ART MATERIALS: USE WITH
Art and craft activities are two of the most common activities found in
educational and child care settings.
Activities like painting, drawing, or working with clay introduce children
to basic art concepts. They also promote exploration, creativity, and
expression of emotion. Because art activities do not require the creation
of a specific product, they can be used with children of all ages. In
contrast, craft activities, like making bird houses, flower baskets or
embroidery from kits, usually require that the child make something
according to a model.
Crafts can help children to develop specific abilities, such as being able
to hammer a nail correctly, or sewing with proper tension. They also help
children to evaluate their project against a standard. Because children do
not develop the mental or physical abilities needed to achieve these goals
until the later elementary years, craft activities are usually most
successful with older children.
While art and craft activities may differ in some ways, they do have one
thing in common - both may use materials that could pose a serious health
threat to children and adults. Some types of paint, glue, model materials,
and solvents may contain substances that have been shown to produce
cancer, organ and tissue damage, mental retardation, and other serious
health problems. Anyone who offers art activities to young children needs
to be aware of these potential hazards.
Many art materials have been designed and tested for adults.
Unfortunately, children's bodies may be more sensitive to these
substances, and they might use these materials in ways that adults don't
(e.g., putting things in their mouths).
Children tend to be active and curious. They have less well-developed fine
motor skills and often do not understand the potential danger presented by
an activity. As a result, children may spill supplies, or get them on
themselves or others. This can increase the risk of harmful exposure.
Children may also put their fingers in their mouths, or suck their thumbs
after having their hands in the materials. While this is more common in
children under five, nail-biting continues well into the school years.
Children's bodies are not as strong or as fully developed as adult bodies.
Therefore, they are more sensitive to poisonous substances, like lead,
especially if eaten. Children also tend to breathe faster than adults and
often breathe through their mouths instead of their noses. As a result,
they might breathe in more of a poisonous substance than an adult would.
Their air passages also tend to be narrower than adults' which make them
more sensitive to irritation by chemicals.
Because children may be especially sensitive to the effects of art and
craft materials, providers should carefully examine the materials
provided. Listed below are ways to reduce the risks to children.
- Use only art products designed
specifically for children.
- Avoid art materials with artificial
fruit or food scents that may tempt children to eat them (or other
- Always provide close supervision, no
matter what the child's age.
- Provide clear instructions on the proper
use and clean-up of art materials before children begin the project.
- Pre-mix powdered paints, glues or model
materials. Wipe or wet-mop the floor rather than sweeping. This
reduces the chance of children breathing in dangerous chemicals.
- Separate eating areas from work areas.
Store materials in original containers, not food or drink containers.
- Limit the amount of materials given to
any one child, so that they cannot eat quantities large enough to harm
them. This is especially important for children under six years old.
- Strictly enforce hand-washing after
activities. Substitute other projects for finger painting projects
when children have open cuts or sores.
Reprinted with permission from the National
Network for Child Care - NNCC. Todd, C.M. (1993). Art materials: Use with
caution. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 2(4),
pp. 3-4. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative