With household items, waste paper and something to write on, curious children can let their creativity run free. Artistic exploration isn’t confined to a classroom, experts say; Parents in grades K-8 can involve their children in process arts activities at home that allow them to experiment with everyday materials and let their imaginations run wild.
Process art vs. product art
Process art can refer to “any creative activity that emphasizes exploration and experimentation rather than focusing on a predetermined outcome or product,” said William B. Crow, director of Lehigh University Art Galleries in Pennsylvania and professor of practice in the Department of Art, architecture and design.
Crow, who previously oversaw educational programs for all ages at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, says process art gives children the freedom not to be burdened with the criteria of an end product. While parents can help set up, children are in control of their artistic direction and are guided by their own discovery rather than setting expectations or judgments.
In comparison, product art refers to more structured, result-oriented activities. They are often led by adults and have clear examples and guidelines for the thesis.
However, product and process art are not in contradiction. From Pooja Bakri’s experience as a licensed creative art therapist in Montclair, New Jersey, “Children often have a vision on their mind, and the product is always inherent with what they do.” The end product can also be a source of self-discovery and a starting point for reflection and discussion, says Bakri.
What are the benefits of process art?
From using scissors to explaining creative decisions, kids in elementary school through middle school can benefit from process art by improving developmental skills such as verbalization, motor skills, spatial thinking, socio-emotional expression, and more, experts say. Children can also use critical thinking to draw parallels between the visual arts and other fields such as math, science, language arts, and social sciences.
Sean Murphy, an art teacher at the Samuel W. Tucker Elementary in Alexandria, Virginia, often links the art curriculum with his students’ other classes. For example, when children are learning about squares in math, his lessons focus on abstract and real uses of shapes. Establishing these connections enables students to ask deeper questions and approach their artworks in an interdisciplinary manner.
The artistic process can also open up conversations about artists, art and culture from around the world. Children benefit from meeting different cultures and can discover their own cultural identity through art, says Murphy.
A great advantage of process art, says Bakri, is that children “can express themselves more naturally” – it enables them to express their thinking through visual expression. Crow agrees, noting that “when we engage in process art, we expand the scope of our minds in many ways. We really make the invisible visible. ”
How can parents of K-8 students facilitate process art?
For parents and supervisors of elementary and intermediate level learners, here are four tips to take a step back and give children the freedom to learn and play through process art:
- Use common materials you can find at home.
- Give a broad topic.
- Consider different approaches depending on your age.
- Ask open-ended questions.
Use common materials you can find at home
“Children have an abundance of ideas and imaginations,” says Bakri, and she’s delighted to see how they put together something she would never have thought of. Interesting and unique materials invite you to explore, which means that art materials don’t have to start and end with paint and markers.
Experts suggest offering children many different options that don’t need to be expensive or high quality. “By using non-traditional, inexpensive materials,” says Crow, “you convey the message that art and creation do not depend on access to expensive, highly specialized materials, but can be made from everyday life.”
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Colorful masking tape
- shaving cream
- Plastic utensils
- Paper plates
- Cookie sheets
- Cotton balls
For inspiration, Crow suggests looking at works by various artists and researching the materials used. Instead of trying to imitate or reproduce the work, the children can then experiment with these materials themselves and learn about the process.
Many local art museums have personal and online resources for parents to help children ponder materials from various works of art. If parents aren’t sure where to find their local art museum, Crow suggests consulting the American Alliance of Museums or searching for local college and university galleries through the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.
Give a broad topic
While parental guidance is helpful in getting started with process arts activities, experts say it’s important not to control a child’s art with specific prompts or directions. Instead, one way to stimulate the creative flow is simply to ask, “What can we do with these materials?” and to let a topic shape naturally.
In her therapy sessions, Bakri uses a simple word or phrase like “dream” and from there children can ponder the concept that applies to them. They can consider what feelings the word or phrase evokes and direct their art in any direction without considering the parents’ expectations.
Keeping the subject broad can lead to healthy emotional expression, says Bakri. “We can’t assume we know what’s going on with a child or their feelings. We may see something on the outside that looks like anger, but inside it’s actually about frustration or sadness.”
Process art can allow children to freely express their inner thoughts and emotions to their parents without a child having to react verbally or even make eye contact when they are not comfortable.
Consider different approaches based on age
Experts suggest that parents enabling process art consider their children’s ages so that their approach is developmentally appropriate.
Kindergarten through fourth grade. Elementary school children often communicate very directly and sincerely. “They’re also very fond of telling stories about what they see,” says Crow. He recommends parents to encourage their young children to use these impulses in their art.
Likewise, Murphy wants his elementary school students to ask lots of questions about art. Looking at other works of art for inspiration, he moves the discussion from concrete concepts like “let’s identify what we see” to more abstract ideas by getting children to make educated guesses about the process and intent behind a work. For example, he will have her finish saying, “Because I see this, I wonder this …”
Bakri often incorporates a lot more play into their sessions with younger children who are usually more energetic. She can read a story, do some art, and play with various tactile materials in one session to keep up with the children’s need for a variety of stimulation.
Fifth through eighth grade. When children reach early puberty, social pressures and peer awareness can sometimes stifle their creative practices, says Crow.
With his fifth graders, Murphy likes to encourage experimentation and failure to build trust. By the end of fifth grade, his students used the same sketchbooks throughout elementary school to ponder their growth and try out iterations of works. Mistakes are welcome.
In practice, Bakri says: “Young people can concentrate a little more and often need far fewer instructions.” You can usually work on a project lasting several weeks and look at the different levels involved.
Ask open-ended questions
Process art is learner-centered and, as such, should be “driven by the learner’s intrinsic motivations,” says Crow.
Parents often ask result-oriented questions with a “yes” or “no” answer. It can take practice to ask open-ended questions that, according to Crow, “really encourage a young person to tell a story, expand an idea, or explore all of the different possibilities.”
Bakri suggests, “Instead of interpreting or saying, ‘Oh, it looks like this,’ ask a really open-ended question, like, ‘What inspired you?'” The question then becomes more of a conversation than an instruction. and it keeps the process playful and the child present in the moment.
She also recommends making specific observations, such as, “‘I see you worked really hard on this part.'”
Murphy agrees, noting that “Giving them encouragement that doesn’t mean,” What a pretty picture, “rather, emphasizing how hard they worked,” emphasizes their problem-solving skills.
Finally, parents can also ask their children to ask them questions. “Children are constantly asked questions and told what to do,” says Bakri. Process art allows them to turn the tables and be in control of their artwork – and their emotions.