How to Build an Art Cart Your Child Will Love

Until recently, I had no idea what an art cart was and how incredibly engaging one would be for our four year old. Like me, Jane is a highly emotional perfectionist who likes to please people and desperately wants to be funny even though we are short one important bone to be considered so. We like rules and parameters and feel uncomfortable when there are no guidelines or outlines to follow. So how would an art cart make her more engaged at home?

Well, as she has recently turned a ripe ole four years, I have begun to notice where we deviate. I color in the lines and she is inhibited by them. Literally. For a while, when provided a coloring sheet and a four pack of colors at family friendly restaurants, she would smile with glee. Yet, when we arrived at our table, she would push the sheet to me and ask to watch me color it. The first time I thought it was sweet, but after this happened on several occasions, I asked her teachers about it. They said that Jane loves art time at school but will never choose a defined object to color or paint. Her fine motor skills and dexterity are not developed enough to fulfill her perfectionist side thereby turning something that should be fun into frustration.  Instead, she prefers to choose a clean sheet of paper, a glue stick, and a jar of mismatched objects from the class art cart.

Recently, we participated in a playdate at Ursuline Academy, and they had an “invitation” (a preset art cartproject displayed to encourage children to join in an exercise but to come to the end result through observing the completed display model) on the table in the art room. It involved dipping fresh flowers in paint and stamping them onto the paper at each child’s place. She loved it! But her attention very quickly turned to an art cart that was cleverly constructed to display small bins of buttons and jewels, jars of markers and colored pencils, containers of feathers and pipe cleaners. With the teacher’s permission, she went to the cart and began to “make art.” It was inspiring to watch how creative she is and just how at home she felt in a world that was not defined by coloring inside of the lines.

If you are like me, this makes you itchy. I stared at that cart and didn’t know where to begin. Do I color first or just glue some things in random order on a page? The lack of a known outcome was overwhelming to me. Yet, my mini-me was perfectly at home in this space.

We decided that there would be no greater Christmas gift that Santa could bring than a fully stocked art cart. The only problem was that I didn’t know where to begin to create one. I googled and googled until I came across a fantastic website called Tinkerlab. Operated by a former teacher and head of programming at an art museum, the blog provides uninspired moms like me helpful tips to make a space that let’s our budding artists’ imaginations soar.

Knowledge is power my friends, so I thought I’d share with you the things I learned about building an art cart that will make you (or in our case, Santa) the best gift giver around.

The Cart

CartThere are many options, so it is hard to know where to start. I had my heart set on a Guidecraft version that was too wide for the small space we have available but whose design allowed for ample storage. I looked at smaller more open models like one that Ikea sells for $29.99 but felt that there weren’t enough compartments to store supplies. Finally, I discovered the Guidecraft Universal Storage Center on sale, and it was a match made in heaven. It had paper storage, a supply compartment that can be removed, large drawers, and a closed storage area. This model was going to keep our four year old inspired and our one year old from ingesting too many sequins.

The Storage Containers

For this to work for our family, it has to stay neat. We do not have a large house, and without a playroom, our art cart will be living in between our refrigerator and our pantry. There is no room for any more clutter or chaos! Once we had the cart built, we were able to find the supply containers that suited our needs. The Container Store has a fantastic selection of containers that are varying shapes and sizes. I wanted clear ones so that the supplies stood out when Jane goes to select her materials. The drawers are each slightly less than 12 inches deep, slightly less than 18 inches long, and slightly more than two inches high. The Linus Shallow Drawer Organizers were the best fit for what we needed since they offered so much versatility in the sizing of the products.

The Supplies

I think this may be the most personal part of building an art cart and was certainly the part that brought me the most joy. We spent over an hour at Michael’s searching through every aisle finding treasures we knew Jane would love. I was also able to get some great craft supplies on Zulily – and the prices could not be beat! According to my friends at Tinkerlab, an art cart has three components: drawing and cutting tools, attaching tools, treasures. This is how we composed each section of our cart according to that rule of thumb:

Drawing and Cutting Tools: A set of 24 markers, a 12 pack of colored pencils, a 96 pack of crayons     that I obsessively organized by color, a six pack of washable glitter paint, a five pack of a 96 pack of crayons, and a variety of decorative cut scissors.

Attaching Tools: Glitter glue pens in primary and brights, glue sticks, Elmer’s glue, adhesive glue dots, tons of Washi tapes (that we stored on a paper towel holder because I do not have a clue about how to create a storage rack from PVC pipe!), adhesive ribbon (also stored on a paper towel holder).

craft drawerTreasures: Pom pom set, faceted gemstones, felt flower stickers, paper mosaic tiles,  tissue paper strip set (all items mentioned prior to this were acquired on Zulily for deeply discounted priced from a company called S&S – be on the lookout!), foam glitter stickers, paper flowers, magic feathers, googly eyes, metallic pipe cleaners, craft stickers (which I cut into individual pieces because she’ll go through these on one piece of paper if on a single sheet), glitter (I know it’s messy but she loves it sooo much!).

Whether your child colors inside or outside the lines, I hope you can use this guide to build a space that brings your family joy, happiness, and a lot of new artwork!

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