I've heard the phrase "process over product" to describe art activities. What does this phrase mean, and how can child care providers tell whether an art activity is process-focused or product-focused?

Young children love to create art, but they tend to focus much more on the process of creating and are not as interested in the finished product. It’s important for child care providers to realize that many young children may not want to keep their artwork once it’s finished or may not even be able to identify which piece they created. This doesn’t mean the activity was a failure; it simply means that the child focused on the process but did not care about the final product. The focus in art activities should generally be on how the child is creating, the feelings of the movements she’s making with her arm, what the paint looks like on the paper, how the colors combine, and other “process” activities.

Art activities that focus on creating a specific product by copying a model or activities in which everyone is expected to create things exactly the same way are more product-focused. The challenge with product-focused activities is that they limit children’s creativity. When children are expected to copy a model, especially if it’s made by an adult, they may become frustrated because their product does not look like the model and may decide that they are “not good at art.”

Young children grow as artists and develop creativity when they have open-ended art activities that allow them to explore and create whatever their imaginations suggest. Be sure your art program includes an appropriate balance of process and product focus.

For more information, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care article on Balancing Process and Product in Creative Art Activities.