What is Process Art and Why Is It Important?

Young children love to draw and create, but often get frustrated by their inability to produce something that resembles the vision in their head.  Their art becomes representational – a line stands in for an animal, a winding trail across the page reflects the movements of their subject, as though the artwork is a story in motion rather than a snapshot in time.  Often the work morphs into something else entirely requiring the attention of an engaged listener to unravel the complexities of what has turned a blank page into something quite extraordinary.  What you have just witnessed is the creation of a piece of “Process Art”.

Process art is exactly what you think – it’s all about the process and not the finished product.  It doesn’t have to resemble anything you’ve ever seen before.  Eyes don’t have to appear in pairs, or the colors constrained inside meandering lines.  In fact, it doesn’t have to be recognizable at all.  This type of art thrives without boundaries and its only requirement is that the artist is enjoying the creative process.

Process art is developmentally appropriate for preschoolers and kindergarteners who have yet to acquire the fine motor skills and self-awareness to represent objects accurately. At this stage, children enjoy experimenting with art media and found objects to better understand what they are and what they can do.  These open-ended activities inspire curiosity and encourage sensory exploration.  Research is clear: creativity flourishes when it is pursued for its own enjoyment.

This type of art is also rich in concrete, developmentally appropriate skills:

  • coordination and fine motor control
  • spacial reasoning
  • sensory exploration
  • cognitive development through planning, comparison and problem-solving
  • social and emotional maturation through increased focus, collaboration with others and feeling pride and success.

How can you encourage process art at home with your child?

  1. Provide time and opportunities to create at home by offering a variety of tools and materials such as colored paper, recyclables, scissors, glue, tape, paint, yarn, crayons, clay etc.
  2. Forget about getting it right! The freedom to make mistakes, express themselves and take risks are the priorities.  Refrain from assigning meaning to the art which robs the child of the opportunity to evaluate his or her own work.
  3. Let the work be child-driven without a finished form in mind. Exploration and discovery guide this artform with originality and free thinking, not imitation, being the goal.

Let your child play, learn, experiment, grow.  Sit back.  Your kid has got this!

Article by Virginia Ward, STEAM Teacher at Sammamish Montessori School, BA. Ed./Special Ed., BA Anthropology, MPA.
Virginia brings decades of experience teaching in countries all over the globe, harnesses her degrees in Primary and Special Education and Anthropology, and taps into her amazing creativity, humor and excitement for life to help STEAM students to explore arts, science, math and more.

Mrs. Ward and students collaborating on a sculpture with free form stick, moss, beads, thread, etc.

Color mixing and exploration with marbles.

Collectively creating a sculpture.

Imagining a castle.

Color mixing paint.

A collaborative weaving and found materials hanging sculpture.

Making art with found natural objects.

Felting and sewing collaborative textile art.

Collaborating on a hanging multimedia sculpture.


Related articles and resources about the importance of creativity and art for young children:

How Process-Focused Art Experiences Support Preschoolers

Benefits of Arts for Kids

The Importance of “Open-Ended” Art in Child Development

100 Invitations to Build – found materials to spark creativity


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