While we don’t want to discourage children by setting too many limits, we must address the costs, both financially and ecologically, of using large amounts of art materials.
So, how can we keep art time fun and free while reducing waste?
10 Tips for Reducing Waste at Art Time
1. Start with repurposed materials. Ask friends and family to keep an eye out for fabric scraps, felt, paper, cardboard and the like. In the past, I’ve been donated boxes of dot matrix paper, stationary from businesses that have gone under, ribbon and wrapping paper scraps. Not only do repurposed items make ecological sense, they keep art time interesting!
2. Take a little at a time. Talk with children about squeezing out just a little paint at a time or taking just a few Pom Poms (affiliate link) at first. With young children, I’ve found that even unused materials will often be a bit sticky or wet by the end of the activity. Start small and have additional materials close at hand but separate from the work area to reduce the amount of waste.
3. Limit glue use. Ever seen the look of glee on a preschooler’s face as they squeeze out an entire bottle of glue? At one point, my day care kids were obsessed with it. I felt like either I was going to have to be the glue police, which definitely disrupted the creative flow, or take out a small loan to pay my glue bill.
My solution? I bought a gallon of school glue, a pump dispenser and enough tiny glue bottles (affiliate links) for everyone. At art time, I’d fill each about half way (equal to a tablespoon or so of glue) and let the kids know that was their glue for the day. If they still chose to squeeze it all out, I would offer them a glue brush so they could still use the puddled glue. It saved a ton of glue and still allowed the kids to play freely.
4. Collage with magazines. Before you toss your magazines or catalogs in the recycling can, tear out any interesting pictures or large letters and put them aside for collaging.
5. Save stray glitter. Just like glue, young kids love to use a ton of glitter! Shaking the entire shaker is glitter out can be big fun but result in a lot of waste. My solution is to place a sheet of newspaper under glitter projects. When the shaker is empty, I pick up each side of the paper so the glitter gathers in the crease and pour it right back into the shaker for more fun.
6. Make art with random objects. Ask friends and family to be on the lookout for interesting objects they don’t need. Collect and use in collaging or making mobiles. (See Oryx Ink for instructions on how to make mobiles).
7. Save your crayon stubs to make new crayons! Find out how at Frugal Living.
9. Reuse and recycle. When art time is over, work with your kids to sort out which materials can be saved for later and which can be recycled.
10. Enlist the help of your kids. Talk about why it’s helpful to repurpose materials, to recycle and to be creative with what we have rather than always buying new things. Teach not only what to do, but why.