“Artistic learning grows from children doing things: not just imitating but actually creating, whether it be drawing, painting, or sculpting on their own.” That quote came from the theorist Howard Gardiner and it can’t speak more true about art in a child’s life. We all have creativity inside of us, but some of us never get the chance to explore and find our creativity.
Children have the tendency to create. It’s a desire deep inside of them and we can see it through their play. Children create restaurants with play food and zoos with blocks. But when it comes to art, parents sometimes encourage less creativity without even knowing it. We think of art as crafts, but in reality it’s a mixture of product (crafts) vs. process art with the latter being the most beneficial. That’s why today I’m going to focus on incorporating process art into your home activities.
What is Process Art?
Pablo Picasso said “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When I hear those words, I imagine a child creating something to reflect what he did that day. Children learn through play. They experience and recreate the things that happen in real life through their creations whether that be a play restaurant, a pretend zoo, or a painting. Process art allows children to process their daily events without interruption. Process art focuses on the process instead of the end product. I tend to follow these guidelines when I plan process art opportunities:
~No step by step directions
~Doesn’t provide a sample to follow
~No right or wrong way
~It’s going to get messy
~Real, authentic materials
~Focus on experiences with the materials
~Each creation will be unique
~Relaxing, fun, and calming experience
~The end product is ALL child created made by the child’s choices
I emphasize child created and child choices because as parents we sometimes want to show children the “right” way to use something. The right way to make a clay snake or the right way to use the paint brush. But children will eventually figure it out. That’s the beauty of process art. It gives children a chance to explore and problem solve on their own. When they do figure it out on their own, they will have a deeper understand of WHY it works that way.
Benefits of Process Art
The benefits of process art are endless. We all know that all art develops fine motor skills, increases dexterity, and strengthens coordination. But process art goes a bit further.
It allows children to develop a strong sense of creativity, which is a highly sought after skill in the 21st century work place. Employers want employees who can create ground breaking, original solutions to today’s problems. Developing a strong skill set around creativity starts in the early years.
Process art strengthens problem solving skills. When given the chance to explore art materials on their own, children need to solve problems in an open ended situation. They learn how to make choices, find conclusions, evaluate, and question what they are doing. For example, without the guidance of an adult, children learn how to fix the hole in their paper that happened after adding too much paint. They learn what to do next time so they don’t make a hole again.
Through process art children learn to be themselves, take risk, be flexible, and deal with emotions. Process art gives children an open ended way to express and fully process what they are experiencing in the real world. Process art allows them to learn through a unique way in a safe, effective environment.
How Can I Incorporate Process Art in my Home?
Remember process art is child-led, so you just need to create a safe place for exploration. Lay out materials and let them create. If they want something that you didn’t get out, allow them to use it as well. Say yes to reasonable ideas. Jumping off the roof to make painted footprints is a bit unreasonable!
Offer new and interesting materials on a regular basis. I try to introduce a new material every other week. That gives them two weeks to explore the material and learn how to use it. Every time you introduce a new material, give them ample time to explore with it before introducing a new material. You also don’t want to give them a new material one day and don’t bring it out again for another month. Give them a week or two on a daily basis to explore.
Let children come and go. The project doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting or even in one day. Display the child’s work, but let them choose how to display it or what to do with it.
It’s important to talk about their art and question their experience, but avoid questions like “what are you making?” and “what’s that?” Focus questions on the process and make them think. Questions like “What happened when you mixed those colors?” or “How did you use the clay to make your creation?” When commenting, find something specific to say like “I loved how you used orange in this area of the piece” or “The way you connected the pipe cleaners is really unique.”
I am inspired by Reggio Emilia’s learning style and the implementation of provocations (an invitation to create). You create an environment that encourages children to explore. You can sort of guide them in their creations by setting out references, but it’s ultimately their choice what to make. For example, in spring you might set out paint brushes, paint, empty jars, paper, crayons, markers, a vase of flowers, and a few pictures of flower arrangements. Through this provocation, you are encouraging the child to create a flower arrangement of their paper. Whether they do this, is up to them.
What Kinds of Materials Should You Use?
Anything and everything! Don’t limit yourself to the types of materials children can use for art. I think the best art projects come from the most obscure materials. Paint with flowers, pinecones, and sticks. Why paint on the paper? Maybe paint the grass! Do you have to use paint to paint? Nope! I love using water on the side of the house or shed. I take a picture of it when it’s done so they can keep the creation.
Reggio Emilia style learning suggest using authentic materials, not always kid made art materials. Use oil pastels and real clay. A few other materials I like to keep on hand are:
~loose parts (rocks, sticks, pom poms, gems)
What’s the Difference Between Process and Product Art?
Product art is great when you want to work on specific skills or listening skills. I think there is a time and place for both types of art in a child’s life. Some product art projects can be turned into process art with a few simple changes. For example, if you want to create flowers using different shapes you can lay out a tray with the shapes sorted. You can provide a few vases of flowers or pictures of flowers for reference. Then let it be and let the children make their decision on how to create their flower. This project is a mix of process and product. It’s product because you have an end result in mind…a flower. But it’s process because you are providing no direction or sample to follow. They have a reference and that’s it. They get to create the flower as they see fit.
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