Today let’s talk all about the importance of open ended art materials for preschoolers. As a parent, it can be tempting to stick to the tried-and-true crayons and markers. I know cleaning up paint and clay on top of everything else is an extra chore, but hear me out. Offering a variety of materials can make a huge difference in your little one’s creative expression and overall development.

preschooler painting using unusual materials in his process art- red paint and bubble wrap to stamp the paint onto paper
Using bubble wrap to stamp paint onto paper

What is open ended art?

First, let’s define what we mean by “open ended art,” aka “process art.” Open ended art is all about the creative process rather than the end product. The focus is on exploration, experimentation, and discovery rather than a “perfect” looking final project. This approach allows children to freely express themselves and build confidence in their own abilities.

Click here to read more about open ended art vs product art

What materials do you need for your preschooler’s open ended art projects?

Now, let’s talk materials. By offering a range of materials, you’re providing opportunities for children to engage with all kinds of different textures, colors, and forms of expression.

Here are some materials to incorporate into your child’s art activities:


Whether it’s watercolors, acrylics, or finger paints, paint is a must in any art space. Painting allows children to try color mixing, brush strokes, and different painting techniques. It also provides a sensory experience as children feel the cool paint on their hands and see the colors blend together.

If your children are much younger or have younger siblings that may try tasting the paint, you can always try “painting” with pudding! Just add a little food coloring. It’s messy, but cleans up easily with a wet rag,


Sculpting with clay is a great way for children to build fine motor skills and explore three-dimensional forms. Clay can be molded, rolled, and shaped. It can be stamped with different items from around the house, like Duplo’s or toy cars. It’s also great for increasing hand strength, which gets kids ready for using scissors and writing.

Collage materials

Collage materials can include *anything* from scraps of paper to fabric to natural materials like leaves and flowers. Collaging allows children to create texture and layering effects, and also provides opportunities to discuss different shapes and patterns. And, of course, kids LOVE being able to use all the glue. If they have trouble squeezing the glue bottle, the jumbo purple Elmer’s Washable School Glue Sticks are great for little hands. The purple makes it easy to see where it’s been spread, and then dries clear.

Markers and crayons

While these may seem like basic materials, they offer a lot of flexibility in terms of color and line quality. Children can use them to make big, bold, graphic drawings or try shading effects. And kids STILL get excited about the first time they get a big box of colors with the sharpener. Trust me!

Found objects

Found objects are everyday items that can be incorporated into art projects. Think bottle caps, buttons, and plastic utensils. Incorporating found objects encourages children to look at everyday objects in a new way and promotes resourcefulness. Use the contents of your recycling bin too! Cereal boxes flattened out make great cardboard canvases. If you still read the newspaper, be sure to use it to cover the workspace for easy cleanup.

Click here to read about my favorite washable art products

How do these open ended art materials help support your preschooler’s development?

In addition to the creative benefits, offering a variety of materials also supports children’s development in other ways. For example:

1. Fine motor skills

Using materials like paint, clay, and markers requires small, precise movements that help develop hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

2. Sensory experiences

The tactile nature of many art materials provides a sensory experience that can be calming and soothing for children.

3. Language development

Art activities provide opportunities for children to describe their creations and talk about the materials they used. Ask them what they are making – they will be happy to tell you!

4. Problem-solving

Engaging in art activities encourages children to think creatively and come up with solutions to design challenges.

Click here to read more about the benefits of process art

Overall, a variety of open ended art materials provides a wealth of benefits for preschoolers. By offering a range of materials and focusing on the creative process, you’re fostering a love of exploration and discovery that will serve your child well throughout their lives.

Finally, when it comes to open ended art, it’s important to remember that the focus is on the process, not the end result. So don’t worry if your child’s creation doesn’t look like a Pinterest-perfect masterpiece. The goal is for them to enjoy the experience of creating and exploring new materials.

So go ahead, break out the paints and clay and see what your little one comes up with!


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