In 2015, when my first daughter was born, I made the choice to become a stay-at-home parent. In 2017, I had twins. Five years later, my oldest was in her final year of preschool and my twins had just started preschool. I optimistically and with great hope and excitement launched this website and blog. My lifelong goal to be a full-time parent who was also a freelance writer and independent historian was finally happening. Then, about a month later: COVID-19.
I set my nascent work aside, and I’m back to being a stay-at-home parent for the foreseeable future. Like all of you, I feel like I’ve been swept off my feet. I feel frustrated and cheated and exhausted. But unlike many of you, I have five years of experience as a full-time stay-at-home parent to fall back on. My kids and I have a routine we were able to slip back into without them really noticing any difference at all. I realize my privilege to not have to juggle a full-time job with full-time childcare. I realize my privilege to not feel completely overwhelmed by having to figure out how to take care of my kids all day long with no warning and no choice. So for now, I am back to being home with these three little goofballs.
A couple of days ago, a friend who is finding herself home with her kids for the first time sent out a plea via Facebook for what art supplies she should get for her preschooler. And I realized I could help. So I sent her an email with some supplies and ideas for projects that I’ve found work well for the 2-5ish-year-old crowd. She posted to Facebook that I should share that list more broadly, as many “daycare parents” like her were “caught in the headlights.” There were comments from some of her other Facebook friends asking me for that list, as well.
I can’t help everyone with much right now, but I can help parents of young kids who feel helpless and overwhelmed know what art supplies they should order and from where. I can help them with some simple project ideas. And I can help them with scheduling tricks to survive the day. I have always loved doing arts with my kids, and it turns out I have lots of idea, photos, and projects stocked up that I can pass on to my friends.
So, I am switching my optimistic history of science blog over to a survivalist parenting blog—for now. Soon I hope we will all be back to working how we want to work. Here is a slightly revised (Eek! Typos!) version of the email I sent my friend. I wrote it in a hurry while my kids were tugging at my legs, but after looking at it again (and fixing the typos), I still think it’s a good start.
Side note: For those of you who know my kids and me, I’ve changed everyone’s name, but they’re still the same kids!
The Original Email. Subject: Art Supplies
Art can get messy and can take some time to set up and clean up. But my basic rule is, if they're entertained for more time then it takes me to clean up, then it's worth it. I repeat that mantra every time I'm wiping up paint or glue…
Definitely make sure you have some sort of covering to place over your work table. I use one of those picnic table tablecloths from the dollar store, and toss it after a couple of months once it's super gross. But any sort of plastic covering would work. I exclusively use washable paints, but to minimize cleanup, smocks are great. We've had these for years. I toss them in the rinse and spin cycle and air dry.
I still order from Amazon, of course, but get most of my art supplies from Discount School Supply.
The most useful thing you'll ever get is a big role of white butcher paper. It's not cheap, but one roll (and a roll holder thingy with the edge to tear the paper) will last you for years. Kids LOVE giant pieces of paper! We also use it to wrap presents, then the kids color on the wrapping paper. I got the 36” wide, 1000-foot long roll. It’s so heavy I keep it on the floor. My parents had a roll of butcher paper when I was a kid and it lasted my whole childhood. They gave me their roll cutter when I started doing lots of projects with the kids, so somehow butcher paper has become a sentimental thing for me!
Start saving a lot of recyclables in a box called "The Making Things Box" (there's a Daniel Tiger episode about this, called “Daniel Makes a Noisemaker/Daniel Makes the Neighborhood”): toilet paper rolls, empty single-serve apple sauce containers, egg cartons, cereal boxes, coffee filters, paper plates, etc. Marie asks for it on her own. I lay down a piece of butcher paper as a floor covering, give her a thing of Elmer's Glue and some kid scissors and she makes all sorts of things. It's a bit messy to clean up. But again, if it takes me less time to clean up than they were entertained, then it's worth it. But to start with, you can ask your kid to design the thing, then you can help him or her glue it. A hot glue gun is useful here to make the process faster.
Here is a tractor that Marie made Marcus all by herself! He loves it because, unlike his other tractor, he can open this one up and put people inside it! He actively plays with it a lot.
These foam shapes work surprisingly well with a glue stick. It’s really exciting to see how creative kids can be with a bunch of different shapes!
We really love to paint. Watercolors are easy to set up and clean up. We use regular watercolor paper (I usually cut it in half), but we especially love watercolor postcards, which are super fun to paint quickly and send to family and friends. We also use tempera paint, with no-spill cups and brushes.
Household items that are great for art: paper plates (google paper plate projects for lots of ideas), popsicle sticks, cupcake liners (again, google this, so many neat ideas!). The kids really love to use the tempera paints and paint a paper plate. Don't know why, but they LOVE painting paper plates! I pour a little of the paint into cups (like the single-use applesauce cups) or these paint trays to use inside with normal small paintbrushes, and keep the no-spill cups outside.
These little cups help me keep all the little things organized. I pour glue in them and let the kids use a paintbrush to glue, then just toss. They are also great for doling out sequins, beads, etc., to each kid. The kids really like getting their art supplies handed to then in little cups. Apparently it makes the whole thing better. It definitely makes it easier to clean up. Art trays are also useful for organizing projects, containing mess, and keeping little things from falling to the floor, but they’re definitely not essential.
Kids LOVE beads, and I LOVE pony beads! Pipe cleaners are great for beading. When they're done I just take the beads off the pipe cleaner to use again next time. It's a nice quiet fine motor skill activity. Other fun things, which let you do tons of projects: sidewalk chalk, goggly eyes, sparkly things (not glitter! I hate glitter, but sequins of different shapes are good), feathers, buttons, yarn scraps, felt, pipe cleaners, food coloring, liquid watercolors.
And some useful tools you may already have around: scissors, stapler, single hole-punch, scotch tape (I can give Marie scraps of paper and scotch tape and she can go by herself for ages!), masking tape, kid scissors. This is a great book to practice scissor skills.
Hopefully by the end of this nightmare, we will all have more art to hang on our walls... or in our windows. People are going on more walks around the neighborhood than usual, so why not give them some cheerful art to make their walk more beautiful? In fact, many kids around the country are making rainbows to put in their windows. Make one of your own, then go on a walk around your neighborhood and see if you can find any others. It’s a project and a scavenger hunt! We will be making rainbows this week...