Nurture your kids’ creativity & independence with an art box

Amanda writes at Kiddio, where she writes about fun projects, ideas to bring the creative spirit into your home, links to neat stuff on the web, and ways to make daily life with your children more enjoyable.

I admit it. I have an art supply habit. Pink marker gone missing? I’ll happily pick up a new box on our next trip out. Can’t find the safety scissors? Ditto. With two creative children and an infant, my addiction was indulged more and more, until my mother reminded me of my art box.

I was the youngest (by quite a bit) of three, and spent a lot of time sitting around at my brothers’ sporting events, scout meetings and the like. Thanks to my mother, though, I was always recognizable by my orange tackle box filled with bits and bobs that were guaranteed to keep me busy for several hours.

Since stocking an art box for my own children, we’ve managed to significantly pare down our art supply budget (since things just don’t get lost any longer), and the children are able to easily pull out the box, make what they like, then – get this – clean it up independently. They tote it outside (where it occasionally gets left in the rain, but is no worse for wear), on road trips, and to nice restaurants where they’re, much as I was, occupied for hours making books, boxes, collages, writing letters to their friends, and whatever else they imagine.

I picked up our box from Let’s Explore, but you can use a tackle box as my mother did for me, or a specialized art bin from the craft or art supply store. In outfitting it, think about what your kids like to do.

Ours always contains some basic supplies:

  • scissors
  • tape
  • glue stick
  • crayons (I like Crayola Twistables – lots of colors, they don’t break, and don’t melt)
  • small pad of construction paper
  • small pad of drawing paper
  • stickers (we like colored hole reinforcements and gold stars)
  • unlined index cards or squares of cardstock
  • small ziptop bag of collage-able sequins, buttons, paper scraps, pompoms, feather bits, etc.
  • small ziptop bag for collecting trash

Depending on the kids’ interests and ability levels, these other items are rotated in and out:

  • stamps and a stamp pad
  • glitter glue pens (more reliable and less messy than glitter)
  • small ziptop bag of plastic beads and precut lengths of elastic cord
  • squares of craft foam
  • spool of lanyard lacing
  • small ball of yarn
  • bottle of white glue
  • paperclips (they make great axles for tiny cars or clip-on earring bases)
  • chenille stems
  • mini stapler
  • hole punch

These items are used in ways that I would never have expected (for better or for worse) and the children do a lovely job of caring for what they have, since it is so easy to manage and organize.

What are your children’s favorite art supplies? Do you keep them in an accessible location or does it work better for your family to pull them out for specific times?

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46 Comments

  1. Megryansmom

    You had me hooked until the glitter part. YIKES, glitter is so beautiful but it scares the bejezus outta me as much as sand and playdoh.

    Megryansmom’s last blog post…Lock Me Up and Throw Away the Key

  2. jill

    This is a great idea! I’m definitely going to do this — my four year old will be able to open a box like that, but my two year old can not yet get a flip top lid open, so it will be perfect. I also love some of your additions, like paper clips.
    Right now we have a chest that works as a side table for our couch and also contains our non-messy art supplies for easy access (washable markers, dot stickers, scrapbook for each boy, construction paper, old catalogs and crayons). This is the stuff I don’t mind my 2 yr old finding. Everything else (scissors, paint, stamps and stamp pad, glue stick) is up in a cupboard in our kitchen.

    jill’s last blog post…God daughter’s Quilt Progress

  3. Karen

    We have a table in our laundry room that is the designated craft area. They have easy access to an array of art supplies and it’s not a big deal if they get messy. Many times during the summer, I would find my 5-year old quietly working on a project using glue, pom-pom balls, googly eyes and other items. He would do this for at least half an hour or more. My older one loves to draw. He also puts together his Lego creations in there. It’s a magical room. 🙂

    Karen’s last blog post…Carl Sandburg’s Home in North Carolina

  4. Leigh

    ohhhh, what a great idea! I’m a collector of craft supplies, too, and this could solve a LOT of my space problems. Thanks for sharing this!

    Leigh’s last blog post…Wonder of wonders: knitting content!!!

  5. rowena

    What a great idea! My little one is still eating paint, so it always has to be supervised, but I think we can head in this direction. I even have an Artbin from High School (many years ago) that I don’t really use anymore. Why don’t I use it for THEIR art supplies. So simple and smart.

    rowena’s last blog post…Flying Girl Finds Her Superpowers and They Are Plain Old Her, or Hero

  6. Deanna

    Great list! I also put colored pencils, oil pastels in the box for the older girls. I am on the search for the perfect box/container but have yet to truly find one. Maybe I will search through WalMart today and see if a larger Tackle box is what we need.

    Oh yes, I think this can be good for the younger set…a nice way to help teach a bit ownership. Yep…I am going to put together one for the 2 year old and 5 year old. Thanks for the reminder.

    Deanna’s last blog post…Children’s Classics – Carry On Mr. Bowditch

  7. Lucie @ Unconventional Origins

    This is such a great idea. Seriously, I just LOVE this.

    While we have a designated craft area I especially love the portability of the craft box. I can think of many times my life would have been much easier if I had one of these for each of my older boys. While they are getting a little to old to be carrying around craft boxes (I had no idea a 4th grader could be so “cool”) I will definitely be using this idea when my youngest is old enough.

    Lucie @ Unconventional Origins’s last blog post…Reflections: Looking Back at Nine Months of Nursing

  8. Vicki

    What a fabulous idea that can fit anywhere, large or small homes. Of course it’s a great “distraction” tool when in quiet places but the bonus is that you get a glimpse of the wonderful things rattling around your kid’s brain! Thanks for sharing.

    Vicki’s last blog post…False alarm

  9. Sarah Mae

    I made my little girl an art box with an old stationary box that has two levels. For now (she’s three) it only has paper, colored pencils and crayons. I am going to “up it” by getting the tackle box and employing your suggestions – thank you! 🙂

    Sarah Mae’s last blog post…Wisdom & Treasure Series – Debt

  10. Stacey @ The Blessed Nest

    We have a little bin in the kids’ playroom that holds their coloring books, paper, and a plastic pencil box that has crayons, pencils, pens, markers, etc. in it. They always know where their things are, and where to put them away! We also have scissors and glue, but they have to ask permission. Glue is just too messy! I buy little artsy craftsy kits at the store when they go on sale, and every now and then we’ll pull one out to work on as a family! Very fun!!

    Stacey @ The Blessed Nest’s last blog post…Decorating on a Budget

  11. Mary

    I went to the link and couldn’t find an art box for sale anywhere – am I missing something? This sounds like a great gift for the grandchildren that even their mom could love!

    • DearSportsMom

      Thanks for passing this great idea along! My daughters spent hours at their brothers’ baseball games tying friendship bracelets when they were younger and learning to knit with a team mom when they were in junior high. A tackle box for craft supplies is very smart. And it sure beats keeping kids busy by giving them money to go to the snack shack all the time.
      http://www.dearsportsmom.com

      DearSportsMom’s last blog post…The Best Birthday Gifts

  12. therese

    I had an art box in college and completely forgot how handy it would be for my young kids – thanks so much for the reminder!

  13. Shannon

    I didn’t see the box on the linked site either.

  14. Laine Chambers

    This is an awesome idea. My little girl LOVES art but it get’s frustrating having to get everything out for her all of the time. And then of course, put it all away. I am doing this ASAP! She will definitely love it.

    Laine Chambers’s last blog post…Fashion Statement

  15. Wendy Johnson

    Great idea! I am going to make one for my girls and my niece for Christmas. Currently I have a small bookcase and decorative baskets loaded with supplies but it would be great to have something portable.

  16. Nikki

    I love this art box idea! My daughter is going to be so excited when I put one together for her. It will make the best 6th birthday gift ever! Thanks!

    Nikki’s last blog post…Heath’s Pancakes

  17. Jessica

    Great, concise and helpful! I think I will do this today.
    My daughter will love to be able to tote her crafts around.
    Thanks for the idea.

  18. Lisa- Domestic Accident

    I have a smaller box like this but call it the Rainy Day box. It only comes out on rainy days. Life saver.

    Lisa- Domestic Accident’s last blog post…Good news

  19. MaryBeth

    What a great idea! I may make personalized art boxes for each of my girls this year for Christmas!!

    MaryBeth’s last blog post…The Dentist

  20. Abbie

    Great idea. I love the tackle box element….my kids would really love having all the little sections full of different things.

    Abbie’s last blog post…works for me: the world’s best timer

  21. Michelle Potter

    We have a large toolbox for our art supplies. It’s about the size of a small file cabinet (but lighter), and is on wheels. In the top compartment we keep art supplies, and in the bottom we keep tons of blank paper, notebooks, and each child has a folder for their pictures! I got the toolbox at Wal*Mart for $25.

    Michelle Potter’s last blog post…If you shop on Amazon, please come here first!

  22. mayaluna

    Wonderful ideas! This is a fantastic post and seems to have inspired many. Great job, Amanda!

    mayaluna’s last blog post…on my desk…

  23. Karisa

    My daughter is only 2 yrs old, but I can see what great fun she could start having with an art box suitable for her age.

    Thanks tons!

    Karisa’s last blog post…You know you have your child’s heart if:

  24. bee

    I started an art box for my 2 year-old because my mother bought him his own pair of scissors (for a 2 year-old? Gasp! I know!) and I needed to have a way to contain his use of them. So I created his very own art box. It’s just a rubbermaid storage container, with some smaller containers in there for his colored pencils and scissors and glue, etc. It mostly has just construction paper, stickers and random scraps of paper that I think he might enjoy. I’ve also decided to add any ads and articles from catalogs or my various parenting magazines that contain pictures of his favorite characters before I recycle them. I figure he’ll like cutting those out. I also found an extra cutting mat that my husband doesn’t use much and put that in there. It provides a “hard” surface to work on while on the carpet.

    As he gets older, I’m sure we start transitioning to something a little more portable… I have a “vintage” Caboodle that would work great!

  25. Melissa

    I love this idea! Thanks for sharing.

    Melissa’s last blog post…2 weeks left…

  26. Michelle

    This is an awesome idea, something to keep in the van. There have been so many times I wished I had brought something for my daughter to do once we got somewhere.

    Michelle’s last blog post…Sewing Lessons

  27. Vintage Mommy

    We have an “activity backpack” that stays in the car and goes into restaurants with us. Of course we hardly ever go anywhere where they don’t provide crayons and a coloring sheet – how sad!

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post…Another Lap, Another Milestone

  28. DearSportsMom

    Oops! I accidentally replied to Mary instead of adding a comment earlier. Just not multi-tasking very well that day. lol

    This craft box idea reminds me of the fun I had putting together a Christmas gift for my daughter when she loved sculpting things. I bought a craft supply box; then I filled it with lots of small packages of colored clay and a variety of tools for shaping and scraping. It was also a nice way to keep the messy side of clay under control.

    DearSportsMom’s last blog post…The Best Birthday Gifts

  29. Jamie

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet, but I have used old Caboodle boxes, aka make-up organizers from the 80’s!

  30. bombaygirl

    This reminds me of my art box in college! We carried them around from art class to art class! I completely forgot about that as a possibility for my kids. Great idea.

    bombaygirl´s last blog post…Hello?

  31. Darlene

    Coolness! We just made a fun family field trip to basspro cuz they had tackle boxes on sale. We had fun looking at the fish tanks and animals, and there are currently summer events going on! We gave my daughter (age 7) a tackle box for all her beads and jewelry making goodies, and even gave our son (6) one for his starwars figures and small pieces! Today I stumbled upon this beauty of a blog & found this amazing idea!!!! My daughter constantly cuts up paper for her art projects, wants to recycle her scraps (!), leaves a mess of crayons and miscellaneous art supplies laying around….. I will be running back to grab an amazingly priced tackle box! 🙂 so easy for the kiddos to cart around.

  32. Crystal

    Love this! Where did you find the tackle box?

  33. Sara

    OMG I could hug you this was just what I needed for making shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

  34. Connie

    Great ideas. I’m assembling art boxes for my two granddaughters for Christmas and your lists included a few things I had not thought of. Thank!

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