Saturday, February 4, 2012

Making the transition from product to process focused art

By Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed of Teach Preschool

Debbie Clement recently wrote a terrific article on the topic of Product versus Process art where she creatively and clearly clarifies the difference between the two approaches and then goes on to describe the value of process-focused art in the preschool classroom...


The transition to move from product-focused to process-focused art isn't an easy task for many, if not most, teachers in the preschool classroom and there are many reasons why. Let's take a look at those reasons and see what can be done to help smooth the transition from product-focused to process-focused art...



A lack of experience with process-focused art
For those who lack experience with process-focused art, it can seem overwhelming and non-productive at first. To provide quality process-focused art experiences for young children, you have to start at the beginning and invite the children to simply explore the materials you provide. As the children are given the freedom and time to explore the materials, their skills and abilities to constructively manage and creatively use those materials will build over time.


You also have to understand where your children are developmentally so you can plan processes that they will want to try. In order to keep young children engaged in the process, you have to come up with ideas that are age appropriate, inviting, and interesting. Coming up with successful process-focused art experiences takes commitment, effort, time, and lots of trial and error along the way.



The inability to justify the process
Another reason teachers struggle with transitioning from product to process-focused art is the inability to justify the process. Trying to explain to parents why most of the artwork coming home looks like one big blob after another can be difficult. One tip that will help with this is to start with the planning phase. When planning an art activity, answer the question; "what will the children do?" instead of "what will the children make?" This will help you focus on the process and then talk about the process with others.


The next time an adult walks in the classroom and says, "What did the children make today?" You  will be prepared to say, "The children figured out that..." or "We are making great progress on..." or "We explored the use of..."  Describing the process will naturally lead to a discussion on what the children learned or gained from the process and keeps the conversations open ended and focused on growth and development. Answering the question with "We made a tree today" pretty much wraps up any real potential for an exciting conversation about growth and development...



The internal struggle
Another part of transitioning is recognizing and managing the internal struggle to control the art experience. Perhaps you like the artwork on your wall to look a certain way. Perhaps you have certain expectations about how the children should use the materials you set out. Perhaps you love something you saw on Pinterest so much that you want to reproduce the exact same artwork.

In order to transition from product to process-focused art, you have to start by reflecting on your own attitudes about the role of art in your classroom.  Is the art experience in your classroom about what you need or is it about what the children need? Is the art experience in your classroom about what you love or is it about what the children  love? Is the art experience in your classroom guided by what you find easy to clean up and manage or is it guided by what will keep the children engaged, challenged, and interested....



My personal experience in the transition to process-focused art
Implementing process-focused art has been a fairly new experience for me this school year and I learn something new every day.  There are days when I don't get it exactly right, but my students are so processed-oriented now that they quickly remind me of what really matters to them.

I have watched my students go from sampling the materials to embracing the materials. I have watched my students go from using too much glue on everything to self-regulating the amount of glue they need to complete a process.  I have watched my students go from mixing every color of paint on the table to selectively mixing the colors to produce a desired result.

We have higher level conversations about about our artwork than I have ever had or even thought of having before in a preschool classroom.  One of my students said it best last week while we were exploring a new kind of easel painting. She said, "Wow, we are like real artists" and as I watched them paint, I had to agree - they were truly were like real artists.


If you would like to see more about what our classroom is exploring, I invite you to join me over at Teach Preschool.
Teach Preschool

By the way, I highly recommend these plastic bottles (pictured below) for painting with your students. I have been using them all year long and absolutely love them.  I purchased mine from Walmart in the kitchen utensil isle....

21 comments:

  1. Great post and tips! Moving from product to process can be challenging. Sometimes old habits are hard to break, but the benefits to the children are so worth it!

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    1. They are very hard to break - it takes a shift in thinking and prioritizing!

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  2. This is such a great post! It is hard to do with students, but it is so much better for THEM to be fully involved in the process. My daughter is always so proud of everything she makes and no matter what it comes out looking like I always praise her and the art she made. :) I'd love to share this on my blog. If you are interested please email me at totshop728 at yahoo dot com.

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    1. It is so much fun to see young children excited about the art process! It is kind of contagious!

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  3. Great suggestions, Deborah. (And great photos!) I'm often amazed at the techniques and ideas that kids come up with by exploring art materials. And their own products are sometimes pretty impressive.

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    1. I agree - my students have reached a new level in their painting right now and I just watch them in amazement!

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  4. Process focused art provides an opportunity for a much more language rich environment. I taught art to years 1 -7 for the first time this year and it took them a while to realise that I wasn't going to give them something to reproduce but rather interpret and express their own feelings. Hey we didn't have perfect pictures but lots of engaged children. Although there are always those kids that can't handle this because it doesn't come out perfect. That's why it's important to start in preschool. Love ya work!

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    1. Thank you Trina - It is interesting to me to know that there are children out there that don't know how to express their own ideas or feelings or even preferences through art. It shows that it does take experience in the early years so children develop the confidence they need.

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  5. What a great description of your observations, not only of the children as they experience more process-oriented creative activities, but also of your own learning. Thank you for being so transparent and humble about your willingness to stretch yourself as a teacher - what a great attitude to model for the many, MANY teachers you influence, Deborah! And I SO love the quote from the little artist that you ended with - what a motivator!

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    1. Thank you Kathy - I got the biggest kick out of hearing her say this. She said exactly what I was thinking but realized it herself and I was truly blessed in that moment.

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  6. Thanks Deborah for taking the time to point out your personal experience with process-based creating. Getting into the process and having children and adults experience the guts of it leads to so much learning and changes the perspective of how we see and live life. Thank you so much for your words and thoughts!

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    1. Yes, it does Enrique. It is so interesting how letting the children explore the process this year has changed me:)

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  7. Great stuff. I had to fight against my co-teachers and confused/unhappy parents on this topic a lot when I worked in child care. It isn't about a beautiful end product! My own son now seems to discover something new or a fresh way of doing a painting project every time he does art. It is fascinating and beautiful to watch. I'm sharing this with my readers on Facebook for sure!

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    1. Thank you for sharing Jen. It is interesting to me how the idea of process art is so fully accepted by most people but the acceptance comes more as a good idea and less as a real way of teaching.

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  8. Deborah- I love this! I think the initial attempts to go down a new path are always the most difficult! This is such an important change in viewing what is important for young children and you've offered such great ideas for those who are just beginning that journey!

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    1. I still feel like I am very much just beginning this journey and because of my own struggles, I suspect many others have the same:)

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  9. I always find it difficult to explain to some adults that I don't care what a childs art work looks like as long as they are having fun creating! They are always so focused on getting their creatives to look like 'something'! Great post Deborah!

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    1. I have worked on my ability to "share the process" with others when I talk about children's art. This seems to naturally get parents excited about the potential of their children's art and less focused on the product of children's art..

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  10. Great post, Deborah! I love your comment about justifying kids coming home with "one big blob after another"! Your suggestions for talking about the children's art are awesome. I pinned your post to my Kids' Art Projects Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/kids-art-projects/

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  11. I fight with this one myself. I had great child development teachers who loved process above all. It was drilled into me and yet I still fall into the product mode in the name of trying convey a theme. The parents much rather a product. I on the other hand tend to throw out the product art my children bring home and cherish and keep the process art. It give so much insite to each child's development and thought process. Product is okay at times, but the process is more important. I have to keep reminding myself of this.

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  12. Great post. You know the expression, "If you build it they will come?" If we provide a variety of materials they will create. I think it's more a matter of enlightening the parents (and other teachers, librarians, etc.)The adults are the challenge!

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