What about Art? A post for parents

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

In recent years, professionals in the early learning community—both centre based and those in home child care, have been shifting their perspective when it comes to art.  You may have noticed that your child is coming home with little or no finished art.  Not to worry! The fact that they haven’t brought home a beautifully cut and glued paper craft does not mean that they aren’t being creative or that your home child care provider is not introducing them to art.  Indeed, the opposite is likely to be true.  All early learning professionals are being encouraged to provide young children with opportunities for process art—instead of, or in addition to, the more traditional product art.

“Process art” or “open-ended art” is art that focuses on the experience of doing rather than the finished product.  It allows children the freedom to explore various materials and mediums without the constraints of “producing”.  Process art often does produce beautiful, interesting, and unique results but this is not its purpose. Children may or may not want to keep the end piece.  The successfulness of process art is measured in terms of the child’s joy, wonder, and curiosity during the experience of doing—the process of creating.

“Product art”, also known as “crafting”, is art that focuses on the end product.  There is usually a specific set of instructions and if followed correctly, each person’s end product should be relatively the same.

Process art teaches children to value the creative experience and to value experimentation.  It allows them opportunities to explore with their senses, and to experience materials and mediums as they relate to one another.  It provides inquiry based learning and the opportunity to use, manipulate, explore, and express with a variety of tools and techniques.  It teaches children that there is no right or wrong way to create art.  Process art is meant to be a calming and relaxing experience.  Children make decisions regarding how much, how little, where, when to stop, etc.  It teaches children that their art is their own.

Product art teaches important skills too.  Patterning, math, problem solving, planning, sequencing, reading, following instructions, working towards a goal, perseverance, and determination to name a few.  When we introduce and expose children to simple crafting (product art) we are setting the foundation for later skills and abilities used in everyday life: completing a recipe, putting together furniture, writing an essay, etc.…we are teaching children that these skills are important and take practice.  Learning to hone a particular craft also develops its own skill set and is valuable in and of itself—think of baking, quilting, knitting, woodworking, crocheting, jewelry making, food preserving, etc.—all types of product art and all requiring the skills listed above.  Finally, crafting often has strong generational and/or cultural roots.  Sharing these types of activities with children fosters a sense of belonging and values family traditions.

Beneficial when the intent is to teach a skill, introducing product art at child care does come with some challenges:

  • Younger children are easily frustrated: “I can’t do it”
  • The child care provider is heavily involved, often the one completing the craft
  • It is a more stressful activity for everyone: “Am I doing it right?”
  • Children feel upset when their craft does not look exactly like the adult-made model
  • There is often more advanced preparation required by the caregiver to cut out parts, etc.
  • The creative process is restricted by the steps involved to make the craft


Depending on the caregiver, and the ages/stages of the children in the group, your home child care provider may or may not regularly incorporate product art into the programming. It might be scaled down with modified expectations or it might only be offered as an occasional activity.

Instead, your home child care provider is likely introducing your child to art materials and mediums such as painting (with fingers or brushes or random tools), collaging (papers and fabrics of various textures), art with materials found in nature (twigs, leaves, sand), art with recycled materials (bubble wrap, plastic forks, old toothbrushes), or art with mixed mediums (shaving cream, glue, paint, foil, sandpaper).  To support your child’s learning be sure to dress your child in play clothes and pack an extra outfit or two—not having to worry about getting dirty will allow your child to fully experience the creative process: touching, mixing, poking, smelling, etc. 😉

So what’s the real take home here? Product art definitely has some benefits but should not replace the wonderful opportunities provided by process art for children to create, experience, and express themselves freely—without the expectation to please others or re-create a final product.  There may or may not be an actual “take home” and that’s ok!