Art with Kids: Essentials to Minimize Kid Art Mess

Art, Favorites, Kids

Expect a mess. That is what I tell myself when embarking on any art project with my kiddos. Welcoming (more like accepting) the inevitable mess helps me enjoy the creative process a bit more. There are limits, of course, so I’ve collected these essentials to minimize kid art mess.

Minimize kid art mess with smock, washcloth, palette, oilcloth

Put These Essentials to Work With Some Kid Art Projects:

Essentials to Minimize Art Mess

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Child wearing smock while painting on easel

These lightweight smocks protect clothes, make for easy clean-up and most importantly, don’t annoy my kids. With elasticized cuffs, the sleeves stay above the kids’ wrists through several years of growth. After a project, wipe the smock with a wet washcloth (if necessary) and let air-dry. Since I machine wash after every 5-10 uses, the smocks have some paint stains, but we don’t mind. To store, I squish two smocks (when dry) into a quart size ziplock.

Washable Art Supplies

We use several types of washable art products, though our favorite remains Crayola. The washable markers are vibrant, long-lasting, and easy to open and close. They readily wipe off tables and wash out of clothes. Same with Crayola washable paint – we have used fingerprint paint (can be thin), project paint, and tempera. We also love the Melissa and Doug washable rainbow stamp pad and OOLY Lil’ Pods Watercolor Paint.

Oilcloth Drop Cloth And Tablecloth

Minimize kid art mess with smock and oilcloth drop cloth

Oilcloth is our go-to floor and table protector. No sewing required since the fabric doesn’t ravel, just cut to size. We have a large piece for under our easel or large paint/craft projects and two smaller pieces for the table, one for each kid. After use, wipe with a damp washcloth. The oilcloth dries quickly and compactly folds for storage.


When my daughter was born, we received a stack of washcloths as a gift. At the time, we had no idea of the endless number of uses for those washcloths. First as baby food clean-up, and now primarily for art. I always keep at least one wet and one dry washcloth at the ready for cleaning fingers, stray paint globs, spilled watercolor water, or the all too frequent paint brush drop.

Baking Sheet

Child playing with play dough on baking sheet to minimize kid art mess

After months of using my baking sheets as craft trays, I finally invested in baking sheets (with sides) dedicated to kid crafts and activities. While there are plenty of great plastic art and craft trays available, I chose metal so we could use also the trays as a base for magnet activities such as magnet tiles and magnetic letters.

Use baking sheet to hold LEGOs

They are a must for Play-doh or kinetic sand. We also use for beads, building with LEGOs or other small manipulatives. The trays contain the items, preventing spreading across the table or falling to the floor.

Paint Palette

Paint palette filled with paint while child paints

We frequently use these six spot paint palettes for any paint that comes in a bottle, like tempera, craft or project paint. Either pour one paint into each spot or add two colors and let the child mix and create custom colors. The palettes are easy to wash and air dry. Another plus is that the amount of paint is controlled, preventing waste.


Child painting with essentials to minimize kid art mess - smock, paint palette and oilcloth tablecloth

Unfortunately, this essential isn’t available on Amazon. All too often, I am tempted to interrupt my kids’ creations when I see a sleeve covered in paint, pencil erasers used as paint brushes or Play-doh dotting the ground. As my kids learn to create, I am learning to accept the mess, wait, and let them learn and explore. Patience is a muscle I am constantly exercising and, hopefully, strengthening. Most everything can be cleaned, eventually, so rather than jump in to clean or prevent, I try to take a breath and enjoy watching and helping my kids create masterpieces (color blobs count as masterpieces, right??).

What are your go-to essentials to minimize kid art mess? Please share, we are always looking to expand our toolbox!

Minimize kid art mess with smock, washable supplies, oil cloth and tray