Updated: Jul 7, 2019
It’s Sunday afternoon, which means that my beautiful Niece and Nephew are due for a visit. I bring out the papers, watercolours, markers and perhaps some glitter paper, scissors and glue in anticipation of what’s to come. We’re about to have an afternoon filled with creativity, mess and making beautiful artworks. My niece and nephew are five and three respectively and there is no greater joy to them than making art. We never have a plan, I usually just follow their lead, let them experiment with the materials and see what happens. Now, as an art teacher, this goes against everything I stand for. How could I not teach them how to create a proper looking, lesson planned, directed art work? Because at such a young age, I prefer to follow a more process based approach with them and see what they come up with instead. In process based art, the focus is mainly on the journey and not on the end result.
While in a traditional art setting there is usually a model for the students to follow and step by step directions to reach a known conclusion, process art is all about the experience of art making no matter what the result will look like, which is always a unique, individual expression of the children. For toddlers and preschoolers, making art is like a science experiment that is full of discoveries. Children learn by experimenting with mixing different colours, or mixing different materials and figuring out for themselves what will be the result.
Making art through a process based approach allows children to make discoveries, be fearless, to get creative and express themselves and their ideas freely. One fun learning activity for the children for example is drawing with wax crayons, particularly white crayons, and painting over it with watercolours. The joy of discovering that the wax crayons will create a resistant barrier to the watercolours and thus stay intact is like magic to little children. It encourages the children to explore and get creative with their art.
Another fun activity for the children to try out is pouring salt over watercolours. Simply instruct the children to see what will happen if they added salt to their already wet watercolour artworks? They will be fascinated by the results and it might even spark their curiosity to understand the science behind what they just experienced. One of the great things about this approach is that it sparks children’s curiosity not just for art, but other subjects too and drives them to experiment more, making new discoveries, solving problems, feeling successful no matter what the outcome.
To encourage your children to experiment, simply provide them with a small space in the house where they can create, and give them plenty of papers and materials with which they can experiment. Don’t direct them towards an outcome, simply observe and perhaps join in on the fun of exploration. Give them watercolours and wax crayons or give them paint, sponges, paint brushes, legos, or any object they can use to trace or stamp and print on the paper. Keep in mind, the results can be messy and don’t make sense, but that is how the children learn what does and doesn’t work.
Engage with them afterwards and encourage them to think critically about what they created by asking open ended questions. Try asking things like
What can you tell me about your artwork?
How did you create it, what materials did you use?
Where did you get the idea from to create this artwork?
What is your favourite part of the artwork? What is the name of your artwork?
What do you think would happen if (we replaced this colour with that, or we replaced this shape with that, etc)
What do you think would happen if you had more time to work, what would you add or change in your artwork?
In process based art, the children learn through exploration rather than guided directions. They are free to try new ideas, to think and problem solve, to experiment and see what happens. Allow them the space to create and watch as they grow and learn from their experiments
While there are a lot of advantages to a product based art approach, like teaching children to follow directions or improve their motor skills and hand eye coordination, this approach typically doesn’t allow for the development of higher level skills in children. Skills like curiosity, creativity, problem solving, imagination and innovation are all skills that children learn through a process based approach and they’re all skills that are very important in a very uncertain future in the 21st century.
Children are natural explorers and their curiosity about the world around them is what motivates them to explore and learn. The knowledge acquired through experimentation and exploration are also more likely to stick with them than if they were taught to them by an adult. Allow your children to explore and discover and you’ll be amazed by what their imaginative, creative minds will produce.