I often wonder what other people see in the art being created in an early childhood classroom. What do they make of these splashes of paint and collages covered with glue and seemingly random bits and bobs?
Art in early childhood is always so much more than meets the eye.
Many adults are drawn to the precise placement and perfectly coordinated colors of “just-add-children” crafts, but the benefits of an art experience far outweigh the superficial aesthetic.
While I do believe that with the right intention, there’s a place for projects all along the spectrum of arts and crafts, our emphasis should be on process-oriented art over product-oriented crafts. That means that the majority of the time, our creative activities encourage the children to explore, think outside of the box, and create something completely unique. We focus on the process of creating more than on the product being created. That’s because the process is so valuable!
In open-ended art, children have the opportunity to take the supplies they have available and explore the reach of their own creativity, experiment with autonomy and control, express their thoughts and feelings, and make sense of their world. This process adds to well-being and mental health. While art contributes to the “softer” subsets of creativity and expression, at the same time, the same experience contributes to the brain’s executive function as children plan, problem solve, and employ divergent thinking.
As Jean Van’t Hul, author of The Artful Parent, explained on the podcast, the same mindset that children bring to art – open exploration, experimentation, problem solving, creativity – is applied to learning, social problem solving, and really all areas of life.
As adults, we can support this mindset not only by providing the opportunities and supplies for these arte experiences (being an “art enabler”, as Jean says) but also through the way we talk about art. When a child shares his/her art with you, emphasize the process rather than the product. Instead of asking “What is it?”, try saying, “Wow! Tell me all about this!” or “That looks like it took a lot of time to create! Would you tell me about how you made it?”
Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is born an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” In addition to plenty of encouragement, children need us to provide lots of open-ended art experiences to allow them to keep that artist quality. We want them to see all of the possibilities in the tools in front of them and the world they live in. To ask questions, wonder, experiment, and observe. To feel, to express, to create, and to be seen.
That’s the power in art.
We should be far less concerned with creating a class set of perfectly matched trinkets than we are with creating space for an amazing individual experience.
It’s why art is another way that we play!
The Why We Play letters share this message about art in a version written specifically for the parents in your education community. Get your own set to help you consistently communicate Why We Play.