What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

My coworkers and I recently had a great discussion about process art for kids.  I’d love to share some of that information here . . .

What is process art for kids?

Process art is a contemporary artistic movement recognized within the world’s art communities. The Guggenheim states “process art emphasizes the ‘process’ of making art”. The MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) points out that “in process art, the means count for more than the ends.”

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

These definitions apply directly to process art for kids too! Process art is all about the experience the children have while they’re creating. If it has a nice end product, that’s great, but the end product isn’t the focus of process art. If you’re unsure, ask yourself the questions below. If the answer to either is “YES!” then it is not a process art activity.

  • “Will I be upset if the end result doesn’t look a specific way?”
  • “Do I have a preconceived notion about what the end result ‘should’ look like?”

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

Why is process art important for children?

Children learn through play and open-ended activities. It allows them the chance to explore the world around them, ask questions, and see how things work. Process art fits in with how children learn because it allows them room to be themselves, make their own decisions, and just create! Below is some of the learning that can place via process art activities:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills and coordination
  • Sensory exploration
  • Literacy
  • Math
  • Science
  • Language
  • Art history
  • Creativity and self-expression
  • Art techniques
  • Risk-taking
  • Spatial reasoning

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

Crafts versus process art

It’s sometimes assumed (by parents and teachers alike) that young children will always produce cute crafts to bring home. There’s nothing wrong with crafts – they can help improve fine motor skills, as well as listening skills, and many children really do enjoy them! Crafts focus more on a specific end result, though, leaving children little or no room to deviate from the plan. At the end of a craft, each child’s piece will look almost identical to every other child’s piece. Additionally, crafts put more of the preparation and “work” on the teacher’s shoulders.

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

Craft ideas CAN be “translated” into a process-based art experience with some tweaking. For example, maybe your class is learning about caterpillars and you’d like to make a caterpillar craft. The craft would use three green circles, along with two white construction paper eyes placed only on the head, with two yellow antennae that must be affixed in only one place. Why not just grab the materials you were planning on using, sit down with a small group of children (or just one child), and say, “Let’s make a caterpillar! How can we use these green circles to make a caterpillar?” Yes, some of the caterpillars will have a body made of 10 circles, while others will just be made of 1 circle. Some caterpillars might have 5 eyes all placed on the caterpillar’s stomach, and the antennae might be bent the wrong way. You can give the children the same general materials you would have used for the craft, but let the kids direct the creation. You’ll still have caterpillars . . . they’ll just have more personality!

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

In its purest form, though, process art isn’t focused on an outcome at all.  Personally, I like incorporating completely child-driven art into my preschool class every day.  I also plan process-based art activities that have a general outcome, like my students’ cookie cutter snowmen .  While these activities aren’t considered 100% process art, I like how they connect the children to books we’ve read or themes we’re learning about.

Getting started with process art

If process art isn’t something you’re entirely comfortable with, start slowly! It doesn’t need to be a super complicated activity. It just needs to be open-ended, with more attention paid to HOW the art is created (rather than WHAT you want the art to look like). Begin with items like crayons, pencils, or markers. Items that are familiar to both you and your students will make the transition easier.

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?

Keep in mind that process art for kids, like any childhood activity, can get messy. Having a plan in place to deal with that mess is important. Access to a water source (a sink or a hose) is preferable. Baby wipes work in a pinch if you’re not right by a sink. Consider something to protect the children’s clothing (a smock), if needed. Don’t forget about keeping the mess off of the floor if that’s a cause for concern (use a tarp, towel, or tablecloth). Having a place to dry artwork is also important (a drying rack or level shelf). If the activity might get messy, accept that messiness is part of the process!

More information about process art for kids

Print resources for children’s process art (affiliate links)

What is Process Art for Kids & Why is It Important?


  1. says

    What a great post! Thank you so much for including my process art post. We are huge advocates of process art at my house. So happy to see others spreading the word. This is really really great! Thanks again!

    • says

      I think your post really showed how kids of different ages can appreciate art, and I just love your site overall. You’re so inspirational! Thanks for the kind words. :)

  2. says

    What a great post! I miss the days of setting out the supplies and letting the kids make whatever they want. We used to do this all the time….but now, sadly, my kids will regurgitate the same flowers and penguins if I don’t give them more instructions. There does come an age, about 7 or 8, when they start to get stuck in a rut. And at about this age they also start to judge their work more closely (i.e. crying that it doesn’t look good). But this post has renewed my will to give it a try again. Maybe I will put out supplies but with an added prompt. Sort of guide them in a general direction but without rigid constraints. Thanks so much for re-energizing this disheartened mom! xo bar

    • says

      Oh I’m so excited that you left me a message . . . I adore reading about what you’ve been up to at Art Bar! My son is almost 7, and I’ve seen him judge his art a bit too harshly too! It’s good to know that he’s not the only kiddo who struggles with this. I try my best to ask him questions about the colors he’s used, the techniques he’s used, etc. — that seems to help him when he’s focusing on what he thinks “doesn’t look good”. I also think that kiddos sometimes need that little push with an art prompt. Sometimes having so many supplies overwhelms them, in my opinion. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving kind words for me!!! :)

    • says

      Anna, thank you so much!! We like crafts at my house, and in preschool too, but I’ve tried to make them more process-oriented. This seems to work as a happy medium for us. I hope you found some ideas here!! :) Thanks, as always, for your kind words.

  3. Kay says

    Thanks for this! I spotted it on Pinterest and now I know I’m not strange. I was just telling my husband, the other day, that I like the kids to just create– without being constrained by an end result. Now I know what to call this idea!

    • says

      Oh, Kay, I don’t think you’re strange at all! Isn’t it nice to have a label for something you’ve already been doing?? I hope you have some information about why process-based art is so good for the kiddos. :) Thanks so much for stopping in and leaving me a note — made my day!

  4. says

    Thank you for the informative post. I am such a traditionalist when it comes to art, so I found your information to be very helpful and look forward to implementing process art at home with the kids.

    You mentioned art history as one of the ways process art can help children. I’d love for you to expand upon that point.

    Thanks again!
    Kristen @ Art History Mom recently posted…Art History Mom’s Bad Day at the MuseumMy Profile

    • says

      Kristen, thanks so much for stopping by. I’m glad you’re taking some ideas away from this post! :) I definitely want to delve into some of the specifics I mentioned — like art history, literacy, etc. One idea is to choose a focus artist for an activity. You can read about the artist, look at pictures of his/her work, etc. Then teach the children some of the techniques that artist used. After that, provide the kiddos with some art materials like what the artist used and let them explore the artists’ techniques. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

  5. says

    Great post, Mary Catherine! I love that picture of the little guy hanging over the ledge to draw on the cardboard! My son, at 3.5, is very much into process art. I get a lot of enjoyment watching him create. All the imagination, problem solving, and storytelling that goes on is just fascinating. I do know children however that respond much more to crafts, in that they like to create with an end goal in mind. While I am a huge advocate of process art, I appreciate that you didn’t completely disregard crafts and the benefits of doing them. The caterpillar craft you talked about is a perfect example of how to marry the two approaches.
    Looking forward to reading the resources you included. :)
    Ann @ My Nearest and Dearest recently posted…Nature Play: Eight Outdoor Activities for SpringMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you, Ann!!! :) That picture makes me laugh every time! I loved seeing him try the activity out from a different angle! I agree with your comment on different children being interested in different things. Some have an end goal, while others just want to enjoy the experience. I didn’t want to disregard crafts at all, as they really do have a place in learning and creating. I just focus on process-based crafts as much as I can when we delve into crafts. Thanks so much for your kind words . . . as always!!

  6. says

    I love this! It seems like there is a big focus on cute preschool crafts, but little kids need the opportunity to explore and create art on their own terms. The process of creating is important and fun…even if the product doesn’t turn out to be Pinterest-worthy. :)
    Megan @ Teaching Every Day recently posted…Puzzle Easter Egg HuntMy Profile

  7. says

    I love this! I used to teach elementary art, and those moments where the kid sat their in front of a blank paper in fear were the worst. I always encouraged them to slap some paint down, rip their paper in two, or something to free their mind and just have fun with it! I know a teacher is doing it right when all of the art projects look different. The messier, the better!

    I just found your blog. Love your site!
    Cindy @ Two Muses Homeschool recently posted…Letting Yoshi be Yoshi: Helping my highly-sensitive child feel confident and secureMy Profile


  1. […] This open-ended art activity is all about the process because I’m a firm believer in process art for kids!  Process art is allowing kids to explore and create through art activities without a predetermined outcome.  Like the name suggests, it’s more about the process of creating art than the product that’s created.  Check out this great post from Fun-A-Day for more on the importance of process art for kids. […]

  2. […] Process art and open-ended crafts are such fun for kiddos, and I love that a lot of learning can be integrated into art projects. We recently made a color collage as part of our Book Club Play Dates series. In addition to being a fun piece of collaborative art, it worked on many early learning skills. […]

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