Want less mess? Want more results from your children's/or grandchildren's experiences with color? Here are a series of helpful tips for the best coloring solutions for young children who make "toast" out of markers :) and for older children as well.
Overview of choices for colored markers:
For little tykes…
There are two major marker companies out there: Crayola and Cra-Z-Art. It took me a while to figure that out while repeatedly standing before those vast displays of arrays of choices—literally walls of coloring devices. In general, Cra-Z-Art tends to lead in innovation—inventing the new twist-ups (so that you don't have to sharpen them), etc—but I find that Crayola's colors are far more vivid and exciting.
Soooooooo—for the little, little tykes I'd go with the Jumbo crayons put out by Crayola (8 to a box). These are not to be mistaken for the Large ones; they are one step up from those. They are super easy to handle, don't break as easily as smaller crayons, last a long time, and deliver nice color. Both the larger grip and the extra-vivid color of Jumbo crayons are far more satisfying than standard crayons. Empty them out onto a washcloth and they won't roll or make noise while the child uses them at church or wherever.
The only problem is they can't be sharpened—they are too big for even the double holed pencil sharpeners. To sharpen them, use a knife or razor blade. Grab an old magazine, set it on a scrap of board, and razor-blade the tip into a wedge (like an axe head edge), catching the scraps on the magazine. Forget trying to carve a point. When the child needs a point, teach him or her to tip the crayon onto the end of the edge of the wedge and "presto" they have a point.
Store them in a mug or a jar. But to use them, display them in Crayola's $1.25 little tin box which is designed for storing smaller crayons. Open the box, turn it sideways, and the Jumbo crayons lay in there beautifully as a little display, resting at a nice 45 degree angle for a wee one's easy viewing and retrieval. If the crayons are left in a jar, the child has no idea which ones he has used and which he hasn't.
When coloring, have the child first trace just inside the object's lines fairly firmly with their crayons—making a dark colored line around the edge of the object—and then color the picture itself, lightly. This produces a pleasing two-tone affair. This technique also teaches the child to bend line to create shape—which is the beginning step of sketching. Coloring the object inside, is then the child's reward for the sketching. Children may also trace the object while holding a coloring page up to a window first, and then color it in afterwards. The point is to get the child sketching as young as possible. This teaches keen observation of the real world.
For older toddlers...
It is managing the lids of marking pens that creates the mess. They just require too much dexterity for the average little child. Sooooooo—for those times when you want mess-less drawing time, or for car trips to town, when you don't want ink all over the place—go with Crayola's brand of watercolor pencils (or a small set of the more expensive Prisma's colored pencils); both of these products lay down a thicker line than standard colored pencils. Forget trying to use them with water—instead, use them because the color is so thick and yet not ink. Normal colored pencils don't give you a rich enough line or rich enough color. Be sure to add pencil grips around all of these, as they are thin.
Neither crayons nor coloring pencils necessitate the parental oversight that colored marking pens require. Less mess. Less "oops." You’ll have no parental anxiety, and won’t have to watch the young artists as closely as when they’re using markers.
When choosing coloring books, look for the simplest ones you can find; the ideal is one object, or person, per page. I look for older half-used coloring books at thrift stores; I buy them inexpensively and then come home and photocopy only the best pictures from each coloring book. I may only find five coloring book pages that I really like that make it into my master notebook. The pictures have to be cleanly drawn and simple, and they must make me like them. If an adult doesn't like them, chances are a child won't, either. Look for and collect the best of the best. You'll use them through the years with all manner of children and perhaps with your own grandchildren down the road.
Purchase poster board paint—only $3 or $4 for 12 colors in a tray. Screw the lids on tight and turn the whole tray upside down and shake paint into the lids. Then turn the tray back uprightly and remove the lids and give only the lids to the child to paint from. This keeps the rest of the bottles clean—no colors accidentally get mixed from an unwashed brush. When the paint bottles are open now with no lids, I cover a piece of cardboard the size of the tray with plastic wrap—plop it on top of the tray's bottles of paint, while the lids are off, to keep them from evaporating, and place a book on top of that for a tight seal. When the children are done, I wash out the lids, throw away the plastic wrap, and affix the lids back onto their bottles. I wrap a new piece of plastic wrap on the cardboard for next time and plop it all in a plastic storage box, all ready and clean for next time.
Set a wide-bottomed jar of water or cup of water on the table, and a piece of paper towel, for the child to use when cleaning his brush between colors. A narrow-bottomed jar of water or cup of water will tip over too easily. Make sure the bottom is at least as large as the top—if not larger. Forget having the child attempt to paint real pictures with these paints. They are always a disappointment and end up in the trash, because the child lacks the skill and ability to paint with that level of sophistication. Instead, have him/her color stripes across a page, or balloons, or rainbows, or boxes; all such exercises are a color celebration. The child enjoys the color for its own sake and the task of applying brush to paper—and that is enough. Making a picture or a scene doesn't matter at this age. He will be progressively learning how to sketch through his coloring with crayons and colored pencils.