Process Art in the Preschool Classroom

process art

It’s that time of the year again: a Pinterest search for “Preschool Art” displays a multitude of cute crafts designed to please the adults in a child’s life. The classic handprint turkey is the perfect example of what is so common in preschool art programs.  Although the product is aesthetically pleasing, there is little creativity involved and every project is identical. These types of projects are planned by the adult, have a “right way” to make them, and the child might not be able to make the finished product without adult help.

Alternatively, there has been a trend in early childhood settings to embrace process art. Process art allows children to explore and create through open-ended art activities without a predetermined outcome. Like the name suggests, it is more about the process of creating and experimenting than the resulting product. In her 1994 book, Preschool Art: It’s the Process, Not the Product, MaryAnn Kohl wrote, “Young children ‘do’ art for the experience, the exploration, the experimentation. In the ‘process’ they discover mystery, creativity, joy, and frustration. The resulting masterpiece, whether it be a sticky glob or meritorious gallery piece, is only a result to the young child, not the reason for doing art in the first place.”

At Children’s Garden Montessori, we strive to foster creativity and original thinking. We believe there is no right or wrong way for a child to create art. We have seen how open-ended art opportunities encourage children to explore materials, take risks to test creativity without fear, and raise self-esteem as children learn to trust their own decisions. Child development is supported by process-focused art as children predict, plan and problem solve; use small motor skills to paint, cut and glue; enhance literacy as children discuss their art; and develop social/emotional skills as children relax, focus, express their feelings, and feel successful.

Below you can read more on the principles of process-art, as well as tips and activities to try at home from the NAEYC website. The next time your child brings home an art project, your first thought may be “What is that?” Instead of asking your child what it is (the subject), try asking how they made it. More often than not, you will find there is more than meets the eye in your child’s art explorations.

Characteristics of process-focused art experiences

  •  There are no step-by-step instructions
  •  There is no sample for children to follow
  •  There is no right or wrong way to explore and create
  •  The art is focused on the experience and on exploration of techniques, tools, and materials
  •  The art is unique and original
  •  The experience is relaxing or calming
  •  The art is entirely the children’s own
  •  The art experience is a child’s choice
  •  Ideas are not readily available online

Provide open-ended, creative art experiences by offering activities such as

  •  Easel painting with a variety of paints and paintbrushes (with no directions)
  •  Watercolor painting
  •  Exploring and creating with clay
  •  Finger painting
  •  Painting with unusual tools like toothbrushes, paint rollers, potato mashers
  •  Printing and stamping (stamps purchased or made with sponges)
  •  Creating spin art using a record player and paint, squirt bottles, paintbrushes, or markers
  •  Stringing beads independently and creatively
  •  Weaving cloth, yarn, or paper
  •  Drawing with pencils, art pens, various sizes of markers, or crayons
  •  Using homemade doughs
  •  Making collages using tissue paper, various sizes of paper, glue, paste, glue sticks, scissors, and recycled materials

Tips for leading process-focused art

  1. Approach art like open-ended play—for example, provide a variety of materials and see what happens as the child leads the art experience
  2. Make art a joyful experience. Let children use more paint, more colors, and make more and more artwork
  3. Provide plenty of time for children to carry out their plans and explorations
  4. Let children come and go from their art at will
  5. Notice and comment on what you see: Look at all the yellow dots you painted
  6. Say YES to children’s ideas
  7. Offer new and interesting materials
  8. Play music in the background
  9. Take art materials outside in the natural light
  10.  Display children’s books with artful illustrations, such as those by Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, and Javaka Steptoe
  11. Let the children choose whether their art goes home or stays in the classroom
  12. Remember that it’s the children’s art, not yours