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Preschool Art:
"It's the Process, Not the Product" Or is it?

Crafts vs. Art and Process vs. Product by Debra Purvis

How many of you as providers/teachers/administrators have worked so hard with a “cute” project with the children only to have parents throw it in the floor in the car or stuff it in a back pack? OR even worse, hand it to the child who dismantles it right in front of you and the parent says “Oh well, it’s his/hers” and you know all that means is that they don’t have to find a place to display it.
Over my many years of working with children I’ve come to realize that most parents tend to like/enjoy/want “projects”…those that look like what they start out to be. They can display it proudly and say “look what my child can do!” Many times it’s been a step by step effort, closely directed by an adult who’s decision it is as to what is done to the project and when it’s complete, very little of it constitutes imagination or invention on the part of the child…in other words it’s a special craft and if you covered the names it would be hard to tell which one belonged to which child or if it were indeed the pattern that was followed.
Now don’t get me wrong, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with craft projects, they do teach the children to turn out the product that is expected of them by following directions and staying within expected parameters. As adults we’ve all followed directions all our life, and turned out finished products that may not be our personal skill level but because of the instructions and early preparation of the materials to be used, it becomes a very nice item to be proud of and one that took time and effort to complete.
In the 1970’s coloring books were discouraged by many because it was thought to inhibit children’s creativity and natural abilities, we did a lot of craft like projects because it was expected-we still did a lot of rote style teaching in those days. In the following decade or two it was thought that they (color books/sheets) were ok if the children also had times where they were given blank paper and mixed media to explore and create with because it began to teach them to follow directions and self control, but the need to see the finished product still was pretty important. Now with the turn of the century I think it’s become a matter of which expert you decide is the most pertinent as to what the going opinion is.
As an early childhood professional of over 40 years let me say that things within the childcare field change and evolve nearly every day. So, what is more important; product or process? I believe that this again would be a matter of opinion, some query as to how we are to know what they are learning if we don’t have finished product to observe and evaluate.
Others believe, especially with children not yet of school age, that the observation should be of the process and what is accomplished along the way. And I would agree with both. By taking the middle of the road we can see that the child is capable of turning out a finished product when and if necessary, no matter the media or end result. I’ve seen children draw masterpieces on chalkboards with no obvious way to save it. So, we take a picture of it, print it out and presto-the masterpiece is now hardcopy! They have their finished product…or at least proof it exists.
Who is that important to? It is a matter of pride to the child, the parent can see that there was a process and I suppose it is just as important to us as teachers so we can say “look what your child has learned today.” The process is the exploration and learning of the skill to accomplish the product. The product is the final step in knowing that the child has completed that effort and is ready to move on to something else. Whether the product is put in the trash, displayed with pride or laid to the side really is insignificant against how the child made the decision of what to do with his/her product.
Often, we are baffled as to why they choose to do what they do…but after all…it is their creation and it is up to them if it is worthy of more than the recycle can. Truth be told those more modern art style creations most parents tend to disregard because they don’t understand or know what went in to the creation of that project, they have no idea what thought process or action was occurring as that piece of art developed. To them it’s either scribbles, unrecognizable figures or items on the page and looks like the 30 others the child has created in days previous. It’s up to us as childcare professionals to know what that picture is of, what the process or mood was and why it is what it is. We are the interpreters, and when the parents understand what caused/prompted/brought about that artwork they are more likely to be interested to understand what it is all about.
And that is the first stage of opening communication between child and parent which often is what the art was all about in the first place. So, which is more important…the process or the product? To me both are representations of what that child is interested in at that time, what stage he/she is in that development, which may be the only key to what is going on in that busy little mind at that exact time and place.
As a conclusion let me say that every little thing a child creates, whether it’s a craft, a project or open art/writing/expression assists in giving that child a firm foundation to the rest of his/her life. If he/she is stifled with only preset ideas as to what he or she will be creating the child may become afraid of exploration and creating something on their own. But if he/she is left to create with no guidelines or set ideas as to what can be created the self concept of the child will find it difficult to follow direction, have little self control and never be sure what he/she is creating is what others are expecting.
Although we want freedom of creation for our children, we also want them to know that there are times we do things to go along with what is expected of us. So, again which is more important the process or the product? Well I’d say it depends on the day and the desired outcome of the experience…and either way, both will be a great learning experience if handled professionally and with the understanding that not everyone sees the same cloud in the same way every time.

Related Articles:
Creative Art : Process Not Product
Preschool Art: It’s the Process, Not the Productt
Preschool Process and Product Art Defined
Early Childhood Art: "It's the Process Not the Product," Right?

Debra Purvis is Director and Lead Teacher and original co-founder of “K-AG!”. Debra has worked in the Early Childhood field officially since 1972 working with young children professionally and all ages personally through organizations her own children were involved in, Church and County programs.
She has a Child Development Associate Certification from the National Credentialing Program, Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from MACC and graduating with honors, A Bachelor’s Degree in Human Developmental Studies with Emphasis on Children and Families from Stephens College graduating Magna Cum Laude, and is half way to completion of a Masters Degree (Masters of Strategic Leadership). She holds countless (literally thousands) of training hours in the childcare field, holds certification by the State of MO to direct any facility over 100+, and has held a CPR-Child/Adult First Aid certification for 39 years as well. Debra holds certification in the Creative Curriculum, and Devereux Early Childhood Initiative to assess children’s social-emotional health and resilience (insuring they are successful within their own environments).

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