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How to Shift Children’s Art Activities to Focus on the Process

Artistic expression is beneficial in early childhood settings, especially when it comes to unrestricted exploration. As a child care provider, you probably already have art activities in your curriculum. Or as a parent, you may have art projects that you facilitate for your child at home. But are these activities focused on the product or the process? Examining the difference and incorporating these tips can help improve your quality of care and strengthen children’s development, like fine motor, language and cognitive skills.

What is process-focused art?

Process-focused art is when children are given an open-ended project to express themselves through their work. There are no step-by-step guidelines or samples to model where everyone’s final piece looks the same — which may leave children feeling frustrated if they don’t “create correctly” or finish their project. Instead, children are given tools and encouragement to explore and create, fostering a sense of enjoyment, discovery and pride in their work through meaningful play.

While painting and drawing are the most frequently visited forms of early childhood art activities, you can consider ways to approach music, theater and dancing through this lens, too.

How to guide process-focused art

It may seem like a contradiction to “guide” process-focused art, but as an educator or parent, you’re the one who is setting the stage for the activity and providing the tools for expression. Here are some tips for any type of process-focused art activity:

  • Offer self-serve supplies that children can easily use independently
  • Allow children to come and go as they please
  • Provide interesting art materials
  • Allow children to follow their interests
  • Keep the focus on open-ended activities that don’t have just one outcome
  • Be playful, joyful and encouraging in the art-making process
  • Ask open-ended questions and make objective comments about children’s work

The transition from product-focused to process-focused art can be tough. When children’s end products don’t look intentional (to the children, they are!) or widely vary from each other’s, it can seem like no progress has been made. When planning a process-focused art activity, think about what the children will do first and foremost, rather than what they will make. This will keep your focus on the process and developmental outcomes behind the art experience, rather than prioritizing a “refrigerator-worthy” activity focused on the product.

Step Up to Quality helps great child care providers become even better. If you’re a provider who’s ready to learn other ways to boost the quality of your care, we’d love to have you on board. If you’re a parent who’s on the search for providers who are committed to quality care, check out our search tool to find options near you.