Lately I’ve had the privilege of seeing how some of my posts and instagram pics have influenced other families that I know. I went to a friends house and saw she had set up a fantastic new art cart for her three girls. My sister in law told me she got one for her two kids too and and I recently bought my own art cart for 3.95 at a local thrift store. I know. SCORE. I was also able to see the challenges that a new art cart can bring if you are new to it and I thought I could share some best practices that have worked for me as a teacher and as a parent, struggling with the same things. Basically, how to prevent a mess, clean up a mess and not make a total mess so that the art cart is not a full time job for mom. Here we go.
Oh, and if you’re thinking what the heck is an art cart, you can read this amazing post on Tinkerlab and this amazing post on Babble Dabble Do, two blogs written by women I deeply respect and find inspiration from daily. And then there is this awesome post about setting up an art space at home from Art Bar, another uber talented friend. She has this beautiful art cart.
First, I should start with, I am fairly new to having my own art cart. I have a pretty major backyard art studio going on, filled with all kinds of art supplies and crafts. Since we live in Southern California it’s been pretty easy to just go outside and get what we need. It has been mostly me going in and out and setting up Invitations to Create for my girls. Now that my girls are a little older and more independent I have been eyeing the turquoise ikea cart that a lot of people I know use for an art cart. Then I went to my fave valley thrift store and totally scored this baby you see above. Anyway, my point is, that I am learning as I go too. I do have almost 20 years of classroom and art class experience though, so if there is one thing I know, kids need to be trained. Here are my best tips on how to make your art cart work for you and your family.
Number 1 Tip to Using an Art Cart (and by the way, these tips can be applied to a lot of things when it comes to new things with kids.)
1. MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CLEAR FROM THE GET GO AND MODEL THEM
Ok, so what does that mean? How do I make my expectations clear and what do you mean model them? It looks something like this…
Start with a conversation.
“Wow, look at this new art cart. (Not touching it, looking at it.) What do you notice about it? Hmm…it looks like everything has a certain spot. “Who do you think all these materials are for? How do you think these materials should be treated?” Wait for answers of course for all of these. Once you get some conversation going, try “Does anyone have any good suggestions for rules/guidelines/suggestions we can make about the art cart?” You’ll hopefully get some good answers but feel free to lead the witness. “Oh, so it sounds like we need to treat our materials with care if we want to use them. I wonder what that looks like?” Maybe someone can show me what it looks to use the markers. If you have older kids, you can have one of them model great art cart behavior. They can literally stand up, go to the art cart, take out markers, bring them to table with a piece of paper, use them and then demonstrate putting the caps back on and then going and putting everything back in it’s proper place when they are done. A quick modeling goes a long way. If you don’t have an older child, you can do the modeling yourself and then ask one of your children to show you how they do it. I learned this technique from many years of teaching Responsive Classroom, a modeling and community building technique for the classroom but it’s great for home too. In my experience, it works really well!
2. INTRODUCE ART SUPPLIES OVER TIME, ONE AT A TIME
You don’t have to give a full stocked art cart right away. You can start slow and build on it. Your kids can make suggestions as to what they want in it as you go while practicing how to treat each supply. They kind of earn the next supply. “Take a look at the art cart. You might find something interesting in there today.” Explore the paper and watercolor palettes for example. Talk about how to use them, treat them, clean them, etc. Then after a few days/weeks/whatever feels right, introduce the next supply. If you work this way, children are more likely to use the materials in the art cart and they will be experts on how to treat them.
If you’re thinking, “Why is she talking like a weirdo to her kids? I never talk like that?” I guess, all I can say is, once a kindergarten teacher, always a kindergarten teacher. I literally tell my kids to line up at the door every morning before school. Not normal. Anyway, I’m just “modeling” what a conversation can look like. Feel free to adapt it any way that fits your style.
For me, this is a major one. We were getting all kinds of stuff on our kitchen table and my husband was not happy. So now we keep two mats (we have these of course) on the side of the art cart and the rule is my girls have to take a mat if they want to do art. Seems obvious but it’s been a game changer for us.
4. OH NO, I’VE ALREADY INTRODUCED THE ART CART AND DIDN’T DO ANY OF THESE THINGS.
Don’t worry. You can start modeling at anytime. It can look something like this, “Guys, I’ve noticed that the art cart has gotten a little crazy lately. There are markers in the clay area, beads in the pencil jar, etc. I’m thinking it’s time for a fresh start. What do you think? Does anyone have any ideas on how we can start fresh with the art cart?” Then go back to Number 1. See, that wasn’t so bad was it?
5. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR ART CART
I just went through this and as I’m writing this, I’m like, umm, big talker, you didn’t do number 2. Yup, it’s true. I didn’t. But now that I am seeing what a brilliant suggestion it is, I am going back to number 2 and clearing out the bottom half of the art cart and then asking my kids what they want in it! Yay for taking my own advice. I’m guessing they are going to say, glitter glue, glitter, and maybe some more glitter.
6. IF YOUR CHILDREN ARE NOT RESPECTING THE WAYS OF THE ART CART, FEEL FREE TO PUT IT AWAY FOR A FEW DAYS.
That’s for sure going to happen. Kids need constant reminders and constant modeling. (I kind of do too.) I was asking kids to model how to push in their chairs in kindergarten with two weeks left of school. You just have to keep at it.
You might be wondering if I will let my 2 and a half and almost 4 year old have free reign to glitter in their art cart. Here’s the thing. I have been following Number 1. for years now. I am proud to say that I have modeled the lightest “tap tap tap” of the glitter container enough times to choke a horse. My girls know how to get their glitter on without driving their mother over the edge. But this took a lot of modeling and I’m sure we’ll have the occasional glitter spillage and I’ll be all psycho about it for a few moments and then come to my senses and remember it was me who let them have it in the first place…hopefully anyway.
So those are my best tips for Art Cart Care. If you’d still like some suggestions on what to put in your art cart or where to start, here you go. I’ve found these supplies to work really well. These are all Cherry Family staples.
1. Assorted paper – I have some watercolor paper, (Sometimes I cut it in fourths or half. Kids often take more care with smaller spaces to work on and it changes things up. Circles are great too!) colored construction paper (I like Tru Ray Brand ), lined paper, index cards and coloring books. I keep the paper upright in a lucite magazine holder I also scored at a local thrift store.
3. oil pastels – We are equally obsessed. My girls sat for over an hour the other day coloring with chalk and oil pastels on colored construction paper. My husband and I kept looking at each other saying, are you seeing this? They were 100% engaged and it felt really freaking good.
4. A watercolor palette – This one is my favorite and it’s cheap or you can get my favorite, fav, super fav paint set. These have lasted me years and I love love love the colors. Just be sure to add water and move the paintbrush in a circle round and round to get the best vibrancy from the paint. Once you get the hang of it, they seriously rule.
5. Markers – There are so many to choose from. For basics I like these and if you want to get fancy, kids love these. Train them well though. They are permanent. These are also really fun. Kids LOVE them but they get a bit messy. Just a little warning.
7. Beads and lanyard – I really want these.
So there you have it. I hope I covered everything or enough to get you started or restarted with some comfort. Just remember, it’s all a work in progress and as my dad would say “Enjoy the journey.” xo Meri