Process art is one of my favorite types of preschool art projects to do with the kids.
Process art is a style of art that focuses only on the task of creating art, not what the actual artwork looks like. Even though we are primarily focused on the process of creating, the final product that comes from this type of project typically ends up being a cute and happy accident!
Let’s take a look at what process art is and how beneficial it is for kids of all ages.
I have had some amazing discussions with coworkers and other educators about process art for kids. And I am a BIG fan of open-ended art experiences for kids.
So I’m excited to share some of that information here. I’d love to hear about your thoughts on the topic in the comments below.
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,
in process art, the means count for more than the ends.
Related: Watercolor Art for Kids
These definitions apply directly to 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 the art.
Ask yourself the questions below if you’re unsure. 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?”
Benefits of Process Art for Preschoolers
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 you’ll find some of the learning that can take place via process art activities:
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills and coordination
- Sensory exploration
- Art history
- Creativity and self-expression
- Art techniques
- Spatial reasoning
I just want to point out that the above list is by no means exhaustive. AND these benefits apply beyond the preschool years.
Related: Winter Process Art
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.
Process Based Art Based on Crafts
You can most definitely “translate” crafts into more process-based art activities.
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!
Related: Benefits of Messy Play
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 that isn’t 100% process art, I like how such activities connect kids to books we’ve read or themes we’ve investigated.
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.
Related: Halloween Contact Paper Art
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
Here are a few more articles to read if you’re as interested in process-based art as I am!
Art for Kids – It’s No Mess from Meri Cherry
It’s the Process Not the Product! from Ooey Gooey
Print Resources to Check Out
If you’d rather explore more of the concept using printed resources, I have a few suggestions for you!
Time to Create: Hands-On Explorations by Christie Burnett
It’s the Process, Not the Product by MaryAnn F. Kohl
Art Lab for Little Kids by Susan Schwake
Busy Little Hands: Art Play! by Meredith Donnelly
Process Art Materials
The great thing about process art is that it really doesn’t matter what materials you use to create art. What matters is the process of creating it! Personally, I like to include a combination of familiar and novel materials when presenting the students with an opportunity for process art.
If you’re looking for some ideas for materials to use, I’ve got you covered. Here are my suggestions (I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post):
- Colored sand
- Assorted tissue paper
- Liquid droppers
- Washable paint
- Liquid watercolors
- Assorted cookie cutters
- Gathered natural materials
This is one list of materials that can seriously be endless. The key is to set out the materials and let the children decide on their own, individual, artistic processes. Do you have a favorite material to let the students explore through process art? Let me know in the comments below!
Learn More About Process Art
I’ve set up a free 5-day email series that walks you through process art and how to (easily!) use it with young children. You can sign up below:
If you can’t see the above form, click here to join the process art email series.
Resources for Preschool Teachers
Click on the images below for more information about each resource:
Originally published March 26, 2014