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.
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....