Forget Crayons :: 11 Best Art Materials for Toddlers

Share & Comment

Forget Crayons - The 11 Best Art Materials for Todders

Crayons are the ubiquitous art material for young children, right? If there’s one art material every family has on hand, it’s probably crayons. But as widespread as they are, I don’t feel they are one of the best art materials for toddlers.

Why not?

You have to press hard to get bright color, the paper wrapper is a pain, and the skinny crayons just break so quickly.

So, what are the best art materials for toddlers?

Note: This post was originally published in  July 2011. I have updated it and am re-publishing it, after having three people in the space of one week ask for recommendations for toddler art supplies. 

Some of the resources listed on this page contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase one of them, I will receive a small percentage of that sale for the referral. For more information, see my disclosures page.

Washable Crayola Markers1. Washable markers, perhaps the little Crayola Pip-Squeaks, although my kids both loved the regular-sized markers as well when they were toddlers. We keep our markers in a plaster marker holder as a toddler-friendly way to keep track of lids and markers. You can also buy a wooden marker holder for the same purpose.

Crayola Twistables Slick Stix2. Crayola Twistables Slick Stix These are awesome for toddlers—much better than crayons—because they glide on smoothly with little pressure and the color is vibrant. They are basically oil pastels in a hard plastic case, making them easy to grip. You just twist up the pastel as you need more. This generally makes them less likely to break than traditional oil pastels (which we also love), but we have had them break on us occasionally, especially if they are twisted up too far.

Playdough3. Playdough. We love homemade—the cooked playdough recipe is the best; the no-cook recipe is easier and quicker—but if you’re not going to make it, give this playdough from Discount School Supply a try.

4Melissa and Doug Adjustable Easel. An Easel is a great way to let toddlers work standing up, as they do best, and to create a simple dedicated art space at the same time (a kid-sized table works well, too.) We’ve had our Melissa and Doug Easel for eight years now and still love it. I think its the best value out there for a children’s easel. Be sure to get  paper for it. We like the easel paper rolls from Discount School Supply the best, but Melissa and Doug paper is okay. If you really want convenience, they sell an easel accessory kit that includes paper, spill-proof cups, and lots more.

Spill Proof Paint Cups5. Spill-proof paint cups – Keeps the paint off the table (floor, lap…) and also keeps it from drying out.

Toddler Paint Brushes6. Chubby paint brushes, such as these jumbo paint brushes by Melissa and Doug, are great for little hands. We also really love these Stubby Chubby brushes.

Triangular Chalk7. Chalk (I like Melissa and Doug jumbo triangular chalk sticks—they are not as small and breakable as the skinny little pieces sold for chalkboards, but not as huge as sidewalk chalk). If you don’t have a chalkboard, you can use chalkboard paint on a wall or simply buy a chalkboard wall decal.

Washable Tempera Paint8. Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paints If you’re only going to buy one kind of paint, this is what to get.

finger paint9. Colorations Washable Finger Paint You can use tempera paint with your fingers, but finger paint has the perfect smooth texture for smearing around on paper and it stays moist for much longer.

Liquid Watercolors10. Colorations Liquid Watercolors Because they are just gorgeous and vibrant. The traditional watercolor cakes are not ideal for toddlers; liquid watercolors are easier for them to use.

Elmers Glue Bottle11A bottle of squeeze glue. Yes, they will squeeze and squeeze until there is a puddle of glue on their paper, but they will have so much fun doing it, and the glue is so cheap, that I think you ought to let them. Besides, it’s a good hand-strengthening exercise and helps with motor control. And you can bring out the collage materials to stick in the glue. If the normal size squeeze bottle is too hard for them to squeeze, try a mini bottle.

What are your toddlers favorite art materials? (Or what were they, when your kids were toddlers?)

P.S. Despite the title, we have come around to crayons with child number 2 and I wrote a post about crayons for toddlers and creative drawing with young children that you might be interested in reading.

P.P.S. For more about art with toddlers, check out my new Parents’ Corner and scroll down to the toddler art section.

This post contains affiliate links.

Share & Comment

Comments

  1. Peggy says

    I was just telling my mother that my 3 year old could care less about crayons even though we have a ton as she has gotten them for gifts a bunch of times. She’s all about the fingerpaint, chalk, markers, playdough… One of her favorite things right now is glitter glue – just like what you said with glue, only sparklier! She squeezes a bunch out in a big pile, squishes it around like finger paint, and/or uses a paintbrush – so fun to watch!

  2. says

    * Crayola Twistables
    * Soy Crayon Rocks
    * Colored Masking Tape
    * Heavy Paper like Watercolor Paper, Cardstock, or Bristol Board
    * Scrap Box with fun bright papers (think wrapping paper, doilies, aluminum foil, origami paper)
    * Glue Sticks
    * Bright Sidewalk Chalk (Crayola Brights)
    * Stickers!
    * Clear Contact Paper

  3. says

    I can do without the markers, but not scissors and tape. I never liked washable markers because I found them to run and smear too much. All my toddlers have enjoyed cutting and taping, though. Rolls and rolls of scotch tape=fabulous.

  4. Jackie says

    I wholeheartedly agree about the liquid water colors. My 4 year old grandson and I did a project and pulled out the cake water colors, and it was painfully slow trying to lay down large amounts of color. I pulled out my recently purchased liquid water colors and WOW, was that awesome. He loved it and I look forward to doing more projects together with him.

  5. lisa says

    are watercolor cakes the same as tempra paint cakes? I am trying to search on the discount school supply website, but I’m not sure if I’m getting the right stuff. I have an almost seven year old and we never do art, but I feel like it is about time we started! Your list (and yesterdays post) are inspiring me. I am unfamiliar with a lot of these materials though! Please help me figure out what would be good to start with!

  6. says

    I think (and this is just an observation, I have no research to back it up) that crayons are more popular for kids in the States than in other countries. They are not that popular here (Japan) and my son favours felt pens or pencil crayons and at kindy each child has their own pack of oil pastels. My son will pick the oil pastels over crayons, he does have a pot of crayons, they are on the art shelf collecting dust.
    I was talking to my mom about this and she was saying my nephew and niece also favour pens over crayons, as a child I remember having a massive box of coloured pencils and loving it, Crayola crayons had cool names but didn’t really do it for me :o)
    Japanese paper tape is popular in our house, comes in cute colours, good job it is cheap the amount we go through. Paints too, acrylic is the favourite we have a load of tempura paint but he doesn’t like using it.

  7. says

    All great ideas but I much prefer giving them a tiny paper cupcake liner of glue and a paint brush to giving them the entire bottle!

  8. Danielle says

    I am getting so inspired!!!!
    In my Montessori toddler classroom, one of my all time favorite things to put out was “spin art”: an old record player with a paper plate placed upside down over the turntable – add some markers, and you have a wonderful, calming & concentration building art exercise!!! The markers make a cool noise when they go over the ridges on the outside of the plate – an added bonus…
    Also contact paper collage for the really little ones, and at home one of our favorite things is window markers – followed by window washing with a spray bottle, of course!

  9. Jodie says

    I love all of your creative ideas for kids! I wanted to add that as a preschool teacher I was greatly upset last year when crayola made their marker bases black (so much so I emailed them). I was curtly told that it was because of recycling. Today I was shopping at target and noticed in about half of the packs they had gone back to white bases! I just thought I would share my find with someone else who might enjoy it as well :)

  10. kelli says

    Oh, I agree about those newer black (“recycled”) pens — we had them in the preschool class and I taped sticky dots on them because the lids weren’t matched up!
    I don’t like the twistable crayons — too much temptation to roll the whole thing out and snap them off. The kids went through a whole package like that — and you can’t do anything with them once they snap off. I do like the oil pastels, though.
    Watercolor pencils are fun. Draw and then run a wet brush over the drawing to blend the colors.

  11. says

    Lisa, they’re different. We got our tempera cakes at Dick Blck (http://www.dickblick.com/products/blick-tempera-cakes/) and they’re not at all frustrating like those little pans of watercolors–oh how I hated those as a kid, it was a revelation to me when I discovered watercolors came in tubes, too, I’d had the hardest time understanding how famous artists had painted amazing watercolor paintings! Anyway, we like the tempera cakes quite a bit.

  12. says

    We’ve used most of what’s on your list. I don’t like the twistable crayons, though, they break too much and I find my kids just don’t use them. I will add glitter glue, googly eyes, scotch tape, and scissors. By far the biggest art supply we use is printer paper. I get the cheapest stuff and we go through it pretty fast. Also blank sketch books once they get older, but it helps keep creations in one place.

  13. says

    Ditto, ditto , ditto…
    I’d add that we have a blast with pipe cleaners and Wiki-Sticks. We also use a lot of fabric and yarn scraps in our collages (I sew and knit so there’s always a surplus of scraps).

  14. says

    i have mixed feelings about the twist crayons also. When I bought them my then two year old was eating crayons like candy. So I thought these would be a good solution. Turns out you can pull the crayon stick right out of the hard shell and eat that up just as quick.

  15. Nicole says

    Stamps and ink, stickers, glue, scissors, lots and lots of paper, scissors, odds and ends to make “creatures” (think pipe cleaners, googly eyes, feathers, etc.), modeling clay, markers, pens, colored pencils, oil pastel crayons, separate notebooks, paint (tempera, acrylic, watercolor), brushes (all shapes/sizes), finger paint (though my kids aren’t too thrilled over this), glitter glue, dry erase board and markers.

  16. says

    I love your comment about the glue! I just did collages with my preschoolers today using beans, sequins and googley eyes, but really, it was all about the glue, and lots of it!

  17. says

    Jean, this is probably the fisrt time I’m commenting here, even though I’m subscribed to updates and have even started a toddler art group (huge success) with your suggestions :). I love this post (and the previous materials one as well) and we do have most of these things. Reading the comments, I realise there may be more people out there trying to do art with their little ones, but without much experience themselves, which is why I’d like to make a suggestion. How would you feel about writing a post explaining a bit the differences and uses of some materials. I’m really thinking paint here (tempera, watercolours, cakes or not, acrylic, paintbrushes?). I know it’s all about the process, but I think it would help if I knew how the material are meant to be used. If you know of a book, that would also be nice. :) and thanks for this wonderful blog! I can’t wait for your book!

  18. says

    We’re loving: sidewalk chalk, scissors, tape, washable markers, pipe cleaners, buttons & beads, colored pencils, regular graphite pencils, and guess what… CRAYONS!!!
    We are crazy about Stockmar wax block crayons (these ain’t Crayola, baby!) I thought they were silly-expensive when I first read about them in some comments on this blog, but they are awesome. We got 16 colors in a metal box, and they’ve been used daily since January. They will clearly last a LONG time. They are easy to handle, rich in color, are great for filling in large areas, and layer in a very different way from our Crayolas. My two, four and six year olds all use them. The older kids especially love how they can use a light colored crayon if they want to color in a drawing that they made with dark washable markers, where the light washable markers would smear the dark lines.

  19. Katrina says

    Our slick stix not only broke, but were also used in the coloring of our carpet and would not come out, even with a professional shampooing. Not a fan.

  20. Heather says

    My girls love tape. They want to use it everyday. We like the Crayola twistable markers b/c we can’t lose the lids (they don’t have one) and we don’t have the color confusion issues as with the new black ones. We also love colored pencils, my girls prefer them over crayons.

  21. says

    Just found you (while searching Google images for compost bins) and must say I am blown away by your awesome site! I’m a homeschool mama of 5 kids and an avid gardener and crafter, as so I just wanted to say a BIG thanks for this great resource!
    I’ve added you to my blogroll and thought you might also like this post…yes chalk rocks!
    http://sweetgrace.typepad.com/the_inadvertent_farmer/2010/07/sidewalk-chalk-a-simple-thing-of-summer.html

  22. says

    I’m looking at your list before I stock up on new art supplies. We’re going to try liquid watercolor paints and Crayola twitable slick stix.

  23. says

    Please try to be a little kinder to the crayons. They do help kids fine motor development. As a pediatric occupational therapist I have found that in many schools kids will choose markers over crayons any day. Markers don’t provide as much resistance as crayons and therefore kids don’t have to work so hard when coloring. One of the great benefits of coloring is developing fine motor strength, which then helps with writing. Now a child that is exposed to the wonderful variety of art activities on your list and blog will get plenty of chances to develop that strength. But for the many children that don’t get the exposure, please give them a crayon instead of a marker.

  24. Valleybird says

    Curious: what is your opinion on rules during art? My husband and i dont agree on this. I think that whatever my 2 y/o finds interesting he should be allowed to do..pour glitter in a pile, squeeze glue until its gone, use all of his stickers at once (one sheet at a time) etc. My husband wants to keep the mess and overuse/waste down..I dont consider any mess or use to be unproductive..
    is there a healthy supportive balance to rules and use of art materials?

  25. Ursula says

    I totally agree with Brigette. I am a group leader in a toddler room aged 20 months to 3 years. Many educators put out markers for the children as they are indeed easier. I too love markers, bingo dots etc for activities but feel that crayons should be out everyday – small stubby ones which the children can grip. I also see that children find it difficult at first but show a sense of achievement when it works.

  26. says

    For us, most rules around art pertain to not being wasteful and also respecting your environment. If someone is squeezing out a bottle of glue just for the fun of squeezing, well that is wasting materials. If he’s the age of just wanting to squeeze for the fun of it, he’s too young for bottle of glue – give him an old ketchup container filled with water and take him outside. If he wants to dump the glitter in a pile, do it over a piece of newspaper, so you can fold the newspaper into a chute and pour the glitter back into the container.
    As for respecting their environment, this pertains to keeping your creating within your art area – not drawing on the walls, the house, etc. It’s a good thing that even adults have a hard time remembering – like even though grafitti can be really beautiful, it shouldn’t be done a non-painted brick building (unless you own the building), same with carving on trees, etc.
    Anyhow, those are our art rules. Pretty basic – respect your materials, respect your space/environment.

  27. says

    We feel the same way, markers are fun sometimes, but too easy and can’t give those beautiful varied textures and concentrations that good crayons can do. We use the stockmar big chunky block beeswax crayons for toddlers, or even the chunky stick ones and they make lovely colors!

  28. Ann says

    Ferby colored pencils by Lyra are by far the best I have found, great thick color so much better than crayons.

    Liquid watercolors rock – thank you for introducing these to our family.

  29. says

    Jean, I love your blog and often FB the ideas you give. I have young grand , so I like to visit here a lot. I was looking at an easel for my 2 yr old grand daughter and most of them are $50 up. I found something in IKEA for just $14 which works fine. As a Montessori teacher, now retired, I used Melissa and Dough’s items a lot in the class room. Small Hands.com is also a very nice place to browse. Dita.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>