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Arts and crafts play such a pivotal role in the classroom for a reason. Not only do they reinforce crucial fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, they encourage flexible thinking and creativity. Simple as it might seem, crafts like making sheep from cotton balls or flowers from construction paper and popsicle sticks are teaching your kid how to make something out of nothing—to wrest meaning and create symbols and cool combinations out of what was, just a few minutes beforehand, a bunch of plant fiber and sticks. That's pretty cool, when you think about it. You might even say it's at the core of what we humans do.
Phew, we got a little metaphysical there—so let's not forget arts and crafts and creating stuff are fun, too. And whether your kids will be jumping back into the school year soon or still have a ways to go, it's always the right time to nurture that creative spark within and break out the crayons.
So here's to all things gluesticks and papercraft, markers and pens, safety scissors and more.
Pacon Lightweight Construction Paper ($9.98; walmart.com): Construction paper is to crafting as onion and butter is to cooking: The base on which pretty much everything else is built. This generous stack of 500 sheets comes in all kinds of fun colors. And with all Pacon paper products sustainably sourced and certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, you can feel just a bit better about how many pieces your kiddo burns through.
Crayola Washable Watercolors w/ Paintbrush ($4.91; walmart.com): Sure, watercolors are great for kids because, well, they wash out in water—good news for parents with children who tend to put more paint on their clothes than on the paper. (Aka most of us.) But don't let the cold hard truth blind you to the fact that watercolors are an incredible medium in their own right, capable of extraordinary depth and precision. And it could all start here, with this classic Crayola set.
Crayola Twistables Colored Pencil ($5.97; walmart.com): If you've been around a kid with a colored pencil for more than five seconds, you know most pencils get broken. A lot. That means a lot of trips to the sharpener, an abundance of pencil shavings, and, for very young kids, lots of requests for help. These clever colored pencils have clear barrels that allow you to see the action as a simple twisting motion advances the colored core, no sharpening necessary. That means more time drawing and less time chasing down pencil sharpeners.
Elmer's Disappearing Purple Washable School Glue Sticks ($2.97; walmart.com): It's a simple yet effective solve to a perennially vexing problem: How can you see where you're sticking things if your glue is so unobtrusively clear that you can't tell where you're putting it? This stuff is purple on contact yet dries clear. Your budding collage artist thanks you.
Senda Kids Art Desk and Chair with Wooden Activity Easel ($59.97; walmart.com): Having a dedicated activity and art space isn't a bad idea, and not just because it helps to contain the inevitable messiness that's part and parcel of the crafty life. It also helps to signal that time to think, create, and work is so important that there's a special place just for it. We love this bright combo, with its thoughtful storage bench/chair and whiteboard/chalkboard easel, as an affordable one-stop-shop for creating a craft corner.
Post-it Self-Stick Tabletop Easel Pad, 20" x 23", 20 Sheets per Pad ($16.43; walmart.com): What makes these so amazing is how simple it all is. Tear off a sheet, slap it onto a wall, and voila, you've got an enormous blank easel ready to be filled. Tear off a couple sheets, slap them next to each other, and soon you have an entire room that's just canvas. Add some markers and crayons to the mix and it's catnip for kiddos. Plus, the sheets make for great brainstorming tools and group project aids for older kids, too. There's a reason these have entered teachers' arsenal. And they're just as powerful at home.
Crayola Super Tips Washable Markers ($3.97; walmart.com): Washable markers are a great place to start, since the stakes aren't quite so high as when you go permanent—walls and clothes are relatively safe. And these super tips are great in other ways, too, since their special design offers the versatility to create thick or thin lines. That's perfect for a host of activities like drawing, coloring, writing and practicing calligraphy.
Sharpie Color Burst Ultra Fine Permanent Markers ($17.88; walmart.com): Of course one day your tyke will have to graduate to permanent markers, and when that day comes these will do more than nicely. We love the vivid range of colors here, in ultra-intense and eye-catching shades that go well beyond your average Sharpie. The ultrafine tips produce thinner, precise lines and more control, which suits the finer motor skills of older children and budding artists.
Crayola Air Marker Sprayer ($14.97; walmart.com): Now this is cool. This nifty device takes your regular Crayola markers and uses them to power a motorized airbrush. It basically works like a professional paint sprayer, except with markers. That opens up a whole new world of artistic projects, from stencils to graffiti to airbrushing—not to mention that there's something mesmerizing about the unique motorized operation and spray. It includes 5 Pip-Squeaks Washable Markers, 2 Stencil Sheets and 10 sheets of paper, all at a very reasonable price.
Yoobi Kid Scissors ($2.97; walmart.com): The blunt edges and small size make these a perfect starter pair of scissors for any youngster just dipping their toes into the arts and crafts pool. And the bright colors and cute blade designs are just an added bonus.
Horizon Group USA Assorted Paint Brushes ($4.00; walmart.com): Many a child has been turned off from painting thanks to cheap paint brushes that break, fan, or otherwise don't work as intended. There's a better way, and it doesn't have to break the bank.
Daler-Rowney Simply 4 Fl. Oz. Oil Paints ($9.74; walmart.com): There's nothing quite like oil paints, thanks to their luminosity, layering, and intermixability. For kids, watercolors and acrylics tend to get all the action, but older kids especially are well-placed to enjoy the richer artistic possibilities of oil. And with 24 affordable colors that are ready straight from the tube, this kit makes for a great introduction to a whole new way of painting.
Note: The prices above reflects the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.