Why give children “real” art supplies

Moving into another year of home education, I’ve been reevaluating our approach to the way I offer the kids art opportunities. It’s changed so many times. I’d set up an art station with everything available so they could help themselves then move things in sight but out of reach so they needed to ask me to reach them. Then I’d totally revert. There’s been paint on cushions and glitter embedded in carpet. There’ve been times when I’ve needed to ask a baby to give me a pair of scissors left on the floor by a preschooler who’s moved on to something else. There’s been a lot of frustration around the whole thing.

Lately, we’ve reached a pretty happy place with it. We have two art stations, one in the dining room and one in the playroom. Only a few things are out so the kids aren’t overwhelmed by the options and we can see clearly where everything should go when it’s time to tidy up.

Something else has changed along the way. Bit by bit I’ve been upgrading the materials they use, trading in the “kid” options for real artist quality materials. Drawing pads to paints to sketchbooks to pencils they’ve all taken a step up and we’re really seeing the benefits.

I really think giving kids real tools and materials to work with respects their artistic efforts. It sends the message that we think what they’re up to is important and worth more than throwaway materials. The artist sketchbook my six year old uses for her nature journal has become a prized possession. Given the choice between that and a notebook with lighter weight pages, the choice was easily made. And I think it told her that I felt the observations and efforts making their way into that book mattered.

Unsurprisingly, this seems to motivate children to create. Real materials yield a greater reward, the colours more vibrant and the effects more pleasurable. As adults, we know the difference a pen that writes beautifully makes so why wouldn’t children feel the same.

Related, this then helps them to focus their artwork, spending more time on their pieces, really getting into the details, experimenting and mastering the materials they’re working with. This seems to create less waste as a result, too.

It inspires them to try new things, whether it’s thinking bigger or smaller, experimenting with different tools on a different kind of paper or attempting a totally new subject.

The end result also tends to better last and I’m inspired to take greater care in storing or displaying their work, which surely reinforces the cycle of respect and encouragement.

In collaboration with Office Stationery