Some art supplies and art activities can be unsafe unless caregivers follow simple guidelines for selecting and storing materials and teach children how to use them properly.
By Scott G. Allen [Scott is the Executive Director, Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics]
Art and craft time in your childcare program can be fun, educational, and result in treasures that are saved (and displayed on refrigerators) for years. But some art supplies and art activities can be unsafe unless caregivers follow simple guidelines for selecting and storing materials and teach children how to use them properly.
Look for Proper Labels
Improved labeling makes it easier to choose acceptable children’s art materials easier. Always choose materials designed specifically for children, with labels that clearly indicate they are non-toxic. The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) is a non-profit trade association of manufacturers of art and craft materials. Since 1940, ACMI has conducted a certification program in which product formulas are analyzed and certified by the ACMI, then labeled appropriately as either non-toxic and safe, or toxic, and potentially harmful.
ACMI certification also ensures compliance with state and federal labeling regulations. Products bearing the AP (Approved Product) seal of the ACMI are certified non-toxic. In cases where a product may be used with young children, AP certified non-toxic products are the safest.
Products bearing the CL (Caution Label) seal of the Art and Creative Materials Institute contain ingredients that are toxic or hazardous. These products are not appropriate for use with young children in childcare programs. Many products have labels that say a product is “non-toxic;” but unless they also have a label showing that they are certified, these can be misleading. They may not pose an immediate risk of poisoning if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by the skin, but there may be dangers associated with long term use.
If you have any questions about a product, contact the manufacturer to find out what substances are used in the products and if they are safe for children.
Choose Products Carefully
Because drawing and painting are common activities in childcare, parents and childcare providers often assume that all art and craft supplies are safe and appropriate for children. But many products can be dangerous. When choosing products for your childcare program, here are some items to avoid and some suggestions for using products that are safe:
- Avoid instant paper mache, which can contain toxic substances that are easily inhaled. Make paper mache using black and white newspaper and library or white paste.
- Avoid permanent, felt-tipped markers that may contain toxic solvents. Use water-based markers only.
- Avoid adhesives that are not water-based, such as rubber cement or -solvent-based glues. Use polyvinyl acetate (PVA) white glue, which is the safest for children.
- Avoid organic solvents or solvent-containing products; aerosol spray cans or air brushes; products that can stain the skin or clothing or cannot be washed out of clothing; and irritants or corrosive chemicals such as acids, alkalis, and bleach.
- Parents or local businesses in the community sometimes offer childcare programs art materials they no longer need. However, accepting such donations can be dangerous unless the products are relatively new and all the ingredients are known. The older the material, the more likely it is to contain toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, or even asbestos, which can be present in old paper mache and modeling materials.
Art and craft time can be relaxing and encourages children to express themselves in new ways. By following a few simple safety precautions, you and your children can enjoy your creativity safely.
- Do not eat or drink while using art and craft materials.
- Always thoroughly clean after use–wash the children’s hands, your own hands, and your supplies. The clean-up area should not be used for food preparation.
- Never use products for skin painting or food preparation unless the product is specifically indicated for that use.
- Do not transfer your art materials to other containers. Always keep them in the original packaging, which includes ingredient and safety information.
- Provide appropriate supervision when children are using materials that are sharp or that could be ingested.
Paint products can become contaminated with bacteria or mold, which can lead to a strong, offensive, and in some cases, sickening odor. Paints such as poster paints and temperas that are intended for use with children, often contain organic materials that can decay if not stored properly or if stored for a long period of time.
Here are some tips to help you store paint safely and use it for as long as possible:
- Avoid dusts or powders, such as powdered clay or powdered tempera paints that require mixing, which can be inhaled or can get in the children’s eyes. Liquid tempera paints and talc-free, premixed clay are better choices. Be sure to wet mop and wipe surfaces after use to remove residue.
- Store the product in its original container in a cool, dry place.
- Mark the date of purchase on all containers, and use the oldest supplies first.
- Thoroughly shake the paint before using. (Make sure the lid is secure!)
- Remove only the amount of paint you will need for that day’s activity. Discard any unused paint by rinsing it down a drain (away from your food preparation area) or sealing it in a container and putting it in a garbage can or dumpster outside the building. Do not return the unused portions to the original container–they may be spoiled and will contaminate the remaining paint.
- If you dilute the paint to use it with your children, do not save or reuse it. Water can dilute preservatives in the paint that guard against bacteria and mold.
- Avoid working directly from the original product containers–open them, take what you need, and seal them again. Egg carton sections, yogurt containers, disposable drinking cups, and other items can be cleaned to hold paint during art and craft.
- Do not place brushes, hands, or other objects in the container–even stirring the paint with a stick can contaminate it.
Scott G. Allen
Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics
Reprinted with permission from: Healthy Childcare.