Finding low cost art supplies and materials

Inexpensive Arts and Crafts Ideas

by Louise Wulf

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Dear Louise,
I already have the 'recipe' on homemade playdough for kids. I was wondering if there is any links or suggestions to low cost art supplies and materials. I have been looking around the web for bulk (dry tempera) for poster paint, I only came across two that had free catalogs that I am waiting for. Any suggestions?
Frugal Mom

How great that you want to supply your kids with the raw materials to ingnite their imaginations and increase their skills. Give a child the tools, and they will build! Those of us trying to simplify our lives by focusing on the "real stuff" concentrate our efforts on the basics, and what's important in a child's creative life is the environment and atmosphere *we* create. Having materials ready at hand and a place to work encourages children to explore. Order eases your life, too, because it makes it easy to find needed materials and space to work makes cleaning up and putting away a peaceful learning activity. It's no use having materials if the resulting disorder shreds your good intentions into a screaming fit about messy rooms. A solid table, some shelves, access to water, an old shower curtain or plastic tablecloth to cover table and/or floor, some music in the background and you've set the stage for harmony and exploration. Keep in mind that with children, it's the PROCESS that's important, not the finished product. Small children learn by watching and imitating.

A good resource for powdered tempera is school supply catalogs. They sell to the general public and their prices are very competitive. While it's cheaper to buy it in 1 lb. bottles, that's more than the typical family will use in a lifetime. Perhaps you have friends you could divide with, to share the fun and expenses. Start with red, blue and yellow. Your kids will learn to mix colors and it's cheaper.

Some major school suppliers to check:

Constructive Playthings

These websites are full of basic supplies and materials that can be excellent long term investments, but they also have a lot of expensive, specialized, one-use things that are totally unnecessary if not down right counter productive to your mission of supplying your kids with raw materials they can make their own.

The best materials are the most open-ended and basic ones:

Crayons - The kindergarten size for preschoolers is available at places like Walmart, K-Mart and Target this time of year. K-Mart also has a "chubby" size that's shorter than kindergarten crayons, but still "fat." Crayons are amazingly versatile. You can do crayon etchings, wash a crayon picture with tempera paint (especially nice for Halloween pictures. Find a white crayon, draw ghosts and graveyards, and wash the picture with black- very magical and ghosty!), etc. Save the small pieces to melt into "chunks" or make designs on cardstock by painting the melted crayon on the paper or dipping the cardstock into the melted crayons to make an abstract design. Needless to say adults do the melting and closely supervise any painting or dipping!

Papers - BIG pieces for preschoolers. Buy newsprint ends from your local newspaper. They are large rolls which last a looooong time and can be used for every thing from covering and decorating a table to murals to single works of art. Collect different types, weights and sizes: construction paper, recycle large dot-matrix accounting paper (use the backs), foils, kraft paper, wrapping paper, wax paper, cardboard, etc. It's all grist for your children's creative mills.

Tempera paint and large brushes - The brushes that come in watercolor boxes are too small for most uses.

Household Materials - Use berry baskets (for bubble- making, weaving with ribbons and yarn, etc.), cardboard tubes (to make marble runs, spyglasses, rockets, etc.), bakery and produce styrofoam and cardboard trays (to paint, glue or sew pictures and designs on (using yarn and large plastic or tapestry needles, which are blunt. Check your craft and fabric stores for the needles.), Yarns, ribbons, trims (for decorating).

I keep my eyes open at garage sales for arts and crafts materials, such as ribbons, yarns, fabric scraps, markers, papers, wooden shapes, plastic canvas (use with yarn and your large needles), clip clothespins, glitter, sequins, etc. You can find lots of useful materials for pennies.

Check the Dollar Stretcher site for more arts and crafts and storage ideas. Have fun!

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