Have you ever looked at a piece of art your child brought home from school and wondered what the point was?
A Googly Eye-Opening Experience
My kid and I used to attend craft time at the library. Generally, the teacher provided a sample of the project, and the children would try to copy it as closely as possible. Like many kids, mine would start to get frustrated that her project didn’t look like the teacher’s, and I’d swoop in to “correct” it. We’d come home with a cute but uninspired object that ended up in the recycling.
Once I was busy chatting with another parent and realized that my kid had been working away contentedly and eagerly for a while. Instead of making a kitty cat like everybody else (with the regular number of eyes, ears and appendages), she was engrossed in covering the entire thing with googly eyes and star stickers. I reached toward her…..and stopped. She was doing something new and having a great time! It was her very own art, and it turned out super weird-looking and cool.
How Albany Preschool Does Art Well
When my kid started at Albany Preschool, I noticed a different approach to art. The sheer volume of her projects went up, as well as the range of colors, loose pieces and materials (feathers?!) on them. More importantly, she was actually proud of her creations, asking us to put them up on the wall as soon as we came home.
Helping out as a parent participator let me see just how APS approaches art. There is no 15-minute “art time” where children sit down, hurry through and produce a copy of the sample (the “art as a receipt for childcare” approach). At APS, the art table is open; the artistic techniques and materials are introduced during circle time, and all are invited to come by the table. Children join in when they want to, and enjoy spending time making their creations. It’s fascinating to see what different works result. Some students are already developing their signature styles.
Process-focused versus Product-focused Art
Teacher Nancy and I were chatting one day, and she mentioned that there was a big difference between process-focused and product-focused art. I’d never heard of the distinction before, but that conversation was the start of a journey for me as a parent. Here’s what the difference is, and why it matters.
- Step-by-step instructions are provided, even a teacher-created sample to copy
- Child feels frustrated if it doesn’t turn out “ right” and asks to be done with art or to have mistakes fixed
- Child learns to follow specific instructions and to copy a sample
- Results all look the same
- No “right” way to do it; open-ended play; “see what happens” approach encourages curiosity, imagination, innovation
- Focuses on experiencing and exploring materials and tools, even adding new ones along the way
- Child feels invested and successful, with a sense of ownership, and may be more interested in discussing or displaying the art
- Child learns to problem solve, test theories, think outside the box, explore and create
- Results are original (and sometimes surprising)
What I’ve Learned
Kids are natural innovators. I might sit mine down for “art time” and hope she makes something that we can frame for Grandma’s present. But she’s more interested in mixing the paint colors together and seeing what they look like on anything but the white paper I provided (her skin! the table! the dog!) She wants to see what else will stick in a blob of paint, or to explore the effect of adding lots of wadded-up masking tape. When it comes to art, I’m learning to provide the environment and an array of materials (a big workspace, music, and lots of colored paper, glue, paint, loose pieces), and then… I try to step back.
I’m so grateful that my kid is encountering art at Albany Preschool, where our wonderful teachers are intentional about emphasizing process over product. That’s a big deal. Because it’s not about producing something pretty enough to hang on the wall, it’s about my child’s precious process of exploration, innovation and expression.
“You won’t damage children by going off on these side trips of paper plate fish or hand print creations, but you won’t be giving them the best quality experience either.”
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