Peggy Rainville has a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art. She works as the full time Director of Children’s Programming at VSA Vermont and has been with VSAVT since 2000, when she became a teaching artist in their Start with the Arts Program, an inclusive arts based literacy program for child care providers and staff and the children in their care. Peggy has been working with little children for over 30 years and has done extensive work teaching children of all ages, as well as working with adult learners. She also holds workshops in intuitive painting at her studio Serendipity Farm and Studio in Isle La Motte. Contact Peggy at VSAVT; peggy@vsavt.org or at her studio: serendipityfarmvt@gmail.com

The Importance of Process-Focused Arts Experiences for Young Children

For our youngest children, the most critical period of development is during the first years, when the brain is developing most rapidly. Making art can play many important and positive roles in that development! It helps to:

  • Foster sensory perception;
  • Provide the opportunity to represent and symbolize experiences;
  • Offer the chance to experiment, create and build;
  • Strengthen thinking and decision-making skills;
  • Allow children to make sense of the world around them.

Plus, art is FUN!

Creativity is an inherent and natural function of the brain. When it comes to nurturing creativity in children, focusing on the process of making art is far more important than focusing on the product. Process is the experimentation that happens while a child is creating something. It can involve watching paint colors mix, feeling the textures of the art materials, and using more or less of the medium. “Process-focused art” refers to an open-ended project in which a child is allowed to explore art materials without the pressure to copy a model or stay in the lines.There is no right or wrong way to do it. The child is invited to make something unique, rather than re-create a copy of someone else's art.

Experiences with process-focused art are important to include in early care settings, beginning with our youngest learners, because they are naturally inclusive of all different skills and abilities with few accommodations needed. On the other hand, product-oriented art, in which an adult directs how the art is made and what the end result should be, often requires adult intervention, assistance or completion. It can frustrate children and inhibit creativity.

How can you support process-focused art? Show children how to begin exploring rather than what a finished product looks like. Encourage children in the artistic process by questioning and commenting on their explorations. Comments should focus on the experience. Avoid asking questions such as “What are you making?” and instead comment on the process, using observations such as “I like the purple in your picture,” “Tell me about those lines,” or asking questions such as “I wonder why….?” or “Can you tell me about your picture?” Your goal is to help the child feel comfortable, confident, and successful.

The Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) is a publication of the Vermont Agency of Education that is intended to be a resource for families, teachers, caregivers, administrators, and policymakers to answer two questions:

  1. What should children know and be able to do to prepare them to succeed in school and in life?
  2. What experiences should be available in homes, schools, and communities to help children gain the knowledge and skills that prepare them for school and life?

The 2015 VELS supports the importance of focusing on a process rather than product approach to art for children from infancy to third grade. The development of creativity is considered an important part of a child’s communication skills. Art helps foster self-expression, exploration, improvisation, and additional ways to communicate thoughts and feelings. According to VELS, “Opportunities for creative arts and expression should be part of a young child’s daily routine; the arts allow children to communicate beyond the spoken word.”

Here are a few examples of open-ended, creative visual art experiences:

  • Stringing beads independently and creatively.
  • Weaving cloth, yarn, paper or natural materials.
  • Easel painting with a variety of paints and paintbrushes (with no directions).
  • Watercolor painting.
  • Exploring and creating with clay.
  • Finger painting.
  • Painting with unusual tools like toothbrushes, paint rollers, potato mashers.
  • Printing and stamping (stamps purchased or made with sponges).
  • Creating spin art using a record player and paint, squirt bottles, paintbrushes, or markers.
  • Drawing with pencils, art pens, various sizes of markers, or crayons.
  • Using homemade doughs.
  • Making collages using tissue paper, various sizes of paper, glue, paste, glue sticks, scissors, and recycled materials.
Tips for leading process-focused art:
  • Approach art like open-ended play—for example, provide a variety of materials and see what happens as the child leads the art experience.
  • Make art a joyful experience. Let children use more paint, more colors, and make more and more artwork.
  • Provide plenty of time for children to carry out their plans and explorations.
  • Let children come and go from their art at will.
  • Notice and comment on what you see: “Look at all the yellow dots you painted!”
  • Say YES to children’s ideas.
  •  Offer new and interesting materials. 
  • Play music in the background.
  • Take art materials outside in the natural light.
  • Remember that it’s the children’s art, not yours!

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