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

Reading Aloud to Your Child- The Many Benefits

Reading aloud to your toddler or preschooler can give them many advantages; expanding their vocabulary, insight on how to begin writing and reading themselves, knowledge of the world around them, and also empathy.

Children who are read to daily will quickly understand where to begin reading on a page, and learning that reading happens from left to right. This will also help them with their beginning writing.

As parents, you are speaking to your child each day, but by reading aloud to your child, you are enhancing their vocabulary as they are being exposed to new words they are not hearing on a daily basis.

A child’s concentration can also be affected positively by reading aloud each day. Their ability to sit and listen to a book for longer periods each time will help assist their concentration and working abilities in school

Reading to your child from an early age has many benefits that can be shown academically, socially, and emotionally. This is also a great winding down period for you and your child to bond at the end of each day.


Bilingual Kid Spot

The Nature of Creativity: Why Is Scribbling Important?

Early childhood educators appreciate that growth and development happen in stages. Our job is to cultivate growth through understanding the behaviors that characterize each stage, and hold space for children to progress to further stages. At Children’s Garden Montessori, we recognize that just as a seed holds the potential to develop spontaneously into a plant, children too will blossom if they are provided with nourishment from their environment.

Creativity in young children also develops in stages. Rhoda Kellogg describes eight stages of growth in children’s creative work, progressing from scribbles to pictures that tell stories:

  1. Scribbles
  2. Scribbles become shapes
  3. Shapes are combined with lines and outlines
  4. Outline shapes become designs
  5. Designs become symbols
  6. Symbols become pictures of humans, plants and animals
  7. Symbols are used to create pictures
  8. Pictures tell stories

Each stage of development is identified by certain characteristics, which describe the child’s needs at a given stage as well as their aptitude for fulfilling those needs. For our purposes today, we will focus on the first stage.

Typically observed in children ages two through five, scribbles are one of the earliest and most important spontaneous expressions of creativity. Scribbles are marks made at random for the sheer joy of doing, without premeditation or intent. Although scribbling seems chaotic and crude, it fulfills the child’s developing need to express themselves. If given the chance, children will often describe their scribbles with elaborate stories and language that the adult would not have perceived simply by looking at the seemingly random markings.

Just as in all other forms of development, a child can only progress to the next stage if their needs are recognized and nourished with experiences from their environment. If their needs are not nourished, they are neither able to progress nor able to return to fulfill that need. By allowing them to scribble at this time, they will gain the strength, skill and confidence to progress to the line and shape stage. And by encouraging and accepting their scribble work, they feel safe and supported to risk expressing themselves again as they continue to develop.


References and Further Reading

Let Out The Sunshine: A Montessori Approach to Creative Activities by Regina Reynolds Barnett

Psychology of Children’s Art by Rhoda Kellogg


The Practical Life Area in our Classroom

Part of our day involves the preschool children doing their “work”.  Maria Montessori called school activities work because she considered play to be the work of children.

One type of work in our classroom is practical life.  This area is unique to Montessori and is always very popular with our preschoolers. The shelves have trays that hold various activities including tongs, tweezers, screwdrivers, nuts and bolts, spoons, buttons, snaps, a child size broom or mop, dust pan, clothes pins, and more.  The children take the tray of work to a desk, do the work, and return the tray to the shelf when the job is completed. The children build their fine motor while learning to care for themselves and their classroom environment.

The reason practical life activities are so important is that they help children develop order, concentration, coordination, and independence. By developing these qualities, the children and the learning environment are calmer, and learning is easier. These are also prerequisite skills to learning other things, like math and reading.  We love to see the concentration on their faces as the children work!

Mat Man

mat man

At group time today, we introduced “Mat Man” to the children. We built him using teamwork, and sang his catchy song. Mat Man is from the Handwriting Without Tears program. He teaches the children what the body parts are, and where to put them when drawing a picture of a person. The children may choose to do this activity during our work time.


thanksgiving acting

We acted out the story of the first thanksgiving today. It starts with one person playing the mean king (James) who unfairly collects money from everyone. The pilgrims leave England and sail on a rocking boat for 66 days. They land, and meet the Native American Indians. Squanto helps them plant corn and hunt. They share a big feast after their first harvest.
Have your preschooler retell the story to you!

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