I didn’t know there was the concept of process versus product in art. Embarking on my journey with TigerKubz has also exposed me to broader child development concepts that are exciting, but sometimes overwhelming.
In this post, I’m going to share with you the pros and cons of process and product art in the early childhood years.
Process vs. product – what’s the difference?
The easiest way to explain process vs. product art is to use Lego as an example. When we purchase a Lego set, your child (or our inner child ?) is set on replicating the final product we see on the box. When we do this, we are focused on the finished outcome being a certain way, aka, the product.
Now, let’s say we have the same set of bricks, but instead of following the manual, we start building. We don’t even know what the finished outcome will be! But, we’re fully embracing our creativity, imagination, and experimentation. The sky’s the limit. This is process art, aka being a Masterbuilder (Lego Movie reference).
It’s not you…
When we search for arts and crafts online and on Pinterest, we typically come across product art. I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “Pinterest worthy”. This is due to the search terms we use such as “Apple crafts for preschoolers”, “cute pumpkin themed crafts”, “Valentine’s Day crafts”. They’re mostly product focused searches and we have subconsciously set expectations for how the craft should look like.
Parents who are not educators are typically focused on the product/outcome. I also think that our culture and workplace has trained our minds to focus on the outcome and not the process. But, what if I told you, that introducing “art” to young children can be much simpler than the cutest project you see online?
What does process art look like in the early childhood years?
Process art typically involves a predetermined set of tools provided to children to work with. There are no directions except maybe to set boundaries art tools usage (e.g., “paint goes on the paper, not the walls”, “we wear a smock when we work with paint to keep our clothes clean”). Children have full autonomy to create whatever their heart desires.
To the untrained eyes, process art does not look “show worthy” during the early years – especially the toddler years. This is because toddlers do not yet have the physical control and development to manipulate tools as well as older kids. And certainly not as well as a mature adult. This is obvious right? But, we still expect young children to create these wonderful cute pieces of art. Why? Because we’re proud parents who are eager to hang our children’s artwork all over the fridge and home. There’s no shame in that!
To really embrace process art, it helps by understanding art development stages in toddlers and preschoolers. When we understand, we’re more informed and sensitive to what our children are producing.
As an example, a scribble our child produces is much more than just a “scribble”. It’s the first step to drawing intentional shapes that will eventually turn into something recognizable. That is a frame worthy milestone!
A child mixing paint colors is exploring the science of color combination. As a result, they’ll quickly learn that mixing ALL the colors turns black. That child just created a new color they didn’t have on their palette! Whoa!
Why do you want your child to do art?
To determine what type of art you want your child to do, first, step back and think about what the primary goal is for doing art with your child. Are you creating a cute artwork to send to grandma for Mother’s Day (product)? Or, are you trying to help your child embrace the creative process of art (process)? They have two very distinct outcomes.
Pros and cons of product art versus process art.
Early childhood educators were trained never to touch children’s artwork. This is to respect children’s creative process and choices regardless of whether it met our “expectations”. Now, I’ll admit that I have in the past interfered (severely) with my child’s process. “The eye doesn’t go there”. “Why don’t you paint a flower”. “The house needs a door”. “It doesn’t look like the model”. Yikes, I know.
But, I’ve given myself grace, because now I’m more informed and I’m here to pass on the knowledge with you. If you’ve been more product oriented too, don’t fret. There are pros to exposing your child to product-based art.
|Process Art||Encourages child to use their creativity and freewill.|
Encourages experimentation and self-direction.
Increases child’s self-esteem.
Outcome is 100% original and is your child’s work.
It will always be developmentally appropriate because it’s at the child’s own pace and capability.
|Caregivers may not understand the art.|
Children who struggle with creativity or fine motor skills may finish their project early.
|Product Art||Expose child to new art processes.|
Helps a child practice following a set of instructions in order.
Themed artwork reinforces learning in a subject.
Provides more structure and guidance.
It may boost child’s confidence when they see they are able to replicate the model.
|The art is not original.|
Creativity is limited.
Some projects may not be developmentally appropriate, which may lower confidence.
Caregiver might be more focused on the outcome that it may suppress creativity.
So, which is better? Product or process art?
As you can see, there are pros and cons of both process art and product art. As a firm believer of “everything is good in moderation”, I apply this to art as well. Yes, I’ve engaged in more product art in the past and still continue to do so in the present because my children enjoy it. But, my children are also given autonomy to engage in process art.
Based on my family’s experience, the product focused projects exposed my children to different ways to explore and use arts and crafts materials. Because of this experience, they felt confident in their ability to experiment and combine various tools and techniques to create something entirely unique.
In summary, the question shouldn’t be “which is better, process art of product art?” because they both have their benefits. I hope this post helps you understand the pros and cons of both so you can be more intentional with whichever art project you choose to engage your child in. ?
Sheryll is the proud mom to 3 boys (1, 5, and 12-years-old) and wife to her better half. She is the founder and CEO of TigerKubz and is on a mission to empower parents with tools to easily engage their little learners. When Sheryll is not thinking of creative ways to make learning experiences of everyday life, changing diapers, or chasing after her kids, you may find her in the kitchen trying out new recipes, attempting to fish on a nice day, or jamming out to Disney singalongs with Alexa.