Rubes loves drawing and spends a lot of time during the day either using her chalk and chalk board (she loves drawing WITH people, so this is often a joint activity with either mum or dad), on paper with crayons or pastels, or we do a combo with stickers and crayons - we have just piles and piles of things she has done, because I can't bare to throw any out. I want to start thinking of some tactile things she can play with, I am not sure how she would go with playdough, but we will see.
I don't like getting the cheapest stuff to play with, the mid range priced stuff definitely lasts longer, is safer, colours are more vibrant and really, is probably less expensive in the long run as you will get your monies worth.
We bought watercolour painting stuff last week at Officeworks and we bought Micador branded stuff, and I LOVE it - I was hesitant about getting the 18 different colour box (about $14 I think?? although does she really need 18 different colours at 18 months? DrMr says yes). Anyway, it's been the bomb - you only need a tiny bit to get a good colour wash (and depending on how much water you add, will depend on the depth of colour), even the paint pigment washes off skin and clothes with soap and water and I think it's Australian made/owned. Also, Rubes had some in her mouth and Georgie drank some paint water and both are perfectly healthy, so it's verified as non-toxic.
We modified it a bit, it suggests dipping it in the paint, then water and then on to the canvas - too tricky for Rubes, so we just mix water and paint in the pallet and away we go. The brushes have been a bit ordinary and losing their shape quickly, but for about $4 for 4, I should keep low expectations. (ps: this is not any kind of paid advertisement)
(ps: I am sure I am overdue a giveaway or two! have nothing more to report, more of the same here)