We discovered MaryLea Harris on her blog, PinkandGreenMama, and we wanted her to adopt us immediately. Her house must be such a fun place, with wonderful creations and projects all over! We asked her to share a bit about safe family art activities.
Creating, playing, and exploring are essential components to my parenting philosophy. I am trying to raise my two daughters with hearts full of art. As we create and craft in our home art studio I try to think about the impact the art supplies we are using will have on the planet and my children’s’ bodies. I was a printmaker and (oil) painter in college and was exposed to some nasty chemicals. When I was a graduate art student I was breastfeeding my infant daughter and did not want to expose my body or hers to toxic substances; I made sure that all of my artwork was created using non-toxic art materials. It presented me with a challenge to find new ways to create, but in doing so I also achieved results and a level of work that was very satisfying.
What can you do as a parent who wants to create with your children but who wants to avoid dangerous and toxic art materials? Start with known brands that are green. Ask yourself if you could make your own or recycle and repurpose something for your project.
- In our home studio we use rags instead of paper towels (just as we do in our house)
- We use homemade play dough made with 1 cup of flour, ½ cup salt, 1 packet of powdered Kool-Aid (there is probably a greener alternative!) 1 cup of hot water, 3 tablespoons of oil. It smells great and my kids love it.
- Natural Wool is lovely to use in craft projects and for “felting” yourself with warm water and mild soap.
- Stockmar makes beeswax crayon blocks that are as lovely to hold and color with as they are to smell!
- Soy-based Crayon Rocks are another favorite of ours.
- Strathmore has a new line of artist papers made with 100% wind power
- Several kinds of watercolor paper, drawing paper, and sketch paper are now made with hemp.
- Artemis makes colored pencils with plant extracts for their pigments.
- Green Earth Office Supply makes pencils from recycled denim jeans and post-consumer paper.
- Acquerello Watercolor Paper is chlorine-free (as well as acid-free)
- We use Eco-Fi Felt for our felt projects, it is made from recycled post consumer plastic bottles.
- Eco Finger paints from Ecoartworks.com are great for little artists or you can look on the Internet for recipes to make your own homemade finger paint.
- Whenever my kids bring home foam craft stickers on a project from school or a friend’s birthday party, we recycle the foam stickers by turning them into stamps! I just stick them to scrap pieces of cardboard cut up from old cereal boxes, and then paint with washable paint or ink.
- White Elmer’s School Glue is another favorite in our house. It is pretty safe and approved by the public schools. Our local public school system is not allowed to use toxic art materials in their classrooms.
- Recycled paper – your child’s drawings and doodles will look just as nice on the back of a piece of paper saved from the recycling pile as it would on a blank sheet of paper. Teaching your children to work this way sets a lifelong habit to reduce-reuse-recycle, and that’s the name of the game.
- The recycling bin is a treasure chest of its own: Milk cartons, toilet paper tubes, bottle caps, plastic lids, egg cartons, tissue paper, gift wrap, aluminum foil, old sweaters and worn out clothing.
- Mother Nature. A quick walk in your own backyard will reveal a bounty of natural and non-toxic art and craft materials: leaves, flowers, pine cones, acorns, sticks and fallen branches, sand, seashells, bird feathers, insect wings, etc.
Final thought: whenever you are looking at traditional art materials for your children you should look for an AP or CP seal and avoid products with warning labels. Also ask yourself (as you would with food), “Is this something my grandmother would recognize?” Happy (safe) Crafting!
MaryLea Harris is an artist and blogger. She was an Elementary Art Teacher in the public school system for 5 years before staying home with her two daughters. She married her college sweetheart, a builder and LEED Accredited Professional. As a family they recycle, Freecycle, grow organic veggies with rain barrel water, and compost. Her kids consider their worms in the kitchen vermicomposter to be part of the household pet menagerie.
Favorite Green Action Taken: Switching to cloth napkins and installing tubular skylights with my husband in our kitchen and upstairs hallway ceilings – the natural light is fantastic.
Least Favorite Green Action Taken: Line drying laundry – the towels can be a bit crunchy but I tell myself I’m “exfoliating.” [Over-priced spa treatment for free!]
Still Working On: Giving up all non-toxic art materials and products and figuring out a “green” litter box solution for our two aging indoor cats.
Find MaryLea here: http://www.pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com