Process Art

I love art! I love getting messy. I love color, shapes, and form. I love everything about art. I always have. It was my favorite class in school and my favorite activity to do now with the children. I also enjoy making crafts with the children, but it’s important to note that the two (process art versus crafts) are different.


When you sit with children and make crafts, you normally get adorable and lovely end results. Parents typically love crafts. They love being able to hang their child’s little crafts up on the fridge or at work. Crafts are the most fun to show off!

Making crafts can be fun. The children do learn a lot through crafts, such as learning to cut and paste (fine motor skills), following directions, and working together (social and emotional skills). When we do crafts, they are often made as gifts for mom or dad. And they also almost always relate to something that we are learning about.


Yet, it’s even more important for young children to engage in what’s called open-ended process art. Process art, as the name implies, focuses on the benefits of the process of making art rather than the outcome.

Process art promotes social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth. It allows children to explore and create. It gives them room for self-expression of their own thoughts, ideas, and feelings. It allows them to experiment and problem solve. It’s unplanned (by the teacher), spontaneous, and self-driven.


Children advance through stages of art skill development of simple to more complex. They begin by scribbling, then they move into basic forms, and finally into drawings or pictorial drawing. Toddlers begin with dots, lines, and zigzags in the scribbling stage. They move on to the basic forms of squares and circles. Then the more difficult stars and hearts. When they move in to the drawing stage, they draw humans, pets, trees, and such. These drawings may start out large and crudely drawn, and coloring is rarely realistic.

Knowing these developmental phases can help you understand where a child is in the overall scheme of development and help you to encourage them. In the scribble stage, you might say, “wow, you made so many big lines.” As they progress into the form stage, you could point out that they did a fantastic job making the shapes.  Once they begin to draw, you can recognize their hard work and ask them to tell you about their picture. They may have expressed emotion or an event and be able to tell you about it through their art.

Allowing for open-ended, process art can range from simple (scissors, markers, and paper) to more extensive, with water, paint, and craft items that allow the child to create whatever s/he likes. Encourage them to take risks, get messy, and enjoy the process.


Art helps children in their development. It’s exciting and it’s fun! Always focus on the process when children are involved in art, as it’s a wonderful time to encourage their confidence and self-image.