Process Art: What Is It and Why Do Kids Love It?

Have you heard of Process Art?

Process Art provides space for a child to explore and create without focusing on the finished product. It is about the journey not the destination. 

Find out how Process Art differs from crafts, as well as how to transform the approach to art at home.


“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Pablo Picasso


Your child comes home from daycare or preschool and excitedly shows you their artwork. They are beaming with pride! You look at their paper and see an unrecognizable blob. This muddy mix of colors that you cannot decipher may seem insignificant. But really, it is a beautiful gift. It gives you a glimpse into how your child sees the world around them. It gives your child a chance to freely express themselves without worrying that they are doing it wrong.


Then along comes Pinterest. Don’t get me wrong. I love Pinterest. It is a rabbit hole that I can happily fall down for hours on the internet. But it gives a false sense of what art should be for children. It shows cookie-cutter crafts and picture-perfect paintings. It shows samples of art projects that were clearly made by an adult. It takes the creativity out of childhood art.


Childhood art should be an outlet for children to explore and express themselves. It should provide opportunities to experiment with techniques and put a unique spin on things. This is hard to do when an art activity is supposed to look a specific way. 


Craft Activities Have an Important Place in Childhood

Many children love cute craft activities. I love them too! I encourage families to let children enjoy crafts if it interests their child. Crafts are also great for gifting to people. Adorable handprint ornaments for grandma or a painted wooden box for a friend are wonderful gifts. Some examples of crafts include coloring books, craft kits, and handprint projects.

But don’t stop at crafts. Provide time for less structured, child-led art. This is often called Process Art. Process Art provides a technique to follow while still giving children space to make the project their own. Process Art includes activities like free painting and collages.


Crafts vs. Process Art

Both crafts and Process Art can be fun for children and provide benefits. Let’s compare the two:


  • Focused on the end-product
  • Provide detailed step-by-step directions
  • Samples are provided for frequent reference to ensure the project is done "correctly"
  • Often requires more adult help to ensure the project is done "correctly"
  • Teaches children to follow directions
  • Introduces specific vocabulary related to the project
  • Can teach specific art and fine motor skills
  • Usually less messy
  • Perfect for holiday-themed activities or gift giving
  • Can make a child frustrated or disappointed if they cannot make the project “correctly”


Process Art:

  • Open-ended activities, sometimes basic guidelines for the technique are given
  • Focused on the process of making art and not on what the finished product looks like
  • Samples are seldom shown
  • The finished product may not be recognizable
  • Often allows children to be more self-sufficient
  • Encourages creativity, self-expression, and decision making
  • Can develop reflective language as children share about what they created and why
  • Often more messy than crafts
  • Builds self-confidence as children take charge of their art


Childhood art is about letting children create and grow. Almost all young children believe that they are artists. They have a natural love for creating. Over time, this belief can be dampened. When a child repeatedly sees that their art doesn’t look like the sample or when their friend’s art receives more praise for being pretty, they begin to believe that they are not an artist. I saw this play out as a teacher regularly. When I taught preschool and kindergarten, all the kids were very proud of their art, even when it was messy and unrecognizable. But when I started teaching 4th and 5th grade, the attitude among students had changed. Some select students were labeled artists, and the rest said they were not artistic. That is simply not true. All people have creativity inside them and the ability to create art.


How to Make the Shift

That's is why I encourage parents and teachers to make Process Art part of their home and/or classroom. Make art well-rounded by including both Process Art and crafts. It can also be incredibly easy and fun to blend the two together.

Take a craft that you have planned and tweak it a bit. Start by not showing a sample. This allows children to imagine the project in their own way. 

Next, simplify the directions. Let’s say the project is making a lion’s face. As a craft, you might tell the child to paint the paper plate yellow, cut the mane out of orange construction paper along the outline you drew, put two google eyes at the top of the plate, draw a triangle nose underneath, and a smile under the nose. To switch this to a Process Art activity, you would lay all the supplies out for the child to use. You would provide 3-4 colors of paint and paper to use. Tell the children that they are going to make a lion using a paper plate as the head. Brainstorm together what a lion might need: mane, eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Then let the child create as they see fit.

These two simple changes make an art activity more open-ended and creates space for children to explore their artistic abilities. You will find that there is be a large range in what the lions look like. That is the beauty of letting children embrace their artistic side.


Do you have a question about Process Art?


Send us a message or connect on Instagram @wondertreekids


Have a fun week creating with your child!

Download Crafts vs Process Art Overview Here

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