Process Art and Early Childhood Development

As an early childhood educator, it should be your goal to encourage children’s creativity through developmentally appropriate art experiences. Arts in early childhood is very important for social-emotional development. When you allow children to participate in an individualized art activity (process-focused art), it encourages them to make connections to the world around them, and promotes the ability to take multiple perspectives. The National Endowment for the Arts states, “As children become toddlers, they experience, to varying degrees, rapid development of communication skills, motor skills, and perspective-taking. Access to these abilities can permit participation in various kinds of arts activities.” Emotional regulation (the ability to control emotional affect and expression) is also an aspect of social-emotional competence that can be improved through daily participation in the arts.

Process Art vs Product Art

Sometimes it can be difficult for teachers to plan art activities that utilize a child’s full creative potential. Two different categories of art activities that are used in early childhood classrooms are product-focused art, and process focused art. Here are the differences between the two, according to NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children):

Product-Focused Art:

  • Children have step-by-step instructions to followpenguins
  • The teacher creates a sample for children to copy
  • There is a right and wrong way to proceed
  • There is a finished product in mind
  • The children’s finished product all looks the same
  • The children might experience frustration
  • The teacher might “fix mistakes”
  • The whole class might take part in the art project at the same time
  • Patterns and examples are readily available online

The use of product-focused art does not need to be completely eliminated from the classroom. It teaches young children how to follow multi-step directions and utilizes fine motor skills, like tracing and cutting. However, it does not apply much creativity, and it can set a child up for disappointment if their final product does not look like the teacher’s example.

Process-Focused Art:

  • There are no step-by-step instructions
  • There is no sample to follow
  • There is no right or wrong way to create
  • The art is focused on the exploration of techniques and materials
  • The final product is unique and original
  • The experience is calming and relaxing
  • The experience is a child’s choice

process3 process2 process

Embrace Self-Expression

When children have the freedom of self-expression while participating in an art project, you will see them more relaxed and focused. You are giving them the chance to predict, plan, and problem solve as they create their piece of art. They will feel successful every time because there is no wrong way to express themselves. Children will also be more willing to discuss their art with you and get excited to share because no one else made something like it.

Tips for Process-focused Art Lessons:

  • Make it open-ended by providing a variety of materials
  • Use household tools and unconventional materials
  • Let the child lead the experience by asking them what they want to use, and allow them to go back to their project later to add more
  • Provide plenty of time
  • Say “yes” to their ideas
  • Offer new and interesting materials each time you do a different project
  • Take materials outside and allow them to use things in nature to inspire them
  • Display their art throughout the classroom at their eye level

Exposure to process and product art is important. At Momentum Early Learning Child Care Center, we focus on embracing children’s individual interests and allowing them the freedom to express themselves through art as well as other interest areas. Our focus on individualized learning allows us to choose and implement goals for each child based on their development while using age appropriate activities. We believe that encouraging self-expression will help children become successful problem solvers.  This will then allow the children to be more relaxed and focused.

Momentum Early Learning, the new standard in education and child care, provides unparalleled excellence of care for children through an open, friendly and nurturing culture. Momentum Early Learning provides care and teaching for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Momentum Early Learning’s pledge of excellence is based on four core values: safety, education, cleanliness and technology. Families interested in learning more about Momentum Early Learning can call the Sussex Campus at 262.820.2595 or the Germantown Campus at 262.415.8047 or visit Momentum’s website at


Process Art Experiences

Arts in Early Childhood

Process Art Photos

Product Art Photo