Process art: A fancy name for letting kids craft whatever the eff they want

Toddler process art clay
Process art: When a honey dipping stick becomes a ceramics tool

For anyone reading this blog, it should be no surprise that Peeper loves her some art. Most of her hands-on time is very open-ended: I set her up with some paper and crayons or a paper plate full of paint, then let her go wild. (And by wild, I mostly mean speckled green, black and orange in art supplies.)

It turns out that free-spirited approach to crafts is good for kids’ creativity. “Process art is more important than end product,” writes Rachelle Doorley, artist and author of Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors, on her blog. And focusing too much on what kids make, and especially what projects are meant to look like, is stifling.

Doorley also polled a whole slew of educators, artists and parents on what they wished they’d known about kids’ art and rolled it up into a fantastic blog post. Just about everyone agreed that art is all about the doing—not what gets done.

I thought about her post a few times in the last weeks.

At a recent art/music class she’s taking at West Linn’s Youth Music Project, the kids  marbled clay, rolled the ball flat and poked holes in each corner to hang it as a bird feeder. The children on either side of her carefully executed the project, and miniature bird feeders materialized all around us.

Toddler process art clayPeeper, meanwhile, had her own vision. “Want to make a bird feeder,” she repeated—while poking hole after hole after hole in the clay. I just let her go at it; she clearly enjoyed stabbing a pencil into the slab.

We ended up with more of a colander than a bird feeder, but oh well. She was happy, and so was I.

The same thing happened after story time recently. Sometimes the library sets up a craft related to the books they read, and this week they did an activity based on Baa, Baa Black Sheep. Well, Peeper came home with this.

Toddler process artTotally a sheep. Well, maybe not. But it now holds a place of honor on our fridge.

And anyway, analyzing how much it does or doesn’t look like a sheep, or how closely it resembles the instructor’s example, misses the entire point. Art is about exploring your creativity, whether you’re 22 months or 22 years old, whether you’re a kid or Kahlo. (I’d bet Frida would have a few words for any critics who told her what her paintings were “supposed” to look like.)

So while my Pinterest boards are populated with crafts that have specific outcomes in mind, I’m glad I also stumble across gems like Tinkerlab. They remind me that Peeper is experiencing art just as she should. They’re also a good reminder for me to keep out of her way. As long as Peeper is enjoying it, her art projects are coming out perfectly.

0 thoughts on “Process art: A fancy name for letting kids craft whatever the eff they want

  • May 26, 2015 at 7:39 am
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    Such a great reminder here. As a type-A personality, I tend to feel inclined to “help” my little guy “make the most” of his projects, but honestly, my favorite thing is when he totally surprises me and does his own thing and has a whole story to go along with it. Thanks for sharing, cheers!

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    • May 26, 2015 at 8:13 am
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      I can empathize. Sometimes I want her to fill up the whole page with paint, but she usually has her own vision. I just need to take a backseat during art time!

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  • May 26, 2015 at 8:22 am
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    Aww… I like the way she crafts! Looks a lot like me sometimes. 😉

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    • May 26, 2015 at 8:59 am
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      Haha! We adults could learn something from kiddos too: that the end result in our crafts isn’t as important as the process.

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  • May 26, 2015 at 9:14 am
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    It’s great that Peeper is so full of her own thoughts and doesn’t feel like she needs to just follow and conform – my siblings and I all went to Montessori when we were young and we all remember and relish that we were given freedom to explore

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  • May 26, 2015 at 10:23 am
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    Such a great attitude and I love her free spirit! Have you checked out Portland Child Art Studio in the building with Northwest Children’s Theatre? I bet she’d love it.

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  • May 26, 2015 at 1:06 pm
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    Especially as someone who is not super artistic in a traditional sense, I love the idea of being able to explore your creativity however you see fit. There is no one size fits all model for creativity!

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  • May 26, 2015 at 6:09 pm
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    This is a great post. I can’t think of ever doing a structured “project” with my kids, but I do let them go wild with crayons and legos and blocks (not so much paint, though…my kids are like to channel Jackson Pollock). The result? Happy kids who like to create and explore!

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  • May 26, 2015 at 7:47 pm
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    I’m definitely a “stay in the lines” kind of girl, but I try to give my son the freedom to get creative. He’s usually the one to direct me on which color to use and where anyway.

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    • May 26, 2015 at 8:20 pm
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      Peeper too! She’ll boss me around, telling me to draw a fish or a dog or Nana. 🙂

      Reply

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