Tag Archives: art

Process-Oriented Art With Toddlers

During my time as a toddler teacher, I learned that toddlers are capable, trustworthy and highly intelligent. This intelligence can be observed through the play that occurs when they are given open-ended materials to explore. Let’s look at an example of a process-oriented art activity and the ways that I would help facilitate learning during this activity:


In this activity, the children were given a small amount of paint, a piece of paper and a paint brush. I wanted the focus of the painting activity to be on the act of painting, not choosing colors; therefore I chose to limit the choice of color (though this could be the subject of another blog). I have found that when young toddlers are given too many choices, they can become overwhelmed. I learned that when children begin to prefer or like a particular color, they will ask for it, therefore the proper thing to do is provide it if possible.


A process-oriented art activity allows children to explore art mediums in the way they feel most comfortable. Here a child can be seen pouring the paint in the cup out onto the paper. This is okay. Another thing I would see children do is finger paint rather than use the paint brush. They would also rub their hands together and cover their hands in the paint. These actions paved the way to talk about the texture of the paint and ask questions such as, “How does the paint feel?” and, “What are you doing with the paint?” It is also a great time to use vocabulary such as cold, gooey, slippery, smooth, silky and slick. The amount of paint that is in the cup is enough for a child to explore and play with but is limited to control some of the mess it may make—although making a mess can be the best part of an art experience!

Some other tips for open-ended art activities with toddlers:

  • Offer materials that work for the developmental level of the children.
  • Plan and discuss with your team ahead of time how you will prepare, execute and clean up. This preparation ensures minimal wait time: when children come to the table the materials are readily available, and a plan of action is in place for when they are ready to walk away.
  • Invite children to participate, yet refrain from making the activity mandatory. Let children know what they can do such as, “Stay at the table with the paint,” or “Let me know when you are all done.”
  • Support creativity by refraining from telling children what to make with their art supplies. As children grow older and their fine motor skills develop, it may be appropriate to offer ideas around technique or to model how material can be used to challenge a child that may be ready for something new.

Creativity and Academics Go Hand in Hand!

As a teacher and a parent I have always encouraged creative thinking by providing lots of open-ended materials such as books, blocks, dramatic play items and art materials. When I was at home with my 4-year-old daughter one of our favorite activities was to draw a squiggle on a piece of paper for each other, and then we would each create a drawing from the squiggle. Then we created a drawing from the squiggle. I was lucky enough to have her in my preschool classroom, too, where she was happy and well-behaved, her days filled with creative activities.

Photo courtesy of Selena N.B.H.

Photo courtesy of Selena N.B.H.

But when she went to kindergarten, my daughter’s enthusiasm for school waned. She was anxious and struggling with her work. Her teacher reported that she was well loved by the other students and always participated in all of the activities, but she struggled with her assignments. When I asked to see an example of her work, her teacher showed me a paper where the children were to draw two fish alike. But instead of completing this assignment, my daughter had drawn two detailed fish with purple with pink polka dots.

When I asked why my daughter’s assignment was “wrong,” the teacher produced another child’s assignment where the child had drawn two fish that were exactly the same. And then she produced another, and another, all perfect examples of modeled art. What could have been a creative opportunity was instead a test, and one my daughter had “failed.” I walked away from that conversation with her teacher knowing that I needed to find another learning environment that encouraged creativity, namely, both convergent and divergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is the ability to come up with a single correct answer. This type of thinking is measured through standard testing methods. Divergent or creative thinking is the ability to come up with new and usual answers. Both are important! Let the children in your classroom explore and allow them to express their thoughts and ideas. You’ll be supporting curiosity, flexibility and originality in their work and play, and encouraging unique and effective solutions. Teachers should strive to help children explore their academic potential and their creative potential.

– Stephannie

Red Flowers with Green Leaves

Professional Development Coordinator Sadie Bonifas blogs about children’s art experiences…

 Over the holidays, I visited programs and was happy to see lots of children’s artwork displayed on the walls. Displaying children’s artwork is a great way to encourage pride and showcase children’s work to parents. However, as I walked around the classrooms, I saw elves, snowmen, and coloring in out-lined drawings, which is clearly following an adult-made model.

 It made me think back to a poem I read (or was it song lyrics), about a little boy, who on the first day of school wanted to paint flowers of all different colors. The boy’s teacher told him that the flowers had to be red and the leaves had to be green. When he moved and went to a new school, the teacher wanted painting to be fun so she put out many colors. But the boy only painted red flowers with green leaves in neat rows.

 Children need freedom of expression, especially young children who are just exploring and learning. Provide lots of materials to explore art, such as paper, markers, crayons, paint, scissors, and glue. Show children how to use the materials, but not what to make or create. Talk to the child and ask questions about what they are creating. When a child is given an example of the end product or told what to create, she doesn’t have room to make choices, to explore, or to learn. When children follow an adult model of art, what results, is children who don’t have confidence in their own abilities to explore and the result is red flowers with green leaves in neat rows.

 Posted by julie on Tuesday, February 02, 2010 6:45 PM