Saturday, December 14, 2013

Toddler Gift Guide: Our Little Artists

Could there be a more perfect image of toddler mischief than a 2 year old impishly scribbling on the white paint of the living room wall with a black permanent marker? Toddlers love to express themselves through art, and it's up to us, as parents, to give them the resources to do so in a constructive manner. If we don't give them washable markers, they will certainly find a way to get to the Sharpies, and if we don't give them art paper and an easel -- well, there you go with that white living room wall.

So here you are -- some suggestions for encouraging your little Matisse or Picasso, while at the same time...shall we say, guiding him or her away from the furniture, the walls and the pets. This is one section of the guide where the suggestions come primarily from my readers, not from my own experience -- but fortunately my readers have a lot to say!

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  • First Art : Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos
  • Toddler moms Sarah and Laura both recommended this book of art ideas for young children, and the Amazon reviewers agree with them -- it has a strong 4.8 star rating. I'm listing this first because it seems like a great starting point for helping your child develop and embrace his or her creativity. Thanks for the idea, Sarah and Laura!

  • Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel
  • Toddler mom Carolina recommended this Melissa and Doug easel, which is the same one my niece has (and loves), and apparently the same one a lot of people have (and love) -- it's the #1 selling easel on Amazon and has 4.5 stars, with over 1200 reviews. Carolina reports that it has lasted through two kids, and anyone who has a toddler knows that that reflects either a very durable product or an absolute miracle.
  • Note that the easel does not come with all the pictured art supplies. You need to buy those separately as the Melissa & Doug Easel Accessory Set (currently selling for $32.63) and the Melissa & Doug Easel Paper Roll (Set of 2) (currently selling for $13.99).

  • ECR4Kids 3-in-1 Art Easel
  • Toddler mom Lisa highly recommends this easel, which her son just got for his birthday and already loves. It can be used as a chalkboard, magnet board, or for coloring/painting, and the height adjusts, which she appreciates for her taller toddler. She also likes the nice-looking green tray underneath for catching crayons, chalk and paint supplies, though she recommends using longer wood screws in place of the provided screws to attach it more securely.
  • (Note that Lisa found this a few months ago for $80 on Amazon, so do not -- I repeat, do not -- buy it unless the price comes down quite a bit. While she may have gotten a tremendous deal, $184.00 seems a bit outrageous, even for a fantastic product like this. I'll let you know if I see a big price drop.)

  • My First Crayola Character Marker, Red and Blue
  • We got these adorable markers for Toddler X just after he turned one, and he still gets excited when I pull them out today. Super easy for little toddler hands to hold and control, less likely to be chewed on (with their round shape, they're tough to get in the mouth, and there's no small cap choking risk), and less likely to lead to frustration in getting the cap on or off for little people still working on those motor skills, these things are just all around great. They come in sets of two, a Red and Blue set and a Yellow and Green set -- we have both, and highly recommend them to younger toddlers.

  • Crayola 48 Count Sidewalk Chalk
  • Toddler X is obsessed -- I mean, obsessed -- with our sidewalk chalk. We keep it on our front porch to entertain him when we're sitting out there, and he picks up a piece nearly every time we enter or leave the house. He colors on the pillar, the chairs, the mailbox, and himself, but wonderfully, it all wipes clean with a damp cloth, or just dusts right off! We have the same set of chalk at Grandma's house, and it is a hit there too. For really cheap, creative, and not too messy fun, this sidewalk chalk is a great buy.

  • Do A Dot Art Marker, Rainbow 6-pack
  • Toddler moms Allison and Samantha recommended these markers, and we enthusiastically join them! They have these at Toddler X's "school", and he has been drawn to them (no pun intended -- really!) since his very first day. They're very easy for him to manage, and size-wise they just seem to work well with toddler hands. We don't have a set at home yet, so these will be stocking stuffers for us this year. They make the sets in both a Rainbow and a Brilliant color scheme -- choose whichever appeals to you, because you can't go wrong with these cool pens. (Samantha also reports that there are lots of images available online that coordinate with the markers' dot size, making a great exercise for hand-eye coordination.)

  • Honeysticks Beeswax Crayons
  • Toddler mom Allison recommended these very cool-looking crayons, which she says are thicker and easier to hold than standard crayons, and are natural too. It looks like they're hand-made in New Zealand and each crayon is unique. Very neat!

  • Crayola 4ct Washable Fingerpaints
  • Toddler moms Isabel and Paige recommended these, and we join in on their recommendation. Toddler X loves his fingerpaints -- we have made some tremendously fun messes with these squishy tubes! Isabel appreciates these because of their washability, and we, too, have never had any problems getting them out of clothes or off of Toddler X's high chair (where he does much of his finger painting). They make both a primary and a secondary colors set -- we currently have the primary ones, but I have no doubt we'll have them all before Toddler X's finger-painting days are through.

  • Crayola 8-Pack Jumbo Crayons
  • I'm guessing many, if not most, of my readers already have this classic toddler crayon, but if not, it's the one to get. Their larger size makes them easier for toddlers to hold and maneuver, and harder for them to break. A solid basic art piece for any toddler. Toddler mom Isabel recommended them, and we agree.

  • Crayola Twistables Crayons
  • Toddler mom Maya rates these crayons as second only to the wheel in terms of history's best inventions. She reports that with their hard shell, they're virtually impossible to break, and that her family has had the same set for THREE YEARS (a lifetime to a toddler!), with only one lost (and it was a white one, so who cares?). I haven't tried these yet, but with Maya's glowing recommendation, they're next on my list.
  • Note: Maya has occasionally been able to find these on clearance at Target for $4 for a 24 pack. While the prices available on Amazon vary based on seller, they are nowhere near that (some appear very low, but then charge for shipping). If you see a great deal, scoop it up, but I'm guessing that it will be pure luck to find them for that low of a price.
  • Wikki Stix Rainbow Pak
  • Toddler mom Lydia recommended Wikki Sticks in response to my Facebook page seeking arts and crafts suggestions, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to look them up  -- I'd never heard of them before! Thank goodness I did, because these things look awesome! (And they're made in America - a big plus in my book.) I am very very excited for this perfect stocking stuffer -- I have a feeling Mr. X and I will be enjoying it just as much as Toddler X in the months and years to come. (By the way, this example is just a small pack -- 24 sticks -- but they have a larger pack that is a great deal -- 468 Wikki Sticks for $29.95, currently on sale for $19.99. It's the Wikki Stix Big Count Box, and if you already know that you like these things, that's the box for you.)

  • Foam Magnets - Letters
  • Toddler mom Lisa recommended these great magnets. Her family has both the Letters and the Objects sets, and there are also Numbers and Pattern Blocks options. She appreciates that the entire back sides of the foam letters, numbers or shapes are magnetized, so there is no concern for small magnets being ingested or lost. And of course, you can't argue with the educational aspect of using letters for play.

Now you're probably going to laugh, but I can't help but dedicate a whole section of this post to the recommendations of toddler mom Laura, who has been getting creative with her three year-old for...well, three years! According to Laura, they do a LOT of art in her house and she makes a conscious effort to find products that are both kid-friendly and of the best quality, art-wise, too. Over the years she has found some real gems, and I am so grateful to her for sharing them (and the links!) with Silicon Valley Toddler. Though I don't know Laura personally, I now consider her my personal art guru, and will no doubt be going to her with questions as Toddler X's skills develop.

Here are Laura's favorites:

  • First Art : Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos
  • This strikes me as a wonderful gift for any toddler, particularly one whose parents prefer not to have too many toys in the house and who would rather encourage creative pursuits. I'm so glad Laura suggested it.
  • International Arrivals Natural Beeswax Crayons, Set of 24
  • Regular Amazon price: $12.99. Current price (12/13): same.
  • These natural, triangular crayons in bright, vivid colors get Laura's vote and great reviews on Amazon as well. I had never really looked into higher-quality wax crayons, but the more I read, the more interested I am! These look like a good entry-level set, and are apparently significantly less expensive than the highest-end Stockmar product. Plus, what cute packaging!
  • Staedtler Erasable Colored Pencils. 24 Colors, Pre-Sharpened
  • Regular Amazon price: $11.54. Current price (12/13): same.
  • Laura recommends these as the best colored pencils for a toddler/preschooler, and their quality and vivid colors give them near-perfect reviews on Amazon as well. Some of the reviews are actually kind of funny, going into great detail in describing a box of colored pencils. But I guess if someone who cares enough to write a lengthy review for a box of 24 pencils rates them as 5 stars, that's good enough for me!

  • Melissa & Doug Easel Pad Bundle 50 Sheets 2-Pack
  • Regular Amazon price: $15.99. Current price (12/13): $13.99.
  • Laura reports that her family uses this paper for everything -- easel art, table cover for messy projects, responsibility/potty charts. We've listed a lot of pens, pencils, crayons and paints up above -- if you want to avoid your toddler using them to decorate your walls, you're going to need something like this.

  • Crayola 16-count Pip-squeaks Markers
  • Regular Amazon price: $12.95. Current price (12/13): $7.61.
  • Though they're not of as high a quality as the other items Laura recommended, she says that her son loves these cute miniature markers and requests them all the time.

  • Reeves Assorted 12-Milliliter Watercolor Paint, 18-Pack
  • Regular Amazon Price: $12.99. Current price (12/13): $9.99
  • As your little artist matures enough to move from fingerpaints to watercolors, Laura recommends this set of Reeves paints. This are not kid-specific paints, but according to the reviews, they are great for artists of all skill levels.

Other recommended arts and crafts items:

I've also gotten lots of recommendations for Ikea items, but unfortunately many of them (including the paint box and the apron) can't be purchased online, or are more expensive online than in stores (the easel, for example, is $9.99 in store but $14.99 online - still inexpensive, but 50% more than the store price). All the same, here's a link to their kids' arts and crafts section so you can get an idea of what's available. Next time we get up to East Palo Alto, I may pick up some of their inexpensive art items and share my thoughts with all of you.

Also, while many recommended items were specific brand-name products, it goes without saying that a lot of "art" -- particularly when you're a toddler -- is created with materials that aren't packaged as such. Here are a few general suggestions from our readers:
  • Pipe cleaners (especially when used with a colander)
  • Stickers
  • Stamps
  • Glitter glue (sounds messy -- I'm going to leave that one to the braver toddler moms!)
And, of course, the trusty cardboard box or paper towel roll has never let a toddler down!

Hope this is helpful! Happy crafting!

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