Today we’re going to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: process art (open ended art) vs product art. As a mom of three (ranging from preschool to high school), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my different approaches introducing them to art making.

In this post, we’ll explore the difference between process art and product art, and why open ended art is more valuable for preschoolers. We’ll also discuss how to shift the focus from the end product to the process of art making, and how to celebrate children’s unique and individual creations. Let’s get started!

preschool child painting a coral red color onto a small white canvas - demonstrating open ended art

What is Open ended art?

Open ended art, also called process art is an approach to art making that emphasizes the creative process over the end product. In open ended art, the focus is on exploration, experimentation, and self-expression. Children are encouraged to use a variety of materials and techniques to create their own unique and individual works of art. There is no right or wrong way to make art in this approach, and the goal is not to create a specific-looking end product, but rather to enjoy the process of creating.

Some examples of activities include:

  • Finger painting
  • Drawing with markers or crayons
  • Playdough sculpting
  • Exploring sensory materials like sand, water, or shaving cream

Click here to read about the importance of open ended art materials for preschoolers

What is Product Art?

Product art, on the other hand, is an approach to art making that emphasizes the end product over the creative process. In product art, children are given a specific task or project to complete, with a predetermined outcome in mind. The focus is on creating a finished product that meets certain standards or expectations, rather than on the process of creating.

Examples of activities include:

  • Making a specific craft project, like a paper plate mask or a tissue paper flower
  • Following step-by-step instructions to create a specific art project
  • Copying a model or example of a specific art project

Why is open ended art more valuable in preschool?

While both process art and product art have their place in art education, open ended art is generally considered more valuable for preschoolers’ learning and growth. Here’s why:

  1. Encourages Creativity and Self-Expression

Open ended art allows children to explore their creativity and express themselves freely. They are not limited by specific instructions or expectations, and they are free to experiment and try new things. This can help boost their self-confidence and encourage them to think outside the box.

  1. Develops Fine Motor Skills

The act of using different materials and tools in open ended art activities can help develop fine motor skills in preschoolers. They learn to hold a paintbrush or marker, manipulate playdough, and use scissors to cut paper. These skills will be important for future academic and life activities, such as writing and using tools.

  1. Fosters Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking

Open ended art encourages children to think critically and problem-solve on their own. They are not given a specific outcome to achieve, so they have to think about how to use materials and techniques to achieve the result they want. This can help foster independence and self-reliance in preschoolers.

  1. Celebrates Individuality and Uniqueness

Open ended art celebrates the individuality and uniqueness of each child’s art. Because there is no right or wrong way to create, each child’s work is valued for its own sake. This can help boost self-esteem and promote a positive attitude towards creativity and self-expression.

Click here to read about exploring color and texture in process art

How to shift the focus from product art to open ended art in preschool

If you’re used to doing product art vs open ended activities with your preschooler, it can be challenging to make the shift. Here are some tips to help you make the transition:

  1. Provide a variety of materials

Instead of giving your child a specific project or activity to complete, provide open-ended materials like paper, paint, markers, and glue. Let them explore and create without any specific outcome in mind.

  1. Follow their lead

Watch and observe as your child creates, and follow their lead. Ask questions and encourage them to talk about what they’re doing and why. This can help foster creativity and self-expression.

  1. Emphasize the process, not the product

Instead of focusing on the end result, emphasize the process of creating. Ask your child about the different materials and techniques they’re using, and encourage them to experiment and try new things.

  1. Celebrate their unique creations

When your child completes an open ended art activity in preschool, celebrate their unique creation. Focus on the effort they put in, rather than the end result. Display their artwork proudly and encourage them to talk about what they made.

Click here for 10 open ended art activities for preschoolers

In conclusion, open ended art and product art are different approaches to art making, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. While product art can be a fun way to create specific projects and crafts, open ended art is more valuable for preschoolers’ learning and growth. It encourages creativity, self-expression, fine motor skill development, problem-solving, critical thinking, and individuality.

Remember, the process of creating is just as important as the end result. By encouraging your child to explore and experiment with different materials and techniques, you can help them develop important skills and abilities that will serve them well in school and beyond. So why not try an open ended art activity with your preschooler today and see where their creativity takes them? Happy creating!


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