A Guide To Buying Arts and Crafts Supplies for Kids

Back to school time is the perfect time to stock up on arts and crafts supplies! Here are my craft supply recommendations- this post is an oldie, bug a goodie. 🙂

Decent craft supplies can be the difference between a successful project, and a total flop. When I was an Art major in college, sometimes my supplies cost more than my books. That was back in the day. Now I’m a mom, and I’m always on the hunt for a bargain. I’m going to let you know when making arts and crafts with your kids, where you can cut corners, and where you need to splurge.

a guide to getting craft supplies- how and where to save

What to stock up on at the beginning of the school year

This is the time of year when you can buy kid basics at a fraction of the cost, so stock up on enough to last you through the year! I do this every Fall! I stock up at the beginning of the school year when on-brand school supplies are about the same price as the off-brand at normal times. Do not be wooed by the off-brand supplies that are practically free this time of year. You’re getting a great deal on the “good stuff”, so do your best to ignore the 10 cent boxes of crayons.

stocking up on school supplies

  • Crayons– these absolutely need to be on-brand to say the least. I always buy Crayola. Using cheap crayons is kinda like running colored candles over your paper. Coloring for kids is not fun when the colors aren’t brilliant. It’s also no fun when all the colors are worn down to nubs, so mom, just throw those crayon nubs away and give them a fresh box. It’s worth it. Also, the bigger box you get, the more colors you get, which also = more fun.how to buy school supplies
  • Markers– Cheap markers dry up so fast that going on-brand is a no-brainer here. Also, it’s harder for kids to use the lids on the cheap ones. We use Crayola. Stock up in the Fall on a variety of fat and skinny.
  • Glue Sticks– Do not, I repeat do not buy off brand glue sticks. Your work will just fall right apart after it dries. We stock up on Elmer’s brand in the Fall- I usually get the ones that go on purple but dry clear.
  • Bottles of Glue I actually think it’s ok to buy the off brand glue in bottles. It works a lot better than off brand glue sticks. When it comes to Elmer’s , remember that “School Glue” is washable, and “Glue all” is not.
  • Highlighters Kids love to color with these, and experiment with mixing their own colors. Get a set of the on-brand ones while they’re cheap at the beginning of the school year, and keep them with the markers.
  • Sidewalk Chalk– It took years before I even tried Crayola brand sidewalk chalk, but I am a believer. That stuff you get at the Dollar Tree is generally different pastel shades of grey- not the Crayola stuff! Now that we get the bright colors, my kids spend hours drawing on our parking pad! Not only is it more colorful, but it’s softer, so it’s a lot easier to draw with. Also, it turns out that it’s not any more expensive, it just feels that way because you buy more at one time. Again, the bigger of a box you buy, the more colors you get, and kids are a fan of having more colors!

    kid craft supplies- sidewalk chalk

    This is my crew of 4 enjoying their Crayola brand sidewalk chalk. 🙂

Next up: Supplies that fall into “The Cheaper the Better” Category.

I get a lot of the following supplies at the Dollar Tree- they have some cheap stuff! If you can’t find them at the Dollar Tree, try Wal-Mart, then Hobby Lobby or AC Moore. Save Michael’s as a last resort. For this list of supplies, feel free to buy the cheapest junk you can find.

  • Pom pom balls
  • Popsicle sticks (and other small wooden things)
  • String/yarn
  • Fun foam
  • Acrylic paint
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Glitter and Glitter glue
  • Hot glue sticks
  • Paper (when I say the cheaper the better, I mean they can just draw on copy paper, but I don’t mean those big sheets of that newsprint stuff)
  • Feathers
  • Sequins/jewels
  • Googily eyes
  • Beads
  • Ribbon
  • Tape

The Moment Of Truth: Where To Splurge

There are some things that just aren’t worth having unless you have the good stuff. 😉 If you have something specific that’s a little expensive for you, find one of those 40% off one item coupons you can print for Michael’s, and go get it!

coloring first communion journal cover

  • Watercolor Paints– if any of you think your kids “just don’t like watercolors”, it’s probably because all they’ve ever painted with resembles spilled kool-aid rather than actual paint. In this case, even Crayola doesn’t come close to being acceptable. Go to a real craft store, then go to the paint aisle (not the little kid aisle). Once you’re in the grown-up paint aisle, you’re welcome to buy the cheapest stuff you can find. The cheap stuff is usually labeled “student grade” rather than “professional grade”. What’s even better is liquid watercolors. That’s some good stuff! Watercolor paints last a long time, and this is definitely worth the “splurge”.
  • Colored Pencils I only ever buy 1 brand of colored pencils, and that’s Prismacolor. Again, you’re welcome to buy the “student grade” of these, which are called “scholar” for Prismacolor– they are a bit cheaper. These are a favorite, and my kids use them all the time. The colors are brilliant, they can be layered, mixed, and they will keep your kids far happier than little kid colored pencils. Make sure to take good care of them, and try your best not to drop them on the floor. This causes the lead to break up, so that when you sharpen it, the tip falls out of the end of the pencil. You can also invest in a pencil extender for using them even when they are nubs.guide to the best craft supplies for kids
  • Oil Pastels These are far better than crayons, and I always suggest that parents keep a set around for their kids. The colors are absolutely brilliant! You may buy the cheapest ones you can find. I only put it on the “splurge” list because I consider them a considerable step up from crayons. We also recently got a set of Crayola Twistables Slick Stix, and we love them! They are very similar to oil pastels, but far less smeary and messy. When you’re finished drawing with them, the pictures practically look painted.
  • Glue Dots– These are kind of expensive, and we certainly don’t use them all the time, but they’re a great alternative to hot gluing. So if your kids are too little to hot glue, and you have something where staples, tape, or glue sticks won’t work, it’s time to pull out the glue dots. Another great benefit to these- there’s no “drying time” involved. They’re just like a very sticky bugger that sticks immediately, so they’re  instantly gratifying.
  • Sharpies Anything that needs a permanent marker, needs a Sharpie. That’s all there is to it. They are kind of expensive, but I keep one set of pretty much every color under lock and key to only come out when I say it’s coming out. 😉
  • Paint Brushes– It’s just not ok to expect a child to paint with those hard bristled plastic brushes that come free with cheap watercolor paint. You need to get something that feels hair-like so it can actually absorb paint. You don’t need the super expensive ones, but the bristles should resemble hair, not pine branches. Basically, you want very soft bristles for watercolors, and slightly stiffer ones for acrylic. For little kids, I also really like to use foam brushes.
  • Scissors Have you ever tried to cut something out with safety scissors? If you did, it wouldn’t take you long to figure out why your toddler is so frustrated. Buy some child-sized regular scissors, and then train your kids what is and isn’t appropriate behavior with scissors. Put them out of reach of your smallest ones, and talk to your older kids about the importance of putting them away when they’re finished.

I keep all of our arts and crafts supplies in plastic boxes the size of shoe boxes. After trying several different methods, this has now been working for me for about 4 years. I suppose that’s a whole post of its own. 😉

how to store craft supplies

What about you? Where do you skimp, where do you splurge? What craft supplies do you stock up on and keep around the house? 🙂

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Comments

  1. Lacy,
    I have loved your site for years and loved many of your posts. This post, however, is brilliant. Great guidance for all sorts of crafters and parents!

  2. Great post! I personally buy the boxes of Crayola crayons at the beginning of the year for our “car crayons.” Those are the boxes I give to each of my kids at the beginning of the long trip to my parents’ house a few times a year. They last about one trip. We keep some in the house, too, but mostly they get ignored for the good stuff – beeswax crayons. Once we tried these, my kids almost never want to go back to the Crayola. I don’t buy markers at all (though I might be willing to someday try the artist quality ones). They’re discouraged in Montessori schools for being too “easy” to use in a way that doesn’t train the hand for writing and drawing. Mostly I find them too dangerous in the hands of little ones, even the washable ones. So I save my space for those beeswax crayons and Prismacolor pencils!

  3. Yes, yes & yes!! Thanks for the tips. We use colored pencils all the time but the picture of your daughter with the “real” colored pencils triggered a memory of me & my Nana coloring with the “real stuff” back in the day. I can’t believe I forgot all about them!!

  4. Awesome post, Lacy – thanks!! It’s hard to know what is a good deal and what isn’t. The on-brand info is especially helpful!

  5. Thank you so much for doing this post! Appreciated even after years and years of doing crafts with kids.

    With crayons, though, I love to splurge on beeswax crayons rather than using Crayola. They smell better, they glide better, and the colors are better (although there aren’t as many of them).

  6. As a ‘non-crafty’ mama I really appreciate this list! I will be stocking up this fall and maybe actually do some crafts with my kids as well!

  7. Great list, Lacy! I don’t know why I’m always tempted to get the knock-off glue sticks…or why I’m surprised when they dry up so fast. I never really thought about the color variety in the more expensive chalk boxes…and I also keep my prisma color and sharpies under lock and key and encourage the kids not to drop the prisma!
    These are some other things I stock up on when I see them at good prices:
    11×17 decent sketchbooks at the dollar store
    spiral notebooks
    little white pencil-top erasers…keep our pencils going long after the ugly pink eraser tops run out
    Great post, Lacy!

  8. Kristen says:

    Great list Lacy, thank you. I also like to spend a little more on quality paint brushes of different sizes. They work so much better than the ones that come with the inexpensive watercolor paints. Koh-I-Noor woodless colour pencils are worth the extra cost too!

  9. jennifer says:

    Love the list Lacy! I usually buy mountains of crayons, markers and glue sticks during back to school time. Second the beeswax, but don’t bring them out all if the time. They are more expensive. Faber castel has a nice set that colors brilliantly. For the oil pastels I like the portfolio series from Crayola. I have crayola and prismacolor pencils. Prefer prismacolor but the crayolas work fine, too. I buy the crayola water colors. We find the colors are vibrant when you don’t use as much water.

  10. I agree with all of this! Also, I never buy enough at the beginning of the school year. I haven’t bought prismacolor before, but I think I’ll try with the coupon.

  11. Even though my kids are 15 & 20, I still can’t resist checking out the school supplies every year! And reading your review makes me want to go stock up! :). I love to make collages and I’ve tried a lot of glue sticks. My favorite is by scotch 3m. It can handle quite a variety of media. :). Foam tape can be used a lot of times instead of glue dots, has that same flexible but firm hold.

  12. Christine Scarlett says:

    What a great post. I will forward it to several yahoogroups. I agree with several posters about the superiority of beeswax crayons. They last a long time, too. Bic brand ” sharpies” are also of good quality. Chalk pastels are an affordable luxury. Some kinds of stickers and stars are nice for collage work. My youngest daughter has found many uses for craft thread which works better than embroidery floss for many projects. I wasn’t aware of the differences in quality among sidewalk chalks. I’ve been a mom for almost 30 years-still learning.

  13. The crayon nubs can also be melted down and used in other projects if you don’t want to just throw them away

  14. giarose says:

    Great list! We barely use crayons anymore because all my kiddos when they are 3 or 4 years old just like to peel them and break them into small pieces and then say, “I need more crayons.” We switched to oil pastels and though messy they make such fabulous pictures. I just have to monitor my 3 year old when she is using them. I also use water color paper cut up into smaller pieces. I make sure to get them on sale or use a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby.
    Also, if you have dropped your pencils, I have heard (but have never tried it myself) that you can microwave a colored pencil for a few seconds so that it melts back together.

  15. Love love love!

    And out of total charity, since we are professional, homeschooling, Catholic mommies (not being a troll, I PROMISE):
    Descent — a fall, a drop in altitude
    Decent — worth buying and using
    *blush* I’m so sorry to correct you *blush* But I would want someone to tell me. Especially since it’s the first word of your gorgeous, helpful and very densely-packed informational post on crafting. I always wonder how you find the time. You are a total genius (and, by the way, geniuses are allowed typos at least once per day).

    XOXOXOXOXO

    • Thanks. I’m actually the world’s worst speller, but that’s how God keeps me humble. All fixed now. 🙂

      • Well, since we are making confessions today: *I* am not particularly artsy. The stuff you do on this site blows. my. mind. And I know I will never get round to doing 1/10 of it. It’s so awesome to come here and get great inspiration and to “look over someone else’s shoulder” and see what their talents and gifts are. You are such a meaningful contributor to catechesis. And not just for children 😉 We all need more beauty and meaning in our lives and you convey that so well. Thank you!

  16. Learned a lesson with off brand glue stick that whete dry upon opening the new package now I always buy the good stuff.

  17. thanks for posting this. i was just telling my sister today that the 24 pack Crayola crayons are on sale for 50 cents at Staples. and she told me about your recommendations. I will definitely look into buying the Prismacolor Pencils. Do you have any recommendations on a good brand for whiteboard and chalkboard along with the chalks and markers that go well with them? I have a Melissa and Doug chalkboard/whiteboars combo and it’s not a good quality. My husband says its the cheap chalk from the dollar store that I use which makes it bad quality but I think it’s the actual board too.

    • The ones from the dollar tree aren’t great quality, but the ones at Wal-Mart seem fine. I think (in general) it seems that the ones sold in the office section are of higher quality than the ones sold as children’s toys.

  18. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice,
    keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back in the future.
    Many thanks

  19. I’m a teacher and agree 100% with this post! I love your blog! Thanks for all you do!

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