Process Art In the Early Childhood Classroom

Today was another parent helper day in the 2s and 3s class at the co-op, and I had a fantastic time (I think the kids had fun, too)!  The theme for the next two weeks is “outdoor fun,” so we celebrated the beautiful spring day with one of the twins’ favorite process art activities from last summer- making a giant Rainbow Bubble Wrap Tree.  If you missed the original post, it’s pretty self-explanatory…wrap a tree trunk with bubble wrap and let your kiddos cover it with finger paint for a fun outdoor sensory art experience.

Process Art in the Early Childhood Classroom

Process Art in the Early Childhood Classroom

I’ve been thinking a lot about next fall when I take over this teaching position and what parents may think of all the zany activities that we try.  Will they see the value of messy art done for the sake of the process? Will they be annoyed that their kiddos will most likely have paint on their skin or clay under their nails just about every day when they come home from school?  I thought I’d write down my thoughts on why process art activities have a place in the early childhood classroom for anyone who may be wondering- plus it gives me an excuse to share some of today’s fun photos 😉

What is Process Art, Anyway?

Process art is basically any art activity where the focus is placed on the act of creating, not the finished product.  When facilitating process art activities with children, there are no rules or predetermined outcomes on the part of the adult- you just set the kiddos up with some materials (or better yet, let them choose their own), get out of the way, and let the creating begin!  Some process art activities do yield a beautiful end product, but many don’t have a “keepable” outcome at all.  However, the learning and developmental stimulation that happens during process art activities is really wonderful to see!

How is Process Art Good for Development?

When evaluating the benefits of activities for young children, I tend to think along the five developmental domains of early childhood, which include cognition, language, fine motor, gross motor, and social development. I also think about whether the activity appeals to the way young children learn- through the senses and hands-on exploration.

Process art: sensory exploration

First of all, process art is a fantastic way to provide young children with open-ended explorations that appeal to multiple senses. This is how they gather input from the world around them in order to stimulate the various domains of development.

Language Development

Process art activities provide lots of opportunities for language stimulation, from building vocabulary to sequencing and storytelling all the way to critical thinking and reasoning. Open-ended art activities allow you to follow the child’s lead during the process, which is ideal for encouraging spontaneous speech. As children explore art techniques and mediums they are also learning new ways that they can express their thoughts and ideas, which is great for building connections that support cognitive and linguistic growth.  If you are interested in learning more about how process art stimulates language, check out my post on building language with art!

Cognitive Development

Process art promotes cognitive development by allowing young children the opportunity to practice skills that are critical for learning and processing information. Giving children the freedom to experiment with different materials and figure out how to make them work together is great for cause and effect reasoning, problem solving, and imagination, just to name a few. These cognitive skills are so important in order to generalize and organize the academic knowledge that kids will acquire as they get older- I think of them as meta-skills for learning.

Process art: cognitive development

My son and a classmate exploring the bubble wrap and paint more closely- can you see through it? What if you paint the other side? How hard can we push before the bubbles pop?

Fine and Gross Motor Development

Manipulating art mediums and tools is a great way to encourage fine motor development, which is important for adaptive (daily living) skills such as dressing, toileting, eating with utensils, etc. Fine motor skills are also important precursors to handwriting. Large scale process art activities, sometimes referred to as “big art” or “active art,” are wonderful for encouraging gross (large) motor movements such as reaching, throwing, and even jumping or stomping depending on the nature of the activity.

process art: gross motor

Reeeaaach! Large-scale process art encourages gross motor movements.

Social/Emotional Development

Exploring process art activities in a group setting is a fantastic way to encourage social skill development. Today I watched as six three-year-olds worked together to cover one giant tree trunk with paint.  Their teacher and I listened as they shared ideas and materials, took turns, asked each other (mostly) politely to make room, and even made up songs together about the tree. Not only were they exploring art, they were exploring friendships and relationships. In addition, open-ended art activities are a great confidence builder in young children- when they feel pride in something they conceptualized and created from start to finish, it helps boost their self-image.

Process art: social emotional

My daughter and her classmate mid-song…I wish I had been able to record it!

Process art doesn’t have to be as “out there” as the bubble wrap tree- laying out an array of collage materials (scrap paper, glue, and whatever else you have on hand) and inviting your students to dive in works just as well. The important thing is to allow children to have some unstructured time to create and experiment with art materials as often as you can.  Do you have a favorite type of process art for young children? I’d love to hear it!

More Good Stuff for You

My friend Mary Catherine at Fun-a-Day recently wrote an amazing article on process art that includes lots of great information, example photos, and resources for further reading. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend her article Process Art for Kids and Why Is It Important?

Have you met Meri from Meri Cherry blog? She is a big fan of process art and her recent post Process Art for Kids- It’s No Mess! is a fabulous account of a process art adventure that happened in her whimsical art play house.


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  1. xoxoxox Great post! I just wrote an article about process art this afternoon and so much of what you said is echoed in what I wrote. Thank you so much for this great resource that I will refer to often. This is really so great.

  2. Love, love, love process art! Great post. thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I too am passionate about process art!

  3. Great post! I’ve always been a fan of process art at home and now working as a preschool teacher, I love bringing these ideas to work too. Having such well explained benefits to refer uncertain parents to will be handy. Pinning :)

  4. Hi, thanks for a great article!! Will defiantly be trying this activity soon. We have been experimenting with process art in our setting for some time now without actually knowing it had a ‘name’!!! Your article validates what we have been doing and gives the activities more meaning! Our favourite ‘process art’ to date has involved large blocks of ice used to explore with paints, coloured water (of varying temperatures), pipettes and chisels!!!

  5. I love that you wrote this post. We are learning so much about this right now. I just wish that the parents of my daycare children understood it.

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