Art with Young Children

Arts and Crafts. That phrase probably revives memories of elementary school classrooms or summer camp. Being asked to wind yarn around Popsicle sticks glued together, or to paint a picture of the outdoors. More often than not cookie-cutter crafts and art projects would be produced, taken home to smiles from mom and dad and then eventually thrown away. Unless you are my mom, who apparently has boxes full of old items ready to be gifted back to my hands and out of her house. Why did we and do we continue to engage children in arts and crafts? The purpose surely cannot be so that can mass produce animal masks and dream catchers.

Early in my career as an educator I began thorough research into this topic and came across the phrase, “Process, not Product.” Put simply, this means your child’s process of creating the piece of art, or the craft is more meaningful and educational than the finished product. Isn’t that interesting? I thought it was. As a trained actor and musician the purpose of the finished product was to create something recognizable and enjoyable for the audience. What would “42nd Street” be without flashy costumes and tap shoes? Or what about a Mozart symphony where all the violins were flat. But then I thought about this further. Each performance of a piece, even with the same group of performers is never exactly the same. When a theatrical production is done by different directors, actors and producers it becomes it’s own entity, different from all that came before and will come after.

Then it made sense. As an actor learning my lines or my notes were only a part of the piece. Each show I have been in has taught me new words to add to my lexicon, a new technique or behinds the scene trick. With each show, I have learned something new through the process of creating the production.

So What’s the Process?

Open-ended art is a process of creating which allows free-range while creating. You create with what is available to you and possibly with no clear destination in mind. Open-ended art supplies are now common in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, including paper, markers, crayons, scissors, glue, stickers, stamps, paint, sequins etc. Children are free to create throughout the day. This type of art center can be easily made at home. Open-ended art allows children to use their imagination to explore and create without it having to be something. Young children who engage in art often don’t know what they are creating and will usually not decide if ever until they are completed.

What Are They Learning?

  • Problem Solving
  • Creative Expression
  • Critical Thinking
  • Mathematical and Spatial Reasoning
  • Science Skills

At Home

Our house is a well-spring of supplies and yours is too! Recyclables are some of the best items you can use and kids adore them! All of those empty cereal and snack boxes, catalogs you toss away, junk mail all can be used in open-ended art. If you are like me and believe an Amazon Delivery Away Keeps the Urge to Raid Target Away, save the boxes and let them use those! My youngest son has created rather elaborate forts of late out of boxes with just scissors and markers and my older son created airplanes and boats with empty 2-liter bottles, egg cartons, and cardboard. Consider collecting buttons, fabric scraps, string, twine, Popsicle sticks. If you can save it, they will use it.

Language Please!


At times our child’s art leaves us thinking… what is that?! Instead of asking your child, “What is that?” replace it with, “Can you tell me about what you made?” When we ask a child what their art is we immediately imply we can’t recognize it, aka, it’s not good. When you ask them about it you provide the opportunity for an open ended answer. Often when young children are engaged in art they don’t even know what they are making, so asking them what it is puts them on the spot, which is an uncomfortable position for children and adults alike! Follow up with further open-ended questions which will promote language skills and critical thinking. Some suggestions are

  • Can you tell me more about this blue line you drew?
  • I see you drew triangles, can you count them?
  • Why did you choose to use red and purple?
  • How does your drawing make you feel?

Accept the Mess


This can be the hardest part, but it should become our mantra to ensure our kids feel the freedom to create. This doesn’t mean we allow them to trash the kitchen with paint and glitter, but messes that occur as part of the natural process when making art are OK. Help your child build a sense of independence and responsibility by teaching them in clean up process. Breathe easy, go mediate in the next room is mess bothers you and allow the mess to happen, but make sure clean up is a group effort!

So grab the glue sticks and glitter because it’s time to get messy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s