What comes to mind when you think of preschool and toddler art activities? Macaroni collages in the shape of a heart? Cute little handprint turkeys or thumbprint flowers? Pre-cut animals glued onto a barn?
There is nothing wrong with any of these craft projects, but they all have one thing in common: The focus is squarely on the result, and it’s a predetermined result. An adult has concocted a cute art project that might be a little bit fun for the kids and will surely be loved by their parents, but there isn’t a lot of room for drawing outside the lines.
The thing is, from the children’s perspective, the important part of art is the process, not the product.
While you will certainly see children who care deeply about the result of their efforts and get super frustrated when their drawing isn’t recognizable, most young children simply want to experience creating art.
They want to feel and smell the sensations of painting, sculpting with clay or doodling with markers. They want to make a mess. They want to get lost in a creative fervor just like the very best artists of the world.
So what do we do to help encourage these little Picassos? Enter: process art.
What is process art + why is it important for kids?
At its core, process art is art that focuses on the process of creating, rather than the product that is created.There is no predefined result and there are no expectations.
The purpose is simply to explore the materials, feel the deep focus that comes from the creative process, and have a rich sensory experience.
So instead of filling in a pre-drawn flower shape with tissue paper, a child may splatter paint, then glue on some feathers, and then draw little birds. Or they may create a painting, cut it into shapes and make a collage.
Five children given the same materials will never come up with the same result in process art. This is quite a simple concept, but it can be challenging to execute, especially if our children are used to creating things to please us.
Why is process art important?
The benefits of process art go way beyond fostering a love of art (although it certainly does that, too!). Here are some reasons why process art is totally worth the mess:
Focus: While adult-defined art projects for kids have a clear end, process art does not. The child is allowed to keep creating as long as they please. This kind of activity develops strong concentration and the ability to focus for long periods of time.
Confidence: While having an expected result can be discouraging to kids and lead them to believe that they’re “not good at art,” process art is free of expectations.
Can you imagine working with no fear of results or expectations? What a gift to give our children. They learn that the experience is what’s worthwhile, not creating something to please someone else.
Independence: Even a small child can be independent with process art. There’s no need to ask an adult to carefully cut out printed shapes or help them draw a specific image. The child leads the way which means that they can create based on their own skill level.
Keys to success with process art
1. Interesting materials
Process art does not take a lot of preparation. All you really have to do is provide an array of materials and provide space for your child to work.
One way to encourage a reluctant artist is to put out a variety of materials and think outside the box.
Is your kid super into cars? Place a little basket of wheels on their art shelf and see what they come up with.
Are they obsessed with unicorns? Make sure to include glitter and some rainbow yarn.
Try switching out materials regularly to keep your child interested. And remember to let them seek out their own materials, too. If you’re on a nature walk and your child begins collecting feathers, mention that they’re welcome to add them to their art shelf if they wish.
It’s becoming increasingly rare for children to have a large block of time to simply imagine and create. Time is key for process art, though. While your child may be able to knock out a quick craft project in 15 minutes, they may need much longer to finish their own creation.