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The Process of Creating Art Versus the Finished Art Product

For young children learning art, each new project is an opportunity to explore new materials and new processes. While the ultimate goal is to complete a specific piece of art, the process of achieving that goal should be more of the focus than the quality of the final product.

For example, if the assignment is to create a picture of a cat using torn paper, it is more important to focus on and understand the steps that each child takes in creating his or her cat. It is less important that each child's cat looks radically different. It is acceptable that one cat has a short tail, another cat has a long tail, and a third child's cat only has one ear. The learning takes place through the process, and the final product does not tell the full story of what was learned through the creation of that product.

For a child, the process is exploration. It is the act of learning. As your child goes through this necessary process, he or she may not immediately comprehend every nuance of the lesson. Or he or she may interpret particular details of the lesson in a way that the teacher did not intend. The final product, as imperfect as it may seem, cannot tell the whole story without the context provided by the process.


Prepare, prepare, prepare. Cover surfaces with newspaper or plastic tablecloths. Provide old shirts, aprons, or smocks to cover clothes. Have water, paper towels, soap, or rags at the ready. Discuss any guidelines to keep paint, glue, and markers away from furniture or walls. Ensure small items are not accessible to very young children and supervision is used as needed.

Set up space. If you can, find a designated space for creating. If space is limited, consider a small rolling storage container that can be wheeled outside or stored in a closet.

Compile a selection of safe materials to offer. Keep in mind the age of your child when planning activities and stockpiling supplies. Materials can include: paper in a variety of colors, textures and sizes, pencils, markers, crayons, watercolors, multiple colors of tape, glue, stickers, and collage materials. You do not need to offer all of the options at once. Remember, sometimes less is more.

Organize your materials. Organizational systems keep things neat and appealing, and inspire children's creativity. Use tackle boxes, small metal flowerpots, containers with lids, boxes, small baskets, small bowls, and muffin tins to corral like items and make clean-up easy.

Try making a collage. Cut or rip construction or tissue paper in a variety of colors into small pieces. Provide your child with a small amount of glue in a disposable cup, a thin paint brush, and paper. You can vary what you offer. Think about three-dimensional materials, such as paper towel tubes or cardboard boxes, and other collage materials, such as leaves, flowers, sequins, small tiles, or pieces of fabric.

Encourage creative independence. Process art is about your child forging his or her own path. If you feel tempted to give your child instructions on what to make, try stating, "Here are some art materials I collected for you. Let’s see how you use them."

Discuss your child’s creations and creative process. Engaging in a conversation about your child’s art helps him or her to become more cognizant of choices and actions, allows for verbal expression, and boosts vocabulary. Try saying, "Tell me more about this," rather than, "What a beautiful house you drew." You may just learn that what you thought was a house, is actually, "a friendly monster ready to play with his friends." Ask questions to encourage reflection on the process. "Why did you decide to use purple over here?" Or, "How did you figure out how to attach those pieces to the paper?" You can also share observations on what you see. "I see that you used multiple strips of tape." Or, "I noticed that you mix very thin lines, with large wide ones."

Remember, there is no right or wrong way when it comes to process art projects for kids.

Our Advice? Take delight in your child's unique way of exploring the materials. Be intrigued by the varying ways that he or she chooses to use the materials. Ask questions along the way.

During this process, not only will your child learn, but you will also learn from your child!

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