As parents, we spend so much time planning for our kids, filling their days with activities, and making sure they are exposed to lots of different things to help them learn and grow. But, did you know that letting our kids be bored is actually an amazing way to help facilitate their creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills? Providing kids with some downtime along with a mix of tools, materials, and supplies, will enable them to tinker, to think creatively, and to utilize imagination skills that come out through them finding a way to fill their time. While planned activities of course play an important role, adding in this model of child-led process and play will enable them to utilize and build their skills in a different way.
When my first son was around 1, I started introducing him to art materials. We provided him with paint, paper, and crayons. I didn’t expect much because of his young age, but as I sat and observed, I realized that while he was playing, he was also figuring out how the materials worked. He was learning that he had control over moving his hands in ways that manipulated the materials. He was learning that the paint was wet on his hands, and that he could add color to the paper with different materials. As he grew and we continued to play with materials, his curiosity, imagination and creativity grew exponentially. I was absolutely amazed with how he used materials in ways I would not have thought of, and worked through finding solutions to what he envisioned his work looking like. On one particular occasion, he was squirting a ton of paint onto a piece of paper, and I’ll admit that as I watched, it took a lot of self-control to not tell him that he was wasting paint! I let him continue, and watched as he took new sheets of paper, and pressed them into the paint on the first sheet. He was making prints without even knowing that it is a formal technique in art making. The work he made that day was innovative, colorful, textured, and gorgeous. He is now 5 years old, and astounds me with what he makes, the skills he has garnered, and how he navigates filling his downtime in the most creative ways.
When applying the idea of unstructured, child-led play to making art, we refer to it as process-based art, where we focus on the process of exploring, playing, and making, rather than on making a specific product. Process-based art is a truly amazing way to help kids build self-confidence, develop problem-solving skills, improve decision making, utilize spatial reasoning, and enhance their innovative thinking.
So, how do we enable process-based art with our kids? The first and most important thing to know is that, as parents, we do not any skills or artistic experience to enable our kids to do process-based art! We just need to provide children with a few materials and supplies to create, while we provide very gentle guidance through curiosity. Here are some suggestions for how to get started.
A Guide for Process-Based Art Play and Making
- Rummage through your kitchen and find some utensils or items that can be repurposed as art-making tools. These can be spatulas, forks, whisks, scrub brushes, rolling pins—literally anything that you have as long as it is safe for kids to use!
- Grab some cardboard from your recycling bin. This can be torn boxes, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, anything! The more shapes and textures that you can find, the better!
- Find a space where you feel comfortable having your kids play with art materials. This does not need to be a space with a table. Keep in mind that kids may work more actively if they have the flexibility and freedom to move around while playing.
- Get some paint and glue. We recommend using tempera paint which is washable, and tacky glue, which will stick well, but any paint or craft glue will work.
- Introduce your child to the area. Let them explore, touch, and play with the materials. You can prompt them with statements outlined below, but otherwise let them lead the activity without providing direction or expectation for an end result.
Prompts for Gentle Guidance:
- I wonder what this could be?
- I wonder what you could do with this?
- I see that you used ____. Tell me about it.
- I wonder what would happen if you ______.
- I notice that you ______. Tell me about it.
- I see how hard you are working.
- I see how creatively you used ______.
- Does this give you any feelings? What are they? Why?
- I wonder what you could do with ______.
- I notice how carefully you _______.
- I am curious about _____. Can you tell me about it?
- I see that you _____. Wow!
- I think it is amazing that you ______.
- What is your favorite part?
The goal of your guidance is to promote curiosity, acknowledge the work and effort put in, and to celebrate the uniqueness of the work. By doing this, it will facilitate your child to feel proud and accomplished, recognize their innovation, explore their creativity, utilize their imagination, and feel valued for their efforts. The only result of the process that we are looking for is that your child enjoyed the time spent making, any art they make is just a bonus.
About The Little Makerspace
After not being able to find process-based art classes for my son in Bergen County, we started The Little Makerspace. We are a process-based art studio that facilitates art-making experiences for kids in Bergen County. We focus on the process of making, rather than on a finished product. In our classes and programs, we support children to explore, play and make with a variety of traditional and non-traditional art materials. Our goal is for kids to feel proud, accomplished, and excited after spending time making things. We support their curiosity, imagination and innovation as they explore materials. We know that we are all Makers, and our programs support little ones to garner the confidence and self-assurance to proudly make things. We host Make & Explore programs and Maker Workshops that are open to kids of any age, and Maker Camps that are open to kids in Kindergarten and up. Come make with us!
Plus check out these upcoming programs: