In praise of high-quality art materials

Published by Lori Pickert on September 27, 2007 at 10:43 PM

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For the seven years that I ran my private school, we had an art- and project-based curriculum. Soon after we opened, I discovered the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, and learning about their methods inspired and informed the remainder of our days in the classroom.

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One of the tenets of the Reggio approach is that children deserve high-quality art materials.

Why buy expensive high-quality materials for children? They just burn through whatever you give them. Can we afford to buy them expensive paper, when they can produce 25 drawings in one sitting? And that sitting only lasted 20 minutes?

Giving children high-quality materials sends a message. It’s not enough to say, “I think your work is important.” If I give my children cheap paper and paint, what can they produce? Muddy-colored paintings that dry and flake off cheap, thin paper that tears easily. My words are saying “Your work is important” but the materials are saying “Your work is not important.”

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It’s true that you can’t just hand children a pile of expensive paper and a basket of high-quality markers and walk away without a backward glance. You need to convey your respect for the materials and show children how to use them properly and put them away so they’ll be good for next time.

The youngest children in our classroom — just-turned-three-year-olds — were capable of washing out their paintbrushes and palettes and putting them away. Age is no excuse for not taking care of your materials.

It’s also valuable to teach children when it’s appropriate to use “regular” paper and when an artwork deserves the better, more expensive paper. The lowest-quality paper I can accept is copy paper — not too expensive at 500 sheets for a few dollars. We use copy paper to make marker drawings, pencil drawings, mini-books, etc. We go through a lot of it. But we also have watercolor paper, large loose sheets of drawing paper, and heavy paper for painting with tempera and acrylics, charcoal, and ink. Children can learn to use regular paper for sketching, everyday drawing, and early drafts and use the best paper for their best work. Talking with them about their intentions before they work can help them decide which is appropriate. You can also encourage them to pull out the good paper after they’ve done several renditions of a drawing on regular paper.

There are many steps to introducing high-quality materials and tools to young children and teaching them how to use and care for them. For now, I’ll just say the following:

• High-quality materials convey to children that their work is important.

• High-quality materials inspire children to work more slowly and carefully.

• Children's important work deserves high-quality materials.

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The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. — Loris Malaguzzi

15 comments

Comment by Stefani on September 28, 2007 at 03:12 AM

Beautfiul post! So true, and so inspiring. I'll add to your list that giving children good art materials is a good thing because it gives Mama an excuse to buy the cool stuff she always wanted to use as a kid!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 28, 2007 at 08:24 PM

So true -- I can't seem to buy art supplies for the boys without coming home with something new for myself! :^)

Comment by Gwyn on September 29, 2007 at 05:36 AM

I totally agree - I abhor the look of paints on what we call butchers paper - I'm pretty sure my kids prefer things that are aesthetically pleasing themselves - which is why they seem more proud of themselves when they have works on quality paper to show their Dad.

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 29, 2007 at 08:10 PM

yes .. cheap "newsprint" .. it has a terrible feel that actually dries out your hand as you try to draw on it, a terrible dull color, and so thin it tears as you try to remove it from the pad. yuck!

Comment by molly on October 1, 2007 at 06:23 PM

this is a fantastic post and it makes me hungry to learn more...I agree with everything you are saying, and investing in these kinds of materials is important to me, although I haven't done it yet.
I'd love a post on some of the basics that you recommend to start out with...please??!! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 1, 2007 at 08:17 PM

thank you, molly .. i will post a lot more on this, and thank you for your feedback. i really appreciate it. stay tuned, and i promise i'll do a series of posts on that very subject.

Comment by leslie on February 26, 2008 at 08:42 PM

for years i have struggled with this. you are so right. i want my kids to make beautiful artwork but cringe at handing them my 20 dollar paintbrush. after years of buying junky supplies that give poor results i finally got out the good stuff. what a difference! just like you said, you have to teach them how to use it and be willing to stick around more. truly their work has improved and i think good supplies actually save money in the end, they last longer and usually hold up better. i am slowly integrating higher quality supplies into my camp fire group's craft box too. each year i buy better scissors and such when everyone pays their dues. i have noticed a big improvement with the crafts we make now compared to the first year.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 26, 2008 at 09:14 PM

i agree with you completely, leslie - better supplies do save money in the end. they last longer, they look better, and the kids are much more invested in working with them. even a three-year-old can tell the difference between a cheap paintbrush and a good one!

thank you for your comment!

Comment by Grace on January 27, 2009 at 04:10 PM

I agree. Especially when it comes to paintbrushes for kids. Whenever we buy craft kits the paintbrush that comes with it is so cheap and allows for little control. This can be frustrating to kids. I say give them better quality paintbrushes and they will be amazed at their own results!

Comment by Katie on September 27, 2012 at 05:05 PM

I have 3 children who are 7, 5 and 3 who are exclusively home educated. I have always bought them high quality art materials but I had no idea it was an approach it just felt like the right thing to do

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 27, 2012 at 06:38 PM

i think a lot of parents (and teachers) buy cheaper quality art supplies for children (especially young children) because 1, they think they go through them too quickly and 2, they think their work doesn’t warrant the expense.

Comment by LauraAnn on February 8, 2013 at 03:15 PM

I'm kind of like Katie in that I buy my kids the best I can afford. (I'm homeschooling 4 kids, 10 years and younger.) I operate under the philosophy that when it comes to art supplies something is better than nothing, and quality is better than cheap. Sometimes the best I can afford is Crayola watercolors on copy paper, sometimes it's much nicer :)

I even brought my own watercolor paper and several paintbrushes into my daughter's kindergarten class once (when she was in school) so the kids could experience using proper supplies. It does make a difference! They were so proud of their results. And so were the parents - I picked up my daughter from a friend's birthday party and saw her artwork from that day displayed with the family's purchased art. I'm hoping the nicer supplies were an inspiration to the kids!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 8, 2013 at 04:27 PM

 

i agree that something is better than nothing and quality is better if possible! :)

that was great of you to bring some proper materials to your daughter’s class ... i have also noticed that parents are much prouder of work that’s made with better materials — because it *looks* better and because the kids have usually put more care into it. so nice that you got to see some of that art you set in motion displayed and honored in her friend’s home. :)

Comment by Andi on September 7, 2013 at 09:43 PM

I love those markers and noticed that Blick's has their own brand, too. Also- I love Dick Blick's white sulfite drawing paper. The 80# weight is fantasitic for painting and comes in lots of sizes. Also- Blick construction paper is awesomely brilliant. I <3 Blick's

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 8, 2013 at 10:29 AM

and a big box of blick paper lasts forever! ;o)

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