My Lydia is an artist.
It was apparent from the start. She knew all her colours names before she was two. From the day she figured out she could make marks on paper she has been producing artwork like it’s her job. Sheets and sheets of paper, every single day.
The girl loves to draw. And paint. And sculpt. And colour.
But like many artists — especially those under four feet tall — she’s messy. She’s careless.
It used to drive me insane to find all her markers and their caps scattered all over the floor every day. I’d pick them up and return their caps — making sure the colours matched, tossing the ones that had dried out — just to turn around and find they were all over the floor again.
Crayons, markers, coloured pencils, pens, paintbrushes, printer paper, construction paper, ALL OVER THE PLACE, ALL THE TIME.
Finally, I decided to make some changes.
Here are my two main tips for keeping your toddler’s and preschooler’s art supplies under control.
1. Strictly limit colour options.
For kids aged 2-3, I find that limiting colours to the primary and secondary colours (i.e. the six colours of the rainbow), plus black and brown, is sufficient. That’s 8 colours total.
Add pink and grey if you want to be generous and you’ve got an even 10.
One of each. No duplicates.
When you limit the number of crayons that are available, I believe you give yourself and your child a certain amount of freedom. Neither of you will feel overwhelmed by the prospect of tidying up the art supplies after a vigorous art session.
You can look at your kid’s whole stash and go, “Hmm . . . where’s the blue?” And then go hunt for that one crayon. It’s very satisfying to know you’ve got every single one.
It can help encourage your child take responsibility for her supplies, too. She won’t want to lose track of her only blue crayon, because how will she draw Elsa without it??
Does it sound like I’m being anal, rationing out colours like a miserly crayon fairy? I don’t care. It feels great to be able to keep track of every single crayon in the house. And she never complained.
Note: when Lydia turned four, I found that she was interested in exploring different shades and hues, and she had become much more responsible with her art supplies. At that point I increased the number of colours available to her so she had at least one light and one dark shade of each colour, making a grand total of 12-15.
(Now that she’s almost five she has access to almost 20).
2. Have an exact place for every item.
As you can see from the marker holder at the top of this post and the crayon roll here, I made a system so that every item had its place and could be accounted for.
The plaster marker holder is a brilliant idea I got from Jean Van’t Hul of the Artful Parent (detailed DIY instructions come from her book of the same name). The lids are embedded in the holder and therefore can’t get scattered on the floor. It really encourages kids to put their markers right back where they belong. It also reduces the number of items you have to pick up by half.
Same with the simple felt pencil crayon holder. I would tell Lydia her pencil crayons all had to go to sleep for night in their own bed. (Of course she tried to bunk several pencils together at once but you do what you can.) When you notice one “bed” is empty, you know you have to hunt down one single crayon somewhere, and you can quickly narrow down which one it is.
When it came to wax crayons, I was delighted that my very favourite ones — Melissa and Doug’s jumbo triangular crayons — come in a beautiful, high-quality container with divided compartments for each of the crayons.
So there you go. With these two tips you can reduce the chaos that comes with raising a little artist.
Now go make some art!