A phrase I find myself repeatedly saying during Together Time is “Remember, it’s about the process, not the product.” Over and over again I say this to parents, so I figured it time to give a more in-depth explanation as well as some fun ideas on how to explore process art at home!
What is process art? It is defined as ‘art created primarily as a physical record of the creative process.’ When we talk about process art as it relates to our children, it is simply an art experience where the focus is about the process and not the product. If we think about it, when it comes to children, their desire to approach art this way is innate. We as adults are the ones caught up in the product – especially in this Pinterest age.
So, what defines a process art project? First, there are no step-by-step instructions and no sample for children to follow. If you’ve attended Together Time, you will likely be used to this idea. While it might seem like a crazy ‘free-for-all’ at times, I assure you there is a method to the madness! With no sample, there is simply no right or wrong way to create the art. There is no correct or incorrect way to explore the art materials presented and no standard of perfection to live up to! This allows focus to lie only in the experience and exploration of techniques and materials/tools.
While this idea may seem stressful to us as caregivers, it’s actually quite calming for children (and adults who participate, too). It gives children a rare opportunity to have freedom, full control and complete ownership over an experience and their creation. If you stop to think about a toddlers day, this is something they do not have very often!
Sounds great, right? (scary and great is okay, too!) So, let’s get started. My first suggestion for home is use a tray. Any tray. Most art stores carry plastic art trays, but you can also use a baking sheet or dollar store serving tray – it doesn’t matter. Highchairs are a great place for toddler process art, as is outside or even in the bath. Wherever you feel comfortable with a potential mess (and I guarantee, your comfort level will increase with experience).
Next create a simple set-up or ‘invitation to play’, which is another phrase you may hear from educators! This is simply a presentation of art materials and tools. Sometimes I will do this before my daughter wakes up, so she goes right to the tray instead of the tv (works every time, too). It doesn’t have to be complicated. A few plastic figures/cars, three blobs of paint on a paper plate and some paper will keep a toddler busy for a surprising amount of time! Here are some invitations for play/to create from Pinterest!
If you are worried it could get too messy – set them up in the bathtub or on a drop cloth outside!
Once they’re engaged, you can let them be or join in! If you need the time to prepare a meal, take it. But if you feel like joining in grab your own piece of paper and do so. Parallel art is a great way to bond and learn together. Try asking THEM for suggestions as to how to create – “what color should I use?” or “where should I add more paint?” and make comments about the experience “I really like making art with you!” or “I love how you’re using the brush that way!” as they work.
A while back I wrote a blog for S&S Worldwide on talking to children about art – you can read it here for more ideas!
If you want to make process art ‘giftable’, I love the wooden frames from Michael’s (they’re $1!) or keep some small canvases on sale. Also, clear glue on a dollar store frame makes a beautiful stained glass piece!
I believe that introducing art materials in this way at a very early age has instilled a sense of confidence and mastery of art materials in my now 3 year old daughter. She has a true love for all things art and writing, which I feel is partly a result of easing her frustration and doing away with limitations or result-oriented expectations early on.