Another academic year is here and with it comes the need to makes sure our schools are as healthy as they can be. One of the most overlooked safety areas is the classroom art supply cabinet. Conventional arts and crafts supplies can expose students to toxic fumes, unsafe chemicals, and other hazards.
Here’s a quick guide to what hides inside your child’s classroom art supply cabinet:
- Markers and pens with permanent inks and scents use chemical solvents to boost evaporation. Scented types can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Opt for safer versions.
- Bake-able polymer play clays can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, which are absorbed by the skin as children sculpt. Encourage phthalate-free varieties.
- Traditional Crayons are made with petroleum by-products. Better options include those made from beeswax, soy oil, and other natural ingredients, especially natural dyes.
- Adhesives like rubber cements, model glues, “super” glues, contact cement, and epoxies contain dangerous solvents and more that pollute classroom air and can be absorbed by skin. White glues and pastes, glue sticks, and tape are preferable.
- Powdered paints present inhalation and eye-safety risks even if they’re non-toxic. Ready-to-use paints are safer. The best are water-based types like tempera, poster paints, and paint pens. Avoid acrylic paints, which contain ammonia and formaldehyde. If powdered paints are used, ask that they be prepared when children aren’t present.
- Spray products including spray paints, adhesives, and fixatives introduce easily-inhaled volatile organic compounds, solvents, and even heavy metals into classroom air. Ask teachers not to use them.
- Instant papier-mâché can be contaminated with asbestos fibers. Colored types may contain lead and/or other heavy metals. A much safer option is newsprint applied with diluted white paste or a flour/water paste.
Remember that even the safest art supplies are less safe when commonsense precautions are ignored. These include keeping classrooms ventilated, forbidding eating and drinking during craft time, avoiding skin painting, using smocks, washing hands when done, and providing adult supervision. Teachers should also use caution when accepting donated supplies, which can lack instructions, contain unknown chemicals, and/or release toxins when used.
But how do real-life parents protect their children from toxic arts and crafts?
Healthy Child Parent Ambassador Alysia Reiner is particularly fond of using what she already has in the house. This includes recycling paper and making her own dough (to play with, to make ornaments with, even to eat!). She also makes paper dolls and paper doll clothes out of fashion magazines and catalogs. She notes that eco-glues, pencils, paints, and clay make “fantastic, affordable treats for birthday goody bags.”
Jennifer of Happy Tot Mom, who is also a fan of making her own play dough, reminds us not to forget the smocks and containers we use for art supply storage. “Choose PVC free options to avoid phthalates.” She’s also a fan of making her own face paint. “In 2009, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 10 face paints and found lead in all 10! Even paint labeled as “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic” contained lead.” Excellent advice.