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Art Space 101: Kids in a Candy Store

photo from Amy Atlas, event planner NYC

Remember that feeling of going into a candy store when you were little? Bright, shiny colors, endless possibilities, and all you wanted to do was get started! Those are the elements I like to keep in mind when setting up a children's art area. You don't need a whole extra room available — a well-thought out nook in the corner, the basement, or under an umbrella in the garden will do. When designing an inspiring art space for your child, keep these ideas in mind:


Creating an art area that is convenient, pretty and manageable is easy if you keep inspiration (for yourself AND your child) in mind. Choose colors that you both love for the walls and furniture, find beautiful, simple and natural materials, and remember to keep open spaces that will make room for new ideas. I frequent blogs like paper scissors oranges and Bloesem Kids for juicy new ideas.


To encourage your child's artistic independence, it is important to let go of any expectations for the outcome. For young children, it's the process of creating that is richly developmental. Encourage your child to make choices: the project that lights up their eyes, the materials they fancy, and the final outcome (that part is the hardest for most adults). Arrange art supplies in containers that make the contents visible to your child. Choose safe and age-appropriate materials (child safety scissors, splat mats under the workspace), so that all art time doesn't require such close supervision. A little space goes a long way in creating an independent artist.


Clean and well-organized spaces are respectful of children. They let your artist focus on her ideas, and provide a sense of calm and order to the project at hand. This is not to say the space won't get messy, but your art area will be easier for you and your child to maintain when everything has a proper place. Art messes like spilled paint and glue are also less likely.

  • Choose clear jars for organizing materials by category (markers, crayons, paint, collage materials). I love the 'candy store' look. Or, scour yard sales for baskets, bins and tubs that can be used for art supply storage.
  • Tape a photograph or drawing of each item directly onto your art shelf. Even young child can return items to their proper place by matching the item with its picture.
  • Arrange safe materials at child-height for easy and continuous access

Use Recycled/Found Materials

Your personal recycle bin, community recycling/up-cycling center, or backyard are great sources for art materials. Here are some ideas for items to save/collect/recycle: corks, bottle caps, bubble wrap, leftover kitchen tiles or scrap wood, paper rolls, clothes pins, newspaper, gift boxes, rocks or pebbles, seashells, acorns, popsicle sticks and tongue depressors, pinecones, twigs, leaves, tin foil, ribbons, broken jewelry, used wrapping paper and tissue, shoeboxes, glass jars, string and thread, fabric scraps, yarn and previously enjoyed greeting cards.

Choose Safe Art Supplies

Always make certain that the art supplies you choose are certified nontoxic. The package should be clearly labeled with "conforms to ASTM-D4236," our national, nontoxic standard. I always encourage the use of the most natural and clean art supplies you can find. Clementine, Lyra, Stockmar and Eco-Kids are all terrific, all-natural brands that replace synthetic chemicals and preservatives with only natural ingredients.

Keep it Simple

Children don't need a lot of bells and whistles to participate in the creative process. In fact, simple and easy choices are often the most inspiring and filled with possibility. Cardboard, glue, scissors and a variety of found objects can be the building blocks of the loveliest collage, and a simple sheet of white paper paired with colorful, unique drawing tools may surprise you.

Set the Tone

Independent artists work to please themselves. Children should be encouraged to do the same. When responding to your child's creative efforts, try objective comments like, "Wow! I see you used a big circle of yellow in that painting." Your child will see that you are engaged and paying attention, but will be free to experience her work according to her own set of criteria: emotional response, expressive freedom and personal satisfaction.

Keep it Fresh

Even children get tired of the same old choices day after day. A box of half dried out markers and crumpled sheets of notebook paper fail to provide inspiration and freshness for any artist. Remembering to rotate art materials — putting out crayons one week, and markers or pastels the next — can bring a new interest and attention to your child's art space.

Mix the Arts

Who says art, music, theater and dance can't happen together? Try playing a variety of music (upbeat, classical) in your art area, or making sock puppets for a family show. Surrounding your child with all kinds of artistic mediums and opportunities heightens emotional connection to the experience, and shows children that art can be both purposeful and joyful!


Don't forget to show your child how much you value his artistic expression by celebrating his artwork. Make a home gallery, create a scrapbook, or 'publish' works of art into books at the copy center. Your artist may even give you permission to turn a few pieces of art into gift-wrap, greeting cards, or gifts to share!

1 comment:

Mozi Esme said...

Great post! We're planning our new schoolhouse, so I'm definitely interested in ideas for setting up our art space...