The Process of Art: What Do I Say?

Guest Blog by Jacki Leader

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya Angelou

Our field has come a long way in what we consider art for young children. In the past, the art tended to be cookie cutter models, with each child’s art project looking near identical to their classmates.  As I work with teachers and visit early childhood classrooms, I have seen more and more process-oriented art and less art that looks cookie cutter perfect. I love this shift in what I am seeing.  I have worked with many teachers to help them understand that the process of doing the art is more important than the end product, and on how to develop process-oriented art experiences.  This process-oriented art increases creativity and problem solving in young children.

While many teachers have embraced this shift to more creative avenues of art, they are often still unsure of how to interact with children during art projects.  Feedback tends to be in the form of generic “good jobs” to overused praise such as “I love your picture”.    The problem with “good job” is that the child is unsure what they did that was “good”.  The “I love your picture” praise also is problematic.  When we tell children how much we love what they did, the children tend to become praise junkies.  They develop a high need to get approval on what they did from an adult.  You may be struggling right now thinking that this is the type of feedback you give children during art.  If these techniques are not the best, then what should you say? Here are some tips to help you become a pro at interacting with children during process-oriented art experiences:

Focus on the process:

Since the process is more important in the artwork than the end product, comment on what the children are doing.

  • “That is an interesting pattern, how did you make it?”
  • “I see some different colors here, how did you decide what colors to use and where to use them?”
  • “I saw you were having a hard time getting the pieces to stick together, what finally worked?”

Discuss  and explore the materials:

Having a variety of art materials available for the children to use inspires the children to be creative.  Sometimes the children are unsure about what the materials can be used for.  Consider talking with them about different types of materials and how they could use the materials in their artwork.

  • “What type of material is this? What could we use it for?”
  • “Today we are going to use finger paint. How is the finger paint different from the paint we normally use? How does it feel?”
  • “We have tape, bottle glue and a glue stick, what might work best to stick your materials together?”

Interact during each step of their art making session:

Each step of the art making session provides for opportunities to talk with the children, inspire and enhance their ideas.

  • In the beginning ask the children what they plan on making, what materials they may need, and what their first steps will be.
  • While the children work, focus on what they are doing, what problems they may be having, and how they solved the problems.
  • After they have completed their masterpiece have the child describe their artwork. What did they enjoy about making the artwork? Ask the child if they want to display their artwork in the classroom or take it home.

Finally, if you are ever at a loss for words when a child shows you his/her artwork, one of the best things to say is “Tell me about your picture”.

Up or Down the Slide?

Guest Blog by Jacki Leader

Every time I am at a playground, whether it be at a school or in a community park, an interesting phenomenon occurs. Children of all ages try to climb up the slides.  If we stop and reflect on this phenomenon it makes sense.  There is a sense of thrill and excitement when you try to climb up a slide. It might be a gentle slope of a small slide being conquered by a toddler or the twists of a tornado slide by a school ager.

As you witness this phenomenon, there is an echo of voices saying “stop, we don’t climb up the slide, we slide down”. The chant is given by teachers and parents all over the country. There is a reason why we hear these reminders on the playground, we need to keep the children safe. It can be quite dangerous for a child to climb up a slide as another child is sliding down.

However, if we reflect on the purpose of this behavior, the children are not trying to be unsafe. They instead are trying to take a risk and climb to the “top of the mountain” to conquer a new goal.

Safety, however, is always a factor so are there benefits to allowing the children to climb up the slides, and if so, how can we keep them safe?

The benefits of climbing up slides encompass multiple developmental domains:

  • Children gain confidence in their abilities.
  • Children build perseverance every time they try, fail, and try again.
  • Children gain self-confidence and pride when they finally to succeed in making it up to the top.
  • Children develop and refine their gross motor muscles as they climb an incline.
  • Children problem solve and try new techniques in their efforts to get to the top.

While all of these are valid benefits, we still must make sure to keep the children safe. Is there a way to do this and let them try to climb up a slide? Careful planning and conversations with all staff are important aspects when deciding if you can allow this behavior.  Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Have a designated time that children can go up the slide. Make sure the children are aware of when they can climb up.
  • Post up and down arrows so the children know which way they can do the slide.
  • Have staff members close by when children are allowed to climb up the slide to provide support and safety.
  • If you have multiple slides consider rotating the slides to up slides for the day.

You may not have the ability to allow the children to climb up the slide but hopefully this blog has given you some things to consider.