Art with Children

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Most people recognize this old proverb meaning that different people have different ideas of what is beautiful. When considering education and art with young children, adults tend to lean toward “product-focused” vs. “process-focused.”

Who doesn’t like to see an adorably mishaped Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or portraits of our presidents? Yet, the case can be made, when children are given the chance to experiment and play with open-ended art materials, that is when the joy and benefits of art education come to their full potential.

Jill Englebright Fox, Ph.D. and Stacey Berry, M.Ed. state that “Art has traditionally been an important part of early childhood programs. Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten, believed that young children should be involved in both making their own art and enjoying the art of others.“ (

Froebel further elaborated that the importance of art activities was, in part, due to how the arts encouraged each child’s “full and all-sided development.” (Froebel, 1826)

So, what is the difference between product-focused and process-focused art? It’s mainly in the delivery. Product-focused is usually taught in a whole group with each child and the teacher making the same thing. It is often a step-by-step process with a more-or-less right way to make the art with a sample included.

On the other hand, process-focused art is child driven, with the focus on the experience and on exploration of techniques, tools, and materials. There isn’t a right or wrong way; the child makes choices all along the way of their creation. That is where the joy of art education comes in.

Child art handprintsART BENEFITS
What about the benefits? Let’s take a look at each area of child development and see how art adds value to the development of children.


The satisfaction children receive when creating art comes from both the autonomy they have in making decisions about their creation and the control they have over the materials they use. (Schrimacher, 1998 Seefeldt,1993). Enough said.

As in any play activity, the exploration of art materials helps children build knowledge of the objects in the world around them. (Kamli and Devries, 1993). Whether playing with play dough, recycled scraps, or using paint, young children begin building on vocabulary and an understanding of how things work in their environment.

Both small and large motor development is exercised while participating in art activities. Using an easel or large paper on the floor exercises large arm movements while cutting with scissors. Using modeling clay or writing on small pieces of paper exercises the fingers, hands, and wrists. Hand-eye development, crucial for forming letters and spacing words, is also a benefit derived from art activities. As children gain confidence in using tools, decide how to make parts fit together to make a whole, or what details to include, they are working on hand-eye coordination. (Koster, 1997)

I will end with good news for parents and teachers alike: providing process-focused art is easy! The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a great list of ideas to get started on to provide enriching, child-centered, educationally-beneficial art. Check out the following ideas!

  • Easel painting with a variety of paints and paintbrushes (with no directions)
  • Watercolor painting
  • Exploring and creating with clay
  • Finger painting
  • Painting with unusual tools like toothbrushes, paint rollers, potato mashers
  • Printing and stamping (stamps purchased or made with sponges)
  • Creating spin art using a record player (remember those?) and paint, squirt bottles, paintbrushes, or markers
  • Stringing beads independently and creatively
  • Weaving cloth, yarn, or paper
  • Drawing with pencils, art pens, various sizes of markers, or crayons
  • Using homemade doughs
  • Making collages using tissue paper, various sizes of paper, glue, paste, glue sticks, scissors, and recycled materials/li>

outline of paper dollIf those aren’t enough ideas, here’s one more! Join the fun and make paper dolls for Shasta County’s Week of the Young Child. Print out blank dolls and provide children with art supplies to decorate them. First 5 Shasta will be sure to match them with a business and have them on display throughout April 2017!

YOUR IDEAS will be valuable to others! Teachers and parents, please comment with art activities you love to do with young children!

About Stephanie Alexander

I am just one of those people who find young children charming, entertaining and fascinating! With my husband David, I’ve raised four successful children with whom we have loving, wonderful relationships. I’ve also been in the world of education for over 25 years in the roles of preschool teacher and director, kindergarten and transitional kindergarten teacher, and, currently, I’m serving transitional kindergarten-second grade students and teachers as an Instructional Service Coordinator with the Shasta County Office of Education. In 2015, I helped start the first Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten Professional Learning Community with 18 teachers participating from Shasta County. I'm excited about my latest job assignment: coaching teachers participating in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant as part of the Reach Higher Shasta organization.
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