Someone asked me recently how they could get some low toxic paints and forest-friendly wooden paintbrushes for their 1 year old son to start to encourage him in creativity. It’s a great question, and I have dabbled myself in exploring sustainable materials (although I still use some materials that in my heart of hearts I think are dubious). If you are thinking ‘huh? Crazy greenie do-gooders, what’s the problem with art supplies!?’ this brief article by the Safer Chemicals organisation outlines some of the things you may wish to avoid and lists a bunch of products they think are good alternatives. And if that gets you going and you want to read more try this one by Green America.
First up, I would say that you don’t need expensive art supplies to encourage creativity in children. There is lots of nature-play, constructing, music making and imaginative play you can do with little kids without any special materials. For example…
- for really little kids the old drumming on the kitchen floor with saucepans and wooden spoons
- making shapes on the ground with found objects – fallen flower mandalas, spell your name with leaves, arrange pebbles into a spiral
- cardboard cities, houses, boats, spaceships (yes you might want paint to brighten them up, but even just cutting the cardboard and glueing bits on will embellish your creation)
- origami using newspaper, old gift wrapping paper or pages from magazines
- sea shells or fallen nuts or seeds in a jar to look at or placed in a closed tube or lidded tub to act as a percussion instrument
- DIY snow dome(ish thing) using tightly lidded jars, small toys and glitter
- painting with water on a nice dry bit of dry sidewalk/footpath/driveway/verandah
- making egg carton caterpillars – sticky tape to join the ‘lumps’ in a row and some markers for eyes
- making things with scraps of fabric, wool, buttons (if they are old enough to not eat them), string and other textiles – necklaces, mobiles, dollies, collages etc
And a million more. (You guys probably have other cool projects you do with your own children, grandkids or students – feel free to share below in comments!)
And of course there are materials you can make at home:
- play doh
- salt dough (see here for christmas decorations I made with some little kids with salt dough – we painted ours but you can also leave them pale and just jazz them up with coloured ribbon)
- paint using just food colouring (there are plant based colours in many supermarkets so you don’t need to use artificial colours)
- flour and water glue for paper mache -for bowls, masks, or even pinatas
As for store-bought products, I have found bees wax-based (as opposed to petroleum product based) crayons in up market baby stores, recycled drawing pads in my local art shop (you have to dig around, and it seems Italy has the market covered), and bamboo handled brushes in grocery stores in China Town.
As for online purchases, I have never used them (and have no relationship with this store) but from a bit of digging around with google this one looks quite interesting for Australian residents. It seems to stock lots of recycled paper products including sketch pads and coloured paper, mineral based body/face paints, pencils from sustainable timber suppliers, eco paints and more. If anyone uses them let me know what they are like. And just quietly I am very very excited at their make-your-own oil paint kit using minerals and walnut oil, I think I might have to get a pack and pretend I am an Old Master.