When I taught art in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades for two years, I had the luxury of a generous budget and was able to buy all the art materials I needed for a basic art curriculum. I didn't wander off into anything fancy; I stuck to the basics and the process of creative art-making. These days, I am retired and subbing in other peoples' classrooms, and I am intrigued (and sorry to say, not in a very good way) about the lack of quality art materials out there for kids to use. When it comes to buying art materials, my philosophy is to always buy the best quality possible. The cost may be initially higher, but the returns are greater: they generally last longer, work better, and produce much better results. I stick pretty much to the basics and stay away from most "specialty" items like glittery watercolor or tapping glue bottles. I follow this philosophy both for classroom art materials and for my own art-making process, because I want kids to feel like artists when they are making art, not to struggle with the materials they are using.
What do I consider basic? And are some brands better than others? Does it really matter what brand you buy? You bet! My favorites...
CRAYONS. Good quality crayons have better color, probably due to the ratio of pigment to wax (I'm not a crayon scientist, so I'm guessing here). Poor quality crayons have more wax and the colors are not as bright, no matter how hard you press. I won't buy anything but Crayola. The reds are bright. The yellows are strong. Many teachers buy cheaper brands and my experience is that the colors are just very bland. And by the way, I want the colors to be named what they are. I came across some crayons in a friend's classroom that had color names like Blueberry Swirl or Grape Soda (I am making those up, but you get the gist), which are very cute and all, but were not even that accurate. Colors have names and don't need to be cutified. I like that Crayola names their blues Indigo, Blue, Cerulean. These are real names that artists use.
CONSTRUCTION PAPER CRAYONS are great to have on hand. They are made for drawing on dark colored construction paper. They have some kind of reflective material in them. Kids love using them! They are made by Crayola, and are wrapped with black paper so they are easily distinguished if they get mixed with regular crayons. For general storage, I like to keep crayons in zip baggies instead of in their boxes. It's easy for kids to find the color they need, and a whole class set will fit in one shoebox-sized plastic tub.
MARKERS: I like Crayola markers for kids' use. They seem to last a pretty long time and the colors are pretty bright. I always store them with the tips facing down. This way, the ink is always saturating the tip and they stay nice and "juicy" instead of drying out. Laying them down in a tub works, also. For my own use, on charts and for art lessons where I do demonstrations, I use Mr. Sketch. The colors are very vibrant and the chisel point lets me make bolder lines so that the charts are easy to read. I like the smelly ones.
COLORED PENCILS: Crayola again, although there are other brands that are pretty good, too. I like having a good supply of multiple, basic colors. I generally buy boxes of 12 colors and then dump them all in a plastic tub. They are great for still-life and other observation drawing.
GLUE STICKS: I only buy UHU. It's firmer than cheaper glue sticks, doesn't clump or squish into a mess, and lasts a lot longer than any other brand I've used. I once put in an order for UHU glue sticks when I was teaching art, and the school secretary substituted a cheaper brand. I was working in three schools at the time, and guess at which school the glue sticks got used up first? These are definitely noticeably more expensive than other brands, but very well worth it in the long run. They have a "screw" top which I like. For some reason, kids seem to smoosh them less. Maybe because they are less smooshable.
WHITE GLUE: Elmers. The regular kind. Not the washable kind, the school glue kind, the clear gel kind (oh, that's the worst). Just the regular "Glue-All" kind. What I really really hate is those tapping bottles that drive me crazy when kids are doing collages. I think teachers buy them because they are tired of kids wasting glue, but it's not that hard to teach kids how to use small dots of glue. As for longevity, I always made sure to remind kids to close the stopper and wipe the glue off the tip, and then store the bottles standing up. It's that easy. The bottles will last practically forever.
SCISSORS: I like "pointy" scissors, even for Kindergartners. They just seem to cut better. They seem more serious. Fiskars makes a pretty nice pair of scissors for little hands, and they seem to work fine for either hand, so you don't need any special left-handed ones.
PENCILS: Dixon Ticonderoga. Nothing else will do. They are great for drawing. They have good, soft erasers. They sharpen well without breaking. They are worth the extra few cents per dozen. They last longer, write smoother, sharpen easier, and erase without smudging. I could write a whole blog post just about pencils. Another time. When the erasers go, as they will, I offer Pink Pearl erasers, not one for each student, but several stored near the pencil sharpener. (Which is a whole other post, but I swear by a good pencil sharpener.)
And last, but definitely not least ..... PAPER!
I like good quality CONSTRUCTION PAPER, like Tru-Ray, because the paper is smoother and the colors are nice and bright. And by all means.... save all the scraps for collage-making! It's a good idea to invest in some white DRAWING PAPER. It comes in reams and is not too expensive. I like having both 9x12 and 12x18 on hand. It can be used when construction paper is not really needed but copy paper or newsprint is too thin. Regular, ordinary COPY PAPER is great for pencil drawing. It's nice and white, relatively inexpensive, and looks great on the wall in a gallery. Under no circumstances would I ever use any kind of newsprint for art lessons. Ever. Not even for sketching. It's just too ugly.
***FOR BEST RESULTS, TREAT STUDENTS LIKE ARTISTS
Treat students like artists, and maybe they will make great art!