thank you so much for this post (and for having this blog in the first place). This is one of my favorite blogs… (top 3)

  6. says

    Do you have First Art by MaryAnn Kohl? It’s full of wonderful, easy projects that are completely appropriate for that age. I think his lack of attention span and even his occasional disinterest in art is normal. When we did the toddler art group, there were plenty of days when one or more of the toddlers (often my own) had no interest whatsoever in doing the project. And many, many days when the set up and clean up took longer than the time the toddlers actually spent painting or whatever!
    As for ideas to make it more appealing — how about painting with cars, trucks, and rollers?
    Or shaving cream painting?—-a-sensory-experience.html
    Or inviting a friend of his over to do art together?
    Or getting window crayons and drawing on the window?
    And, definitely, try to do some art outdoors! Even ephemeral art. Give him a house paint brush and a bucket of water and see if he wants to paint the house or driveway. Blow bubbles. You can blow bubbles at paper to create patterns as the bubbles pop against the paper.
    Also, you can expand the whole idea of art to include mud pies (or whatever!), stick sculptures, etc.
    Hope this helps! And maybe someone else will have some suggestions for you as well! Most of all, I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s very young.

  7. says

    Char – Our easel has gotten SO MUCH use! Some of it’s sporadic. Maia will use it intensely (as in several times a day) for a week or so, then ignore it for a month. But overall, we have definitely gotten our money’s worth with it. As for space, that’s a trickier one for us. We don’t have much space, but as I seem to have prioritized art over much else, we’ve made the space.
    What brand of glitter glue do you buy? Each one we’ve tried has been hard to use/squeeze. We’d love to try one that works well.

  8. says

    Yes! They are so much better than crayola crayons and worth the extra money. I put off buying them because of the price and a friend finally gave Maia a set as a gift. I’m planning to buy the block crayons for Daphne’s first birthday.

  9. says

    Wow! What a great post! Thanks for sharing and making the info so easy to find and manage! We have fallen off the wagon a bit in the art department around here. My older daughter wants complexity and materials that are too much for my younger daughter to manage. Separate projects never fly, and scuffles and wailing have ensued a bit too often. Maybe I needed this list to remind me to get back on the wagon. Art is so important for children, but it can be so easy to let slide. I’m thinking I’ll take your list as inspiration to make them each their own art boxes. The family materials aren’t working right now, but maybe they’d be happy to engage in their own projects if they had their own special materials… Thanks, Jean!

  10. Barbara Zaborowski says

    I’d like to add masking tape (for instance, put it on paper, paint, and pull off)and white glue, for attaching paper, collage items, foam sheets, wood scraps, etc. Did you know you can make your own colored glue from old markers? Take the bottom off the marker, pull out the inside, and put it in a bottle of glue. You have to wait (from a couple of days to about a week) but you’ll end up with some great colored glue. I don’t see why you couldn’t add your own glitter, too.

  11. says

    Thank you so much for another WONDERFUL post featuring Discount School Supply items! How cool that we made your top ten for toddlers in so many slots! Thanks again for spreading the word about our DSS art items products being perfect for preschoolers.
    -Laurel from Discount School Supply

  12. says

    woohoo! great list and great comments! i’d have to add plain old copy paper…we go through LOTS of that (and do our best to use both sides, use the ones we don’t save as scrap paper, save for other projects, etc.). also, tape is a definite. these boys love to tape all sorts of stuff…we have a couple of different kinds to suit different purposes, but i am constantly amazed at what they do with tape. thanks again, jean!

  13. says

    Ok, Here’s my question. I have a one year-old boy (my only child so far) and am wondering when/what I can start doing “art” with him. I occasionally give him a crayon or pencil to see what happens… and mostly it’s just in his mouth still. I’m feeling anxious to get started though! Should I wait until he puts things in his mouth less? Should I start with some other sort of medium? Finger paints? Sidewalk chalk? Is there a “best” way to do drawing at this age? Small table? Standing up? My hand guiding him? Do you have suggestions for beginning artists (and their facilitators)?

  14. says

    I had the same question for our upcoming third-birthday celebrant, so thank you so much for sharing here! And also for the suggestions to Shelly in the comments. Shelly, I’ve definitely experienced the same thing and have even thought to myself, “Is it possible that I’m pushing art on him? Is it something I want him to do just because I enjoy it?” Which of course I don’t want to do.
    Just lately (he is a bit past 2 1/2 but not quite 3) my son has started getting excited about creating his own art. He still doesn’t sit for long to do it but seems more interested. One thing that I’ve found helpful is to set up while he’s engrossed in something else. Once he wants to do art, he wants to do it NOW and he will draw/paint/mix/etc. enthusiastically if everything is ready. If not he will just go to crayons and that’s it. He has also started talking about his artwork more and even telling me stories about it. A joy! So keep offering.
    I’ve found drawing on large surfaces (like a fence or wall outside, with colored chalk) or on his body (especially hands) is fun for my son as is playing around with the art materials as objects.

  15. arb says

    Laurel, maybe you have some insider knowledge and can answer my question up in the first comment: why isn’t it easier to find kids’ art papers made with a significant (30 or more) percentage of post-consumer recycled content (or FSC certified paper)?

  16. Shelly says

    Thanks so much, Jean!! I do have the book ‘First Art’ and love. I just got ‘Preshool Art’ from the library to see how it differs and it looks wonderful too. Thank you, BookishIma! I, too, fell at times like I’m pushing art, but I’m figuring its like everything: today they may love it, tomorrow not so much, and then next week love it again. As with everything else patience and small steps. Good to know its “normal”.

  17. Kayte says

    I would add Gel Sticks. They draw like butter (especially on dark paper), blend like magic and since they are water soluble they make a great water color experience too. Also someone earlier mentioned masking tape- we have lots of rolls in lots of colors from MoMA gift shop (Japanese water tape) and it is very popular with every kiddo who visits our house.

  18. Kayte says

    I tried in include a link to the gel sticks but it didn’t show up… They are made by Faber Castell.

  19. says

    Love this post! Thank you for putting it together. I wanted to include that we have an Ikea easel and are very happy with it. It’s listed right now at $25 plus $5 for a roll of paper, (though I swear I paid $15 last year…maybe I don’t remember…). Much cheaper than any of the other wooden easels that I’ve seen:

  20. Mirah says

    We also love glitter glue, my 3 year old Sophia loves to collage with it and even use it in paintings. We use the Discount School Supply ones and they are very easy to squeeze, are inexpensive and are generously sized. This is the set we have:
    I also second the gel sticks! We just got a set by Alex Toys that is really nice. I am also a fan of watercolor crayons and pencils. The way they change in application when moist makes them an interesting addition to watercolor painting. We have an inexpensive set of water soluble wax pastels by Reeves that are neat. We got them at Dick Blick online.
    Love the Japanese water tape – I had never heard of that, just googled it and it looks amazing! Sophia loves tape.
    Jean – wanted to let you know I just started up a preschool art playgroup inspired by your blog! We’ll have our second meeting this week to paint tees and plan on meeting weekly all summer long. Thank you for all your wonderful project ideas!!

  21. char says

    Thank you for your replies, Jean!
    We are not particular about our glitter glue. We go through it with such reckless abandon that I just buy it whenever I see in marked down or on sale, or I use coupons to buy it at the craft store. I don’t know which brand is best (and the individual tubes that we have now do not have any labels on them).
    Some tubes seem to be refillable, and I have toyed with the idea of buying glitter and glue separately and mixing them. But, I’m not sure I would come out ahead in any way by doing that…
    (The paintings in the window are gorgeous!! What lucky little girls to get to make these wonderful things with you!)

  22. says

    Thank you for another remarkable post. I don’t have children of my own, but my niece, nephew, and godchild definitely benefit from your blog. Happy Solstice, Karen

  23. says

    i like almost everything on the list except the playdough. i’m just concern to the kids that they may swallow them accidentally since it(playdough) may look-liked foods. :) So, instead of having it on my Top 10 list. I’d may replace them with what Char, Umatji, and Crystal Pyren said. Colored glue, scissors, and crayons. they are all time favorite art tools.

  24. says

    Butterfly-if you make your own play doh that is usually made from food stuff, so if they ate it, not a big deal…my kids go CRAZY for playdoh! and all other art supplies mentioned here…
    my kids are 3 and 7 now and a big item here too is the stapler. You can buy colored staples

  25. says

    Shaving Cream! Fun “art” that washes away. Be sure to give a towel to the child for clean up, they love to clean up as much as create. =0)

  26. Sudhaa says

    Dear Artful Parent,
    You are uber creative. Excellent job on your blog.
    I want to learn about when I should direct the art and craft work for my 4 yr old and when I should give the supplies and sit back. Should I show my kid how to use the medium or just leave it to her to figure…but she uses up a whole bottle of poster paint if I don’t ration it to her. I limiting her creativity telling her what she can use and how? Also what if the finished art doesnot look appealing to me, should I still say “excellent” to my kid. What do you do with all the finished art…do you store all of them or do you toss it? will it hurt the child’s feelings if you toss it?
    Your thoughts would mean a lot to me.
    -a control freak parent desperately wanting to change for her child’s well being and her own

  27. says

    I am a music teacher. I enjoy a lot when I am with kids than when I am with teens. Kids are more serious in my case. They love to play with the instrument unlike my teens.