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Tips on Creating an Accessible + Organized Art Station for Kids

A new year always brings about a desire in me to clean and organize our living spaces. I’ll be tackling the schoolroom over the next week or two as I’ve wanted to swap a few things around and refresh the shelves. I hope to post a complete tour of it by the end of the month.

In the meantime, though, I thought I’d share a bit about how we keep our children’s art supplies organized and easily accessible to them in case you’re looking for some ideas and have the New Year’s itch to refresh your space as well.

Here’s our main set-up:

IKEA's VIGGJA Tray Cart being used to store art supplies for children.
The tray is usually located a little more to the left, positioned right beside our dining room window and on the other side of the couch.

Last year I stumbled upon the VIGGJA tray stand at IKEA and initially brought it home thinking it’d be a wonderful place to organize each day’s scheduled read-alouds. It served that purpose for a few months before I realized it actually makes a really wonderful little art station for kids.

Nurture your child's artistic spirit and creativity by making art supplies and materials easily accessible. Learn more about how to store and organize materials on a simple tray cart at www.freeandunfettered.com. #montessori #montessoriathome #preparedenvironment #artstudioforkids #openendedplay #playmatters #ece #childledlearning #homeschooling

If you’re interested in establishing a newly accessible art station for your child or are simply looking for a few storage and organization ideas for corralling art supplies, listed below are my best tips.


Determine the location.

Personally, most of our artwork tends to occur at the dining room table. The girls have a few pencils and other things by their desk in the schoolroom, but for their full-scale artistic endeavors that involve crayons and markers and paint and oil pastels and all the other fun, artsy stuff, the dining room table provides the most space to spread out supplies and there’s no carpet in sight — meaning I can be a bit more relaxed about whatever messes or spills may occur.

Once you’ve identified the best central location to store art supplies, then you’ll want to begin setting up your art station. This can either be a stationary shelf, a low cabinet, the ever-popular rolling cart, or a simple tray cart like we’re using.

Honestly, any small piece of storage furniture could work here as long as it’s safely accessible to your child.

Sort through all art supplies and materials on hand.

Discard any materials that are broken and can no longer be used effectively, and donate any supplies that are no longer needed.

I would highly recommend investing in high quality art supplies when able. Here are our favorites: Must-Have Art Supplies for Kids. While they initially do cost more money, they last so much longer and are often free of the frustrations associated with the cheaper brands — e.g. crayons snapping in half, pencil leads constantly breaking, muddy colors, etc. We’ve actually been using the same set of beeswax crayons and colored pencils for almost 4 years now!

Now, ask the following questions:

  • Which materials does my child love using the most?
  • Which supplies am I comfortable with my child using independently? Are there any safety concerns? Are they washable?
  • Is there a nice variety of materials available to allow my child to create in a myriad number of ways? If not, what could I add?

At this point the supplies and materials that will be made accessible to your child should be separate from those that will still be placed safely out of reach due to safety and/or potential-for-mess concerns.

Use a variety of containers to keep art supplies and materials neat and tidy.

I’ve found it helps tremendously to make use of smaller containers to separate materials and keep everything neatly organized. Best of all, it enables children to easily grab which materials they would like to use and then return them to the shelf or tray once their work is complete.

For us, this also means that while our tray cart is mostly stationary, each of my girls is able to grab, say, the jar of glass crayons and take it to their bedroom to decorate their window. While we have a central location established — the dining room table — the convenience of small containers allows art to happen throughout the home as well as outside the home.

We currently use a combination of the following storage containers on out art tray:

An expandable file folder holds construction paper, watercolor paper, lined writing paper, small journals, book-making materials, watercolor postcards, tissue paper, scratch paper, and sticker books.

An expandable file folder holds a variety of papers, journals, sticker books, etc. to grant children the ability to create in a myriad number of ways.

A bamboo storage caddy holds pencils and colored pencils along with pencil sharpeners, paintbrushes, beeswax crayons, modeling beeswax, and a hole puncher. A small KNALLBAGE accessory bag holds washi tape and scissors.

A bamboo storage caddy holds a variety of pencils, paintbrushes, and beeswax crayons along with other small bags to help keep art supplies and materials neatly organized.
Some of our favorite art supplies and materials for children displayed on IKEA's VIGGJA Tray Cart, which is being used to make everything nicely accessible to them.

A portable pen case holds pens and markers as well as a couple hard plastic sheets that can be used for abstract watercolor designs.

Micron pens and Tombow markers are neatly stored inside a travel case.

A wooden paint jar holder and jars allows our children to either mix their own liquid watercolor paints or simply use the jars to collect water when using their watercolor pans.

Art supplies and materials are being stored on IKEA's VIGGJA Tray Cart to make an accessible art station for young children in a Montessori-inspired home.

Small mason jars and baby food jars make wonderful holders for pencils and paintbrushes.

Art supplies and materials are being stored on IKEA's VIGGJA Tray Cart to make an accessible art station for young children in a Montessori-inspired home.

Wikki Stix are a new addition to the tray this year, and we are opting to keep them in their original box which fits nicely on the bottom tray area.

Art supplies and materials are being stored on IKEA's VIGGJA Tray Cart to make an accessible art station for young children in a Montessori-inspired home.

I keep a few SMULA trays tucked in behind the cart. They’re wonderful to use when working with lots of water or glue or any type of sensory play as they help to contain messes and make for an easy cleanup.

Art supplies and materials are being stored on IKEA's VIGGJA Tray Cart to make an accessible art station for young children in a Montessori-inspired home.

Start small.

The thought of having a bunch of art supplies within easy reach of your child may send you into a slight panic. I get it, I truly do. But I also know that it’s vital to allow children the opportunity to create on their own terms, and not simply during scheduled art times or whenever it’s most convenient for us.

If your child has never been able to freely access their art supplies and materials, it’s best to start small and introduce just a few materials at a time.

For us, this process started when my children turned two. At any given time I’d have 2-3 small art trays available in their workspace. As they learned how to appropriately use the materials and how to clean up and return them to a shelf, then I knew they were ready for more ownership in respect to their art supplies.

Only make available the supplies you are comfortable having out.

Let’s face it, even though children may know and understand the appropriate use of certain materials, they are still little scientists who love to experiment. That’s a good thing, by the way!

But it also means if you have a couch, chair, or any other furniture that you absolutely cherish it’s probably best to keep non-washable paints and markers tucked into a high cabinet and reserved for those times when you can closely supervise their use.

Here are a few of the supplies I have stored elsewhere:

  • Glue, non-washable watercolor paint, oil pastels, plasticine clay, play-doh and kinetic sand are kept on top of our math shelf located in our schoolroom closet. My 5-year-old daughter is able to independently retrieve them as needed, but my 3-year-old still requires supervision with these materials. Both art smocks and a portable easel are kept in this closet as well.
Art supplies and materials that still require some supervision are tucked away in our schoolroom closet.

Don’t be afraid to change things up and add a few surprises.

Add some new booklets, comic book paper, flag-making cards, map-making materials — anything to randomly inspire a bit of creativity. This is commonly referred to as ‘strewing’ in the homeschooling world — e.g. deliberately leaving out or displaying interesting items or materials to spark a child’s interest or curiosity.

If you know you’ll be able to closely supervise the entire day then set out one of the special art supplies that your child doesn’t get the opportunity to use as much. Nine times out of ten, they’ll notice and be drawn to it. I tend to do this on a Monday. Since I spend a lot of time on this day prepping food and snacks for the week ahead, I’m near the dining room table and can make sure the supplies are being used appropriately.

Lastly, don’t forget to join in on the fun!

Be sure to sit down occasionally and create alongside your child so you can observe firsthand their artistic expression and creativity unfold. I cherish our time making art together and the joyfulness it brings to our days. And I know it makes my girls feel extra special when Mama joins them!

Do you have any additional tips or tricks to share when it comes to organizing art supplies and materials? Please leave me a note in the comments below!

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