Process art with toddlers

What is process art?

Process art vs crafts

A craft is a set activity with a pre-determined outcome. Process art is kind of the opposite. I see process art as exploration. I personally believe crafts are great fun for children about 6 and up as by then, they have worked on their fine motor skills and are better at following instructions. Crafts are fun and there is a time and place for them but today we are going to focus on process art.

Super Cute Paper Fish Craft | Preschool crafts, Fish crafts, Summer crafts  for kids
Example of a craft

Why is process art important? And what does it have to do with Reggio?

Process art is important because young children learn through their senses. They need to be involved as much as possible and have various opportunities to use different media. They need repeated exposure to materials(media) so they can learn how to use it and get to know the possibilities of the materials. Process art is also great because each piece of art work is unique and allows the child to have creative freedom and expression.

Process art goes back to our image of child. Think about the learning that is happening during process art compared to a craft. In a set craft where is the child’s voice, personality and vision. It is more about the adults idea and on how to do something and the particular way they want it to look. That is why in good quality Reggio inspired classrooms the children’s art all looks different, there is no cookie cutter work. Yes, they children may all be studying the same thing for example looking at a frog, but none of the pictures/paintings of the frogs will look exactly the same. In process art there are no mistakes, or final products to compare their work to. It is more about the journey than the destination. In Reggio inspired classrooms we teach children HOW to use materials but not necessarily WHAT to do with them. We want children to find their own unique style and creativity.

Let us use watercolour paints as an example. With watercolour and brushes particularly, we would need to teach them to be gentle with the brushes, to wash their brush between changing colours etc. We could encourage them to try out all the colours available and see what happens when more or less water is added. We would also give them real watercolour paper to work on when possible as it is a much better experience and they deserve to work with the best quality materials we can afford. The children can also add oil pastels to their work with watercolour.

So basically what I am saying is, that process art is when children are given art materials with no specific outcome. Process art is also a great way to introduce them to various media such as, oil pastels, crayons, watercolour, tempera paint, clay, markers, soft chalk etc. The more children are exposed to these various media, the more confident they will become in using them.

As mentioned above it is preferable to use the best quality materials you can afford. There are shops that now offer decent materials and paper for a reasonable price. Until your child knows how to look after and use the art materials I would not put them all out at once.

Example of process art- painting with tennis balls

But what about the mess!?

Children need to get messy. The best way to not get overwhelmed by the mess is to have a plan and be prepared. You know yourself and your child and how much ‘mess’ you are willing to deal with. If your child tends to dive into everything and tip everything upside down and goes a bit crazy then I suggest going very slowly introducing a few materials at a time.

Be prepared. Perhaps decide ahead of time what you would like to explore. Remember to be aware of your child’s attention span and level of interest.. If they are loving it, keep going. If they have very little interest that is fine, you can leave it out or try again another day. Don’t put pressure on you or your child.

Let us use the example of working with watercolour with your child.

What will you need?

  • A surface for your child to work on, it could be a small table, floor or sitting at a big table on a chair.
  • Something to cover your surface with incase of any spills, it could be a plastic sheet or newspaper spread out.
  • Watercolour paint, brushes (larger chunky brushes work well ) and clean water. (Tip-choose a large based container for the water that will be harder to knock over)
process art- Experimenting with liquid watercolour

Let us revisit the example of studying a frog.

Let us say a child captures a frog or even has taken pictures of frogs they have seen during the holidays. The frog sparks a lot of interest and you would like to investigate the frog with your children. Besides all the questions about frogs, where they live, what they eat etc. Your child may be interested in drawing a picture of the frog. This is called an – an observational drawing.

Observational drawings/paintings

An observational drawing is when children are looking at a real object and drawing what they see. You will look carefully at the frog and discuss with your child, what shape is the body, how big should we draw it, how many legs are there, where are the legs coming from. Then using a pencil or black marker encourage your child to draw the body, the head, the legs and any other detail he/she might see. When they are ready to add the colour, you can discuss all the various shades of green you can see on the frog and encourage them to mix their own colours to get one they are happy with. Once a child has worked with for exmaple watercolours and experimented enough they will be able to mix their own shades and colours.

Process art with young children is super fun and doing it with them is also a great way to observe your child and get to know them. Crafts and coloring in books fall in the same category for me when it comes to young children/ toddler art and creativity. Keep a look out in your inbox for information on this topic!

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