• Process vs. Product Art – Do You Really Know the Difference?

    Posted on January 18, 2016 by Cribsters in Crib Notes.


    Art. When you hear that word…what do you think of? Does a picture of the Mona Lisa come to mind? What about the sculpture of David by Michelangelo? Because of the nature of art, each of us has our own idea of what it means to us on a personal level. For children, however, art is something they DO…it is a process.

    Painting, drawing, sculpting are all processes used to create true art. Many young children gravitate to materials that lend themselves to open-ended art projects such as paint, playdough, watercolors, clay, finger paint, construction paper, markers, crayons and more. These materials invite children to create freely without a predetermined outcome. Think about it…if you give your child or the children in your group paint and paper, will the end result all look the same? Of course not! Art, in its truest form, is an expression of feelings, ideas and emotions. Therefore, art is unique to the individual.

    OK…so what exactly does this mean to you…a parent or child care provider of young children? Well, think about the types of art your child creates or the type of art you plan for children. Does the end result look the same for everybody? If so…then the “art” is not really art but more of a craft. In fact, a great way to tell if art is truly art is simply to ask, “Can I tell what it is?” When talking about young children, the answer is most often, “No” when it comes to true art. This is what makes art so beautiful!

    Here is a really important point to consider. When looking at a piece of art with your child or a child in your group, try not to ask, “What is it?” The child assumes, because he/she put his/her heart and soul into the creation, you already know what it is. Instead say something like, “Tell me about your creation” or ask, “What do you like best about what you created?” This opens the door for the child to share his/her ideas behind the art and is a wonderful way for him/her to build expressive language skills.

    So…does all this mean that you can’t ever do a “craft” project with your child or the children in your care? Of course not! It just means that these types of activities have a different purpose. Putting together a craft project involves following directions and utilizing fine motor skills…both important skills. Just make sure if you are going to do this type of activity with your child or a group of children that you ask yourself questions such as these before you begin:

    • What skills do I want to reinforce through this activity and is there another more open-ended way I could achieve this goal? (e.g., cutting, using glue correctly, following directions, etc.)
    • How will my child (or the children) feel if, in the end, the craft does not “turn out right?” If the answer to that question is a negative, then the craft is probably not a good idea.
    • Will my child (or the children) be able to do this activity independently or will I end up doing it?
    • Am I doing this craft because my child (or the children) want(s) to or because I want to?

    As a parent or child care provider, you can show your child or the children in your group that you value their artistic endeavors in many ways. For instance, you can display finished art on the walls, the refrigerator or even hang it from the ceiling. You can also take photos of your child or the children in your group creating the art. This is a wonderful way to “capture” the artist in the midst of creation.

    As an educator of young children, you may also want to invite each child to share his/her thought processes behind the art he/she creates. Print the child’s words on an index card and attach to the finished piece. This is not only a wonderful way to incorporate literacy into the activity, but also a great way of helping children share their ideas with an audience!

    Art is beautiful. Art is unique and special. As you engage in art experiences with your child or the children in your care, just remember that the process of creating the art is much more important than the finished product. We think Picasso, Michelangelo and Van Gogh would agree!


    Beth Smith, B.S., M.Ed. is a Partner with Gee Whiz Education (www.geewhizeducation.com)…a curriculum company that produces a digital curriculum that is designed to be used in a home setting. She has over 25 years of experience working with children in a variety of settings including child care and public school. She’s conducted training over the years at Head Start, NAEYC and NAFCC conferences. She currently resides in northern Virginia with her family…including two teenagers which she says are more challenging than toddlers!


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