The box that stays away from inquisitive hands and contains all the things you need to make that half hour productive and fun.
A good stapler
Great for the 'quick fix' - you can staple material together to make a costume in seconds, attach decorated paper to cards, fix wool onto paper-plate faces to make hair... The list is endless.
Even better - a staple gun...
Paint Pots and brushes
You can buy poster paint pots that have a hole for a brush which you can keep in the pot without having to wash it each session. Otherwise, yoghurt pots, soup pots (particularly good if you also have the lid) work just as well.
Have a variety of brush sizes to hand so your toddler can experiment with different widths of line.
Good quality poster paint
The primary colours plus white is all you need. Stay away from black as it tends to dominate once a child gets hold of it. It is worth spending a little bit more on poster paint to get the good stuff - so much is watered down so runs out too quickly.
For a toddler? Actually, if you treat them with great reverence - 'we're going to use the very special paints today' - children will honour the occasion. Only bring them out for painting hardened clay, salt-dough, plastic, eggs, plaster-of-paris.
Crayons, markers, coloured pencils
As well as the everyday selection that you can leave out for your child to experiment with, have some
'special' pens and pencils that come out only for your activities. A range of colours and widths of pen will make the experience more meaningful. Get your child to experiment with mixing media - eg crayons and pen, pen on top of pencil etc etc.
Good for a different effect in a picture and can be fixed at the end with hairspray. Paint a square of blackboard paint (available very widely) in a child's room for an instant blackboard.
These are great to use on a special occasion as the colours come out very bright and bold. Use on a textured paper for even better effect. Be careful that toddlers don't put them in mouths.
The most versatile of all things in your box of tricks. It can be used as a glue for sticking almost anything, a varnish, as an addition to poster paint to achieve a shinier, more glossy paint. The best thing about this glue is that it goes on thick and white - like paint - but dries transparent so it's really easy for a toddller to get messy with but will achieve great results.
Glue (Prit) stick
I probably wouldn't let my 2 year old use this as it would be too tempting to eat, but the ubiquitous glue stick is great for anything that just needs attaching quickly. No mess required.
Plastic sheet/Oil Cloth
If you don't have a specific space in your house for painting/sticking etc (who does?), invest in something waterproof to cover your table or a space on the floor for doing your messy projects. Oil cloth seems to work well as it is heavy and very easy to clean. I use mine every day for something...
Large rolls of paper are great for big, mural painting outside and for general messing about type pictures that you don't need/want to keep. Old rolls of wallpaper are fantastic for this. Try to get textured wallpaper for great effects with paint and crayon.
Sheets and sheets of paper that can be used for scribbling and 'mark-making'. Old computer paper is brilliant.
Good for any type of everyday painting and drawing...
Sometimes you want to use the good stuff. Bold, bright colours make lovely pictures.
Save shiny paper from sweet wrappers and buy cheap gold card and paper to add to paintings and drawings.
Good for cutting and sticking.
For sticking to paint, making stained glass windows, wind socks. Delicate and versatile.
Great for costumes (it behaves a little like a stiff material). The dye from crepe paper can be easily extracted (by soaking in water) and can then be used for dying materials such as eggs at Easter time.
Always great to add a bit of sparkle to a or model painting. Use as a treat and remember that once the glitter has been poured onto the glue (PVA), it can be shaken back into the pot.
As above but has a slightly different effect. Great for adding texture to a picture.
Selection of ribbons, buttons, coloured feathers
For sticking and decorating.
The most versatile of material and can be used as a substitute for coloured card to make really effective, simple shapes. Also great for costumes and decorations. No need to sew - just stick with PVA or staple.
For cutting up to make printing pads.
For blowing bubbles or tissue-paper races.
An instant avctivity - making shapes and items to wear (glasses, hats, hand-bags) or even towers and other structures.
Plaster of paris
For making tiles and models from a mould.
Great for making masks, hats, wheels for a model car, nature plates, miniture gardens etc etc. Also good container for PVA as can be thrown away at the end of an activity.
Other odds and ends...
Pebbles, shells, conkers, small stones, pine cones, scraps of material and wool, interesting packaging, clothes pegs, beads, cotton reels, twine, string, sandpaper, interesting pictures from magazines and papers, skewers and cocktail sticks, rice, interesting shaped pasta, soap-flakes.
Aprons/old t-shirts for you and your child
Always be on the look-out for things you can use in activities to provide a different dimension to your child's experience. Finding different textures, colours, shapes from simple every day things will all add to the fun.