Art as a Process, Not Just a Product for Young Children

Posted by Judy Witmer, Mar 21, 2013 6 comments

Judy Witmer Judy Witmer

About 5.5 years ago, the Chief Operating Officer and Owner of Hildebrandt Learning Centers (HLC), Bill Grant, offered me the trip of a lifetime, a visit to the Reggio Emilia Schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. These programs in Italy are known as to be some of the best early care and learning programs worldwide from which many early care and learning programs strive to emulate or incorporate aspects of this program into their own.

To be able to experience firsthand something that I had read and studied for years was inspiring. At the heart of the Reggio Emilia approach is the belief that children are competent, capable, curious, and able to actively participate in their own learning versus a “blank” slate waiting to be filled with information.

The curriculum is flexible and emerges from the interests, thoughts, and observations of the children. The teachers become researchers and participate side by side in the child’s explorations, providing opportunities, materials and a framework from which children can explore ideas, problem solve, and project conclusions.

The approach is a lot more comprehensive than this quick synopsis, but HLC early care and learning programs embrace many of the same principles and is based on the teachings of educational philosophers, such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Howard Gardner, etc. which are also the foundation for the Reggio Emilia approach

Watching the children totally immersed and engaged in their own learning totally inspired my team’s desire to become more committed as a company to this approach. We began with more home-like environments with many open-ended materials (i.e. tubes, balls, boxes, clay, art medium, etc.) in aesthetic environments capturing the curiosity of the children.

As children explore and learn, they begin to share use of paper, crayons, paint, clay, and a multitude of art medium in which to express their thoughts and ideas. These art works or drawings are the beginning of symbolic language which we call writing. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia Schools, talks about the “100 languages” or many ways children can represent their ideas, thoughts, and theories.

Creativity through the arts (art, creative expression, movement, dramatic play, puppets, blocks, music and more) is a critical part of our curriculum and interwoven throughout the daily schedule as is in the Reggio Emilia centers.

We view art as the process or inquiry-based rather than the product which might be hung on a refrigerator or wall. The way children explore the art medium or tools is as important as the final product. Children participate in ways to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

As teaching staff provides a variety of art medium or open-ended materials from, children can explore, manipulate, and create. Children explore textures, color, movement, lines, space, light which provides opportunities for dialogue and collaboration with other children and adults.

Children’s drawings and creations, dance or body movements, music, or story telling share insights into their thoughts, beliefs, discoveries and problem-solving. Teachers can guide this development to higher levels of thinking or exploration with open-ended questions i.e. “I wonder why…” or “Tell me about those squiggly lines…”

We also encourage teaching staff to use the children’s work and documentation panels to inform parents and the community about the learning and the experiences of children in our programs.

We view this inspiration by the Reggio Emilia schools as a journey of learning and implementation of an emergent curriculum that is taking place over an extended period of time building upon the relationships with young children and families. As we build on these relationships, we find ways to create connections between ideas and learning.

Our curriculum is becoming steeped in building on the interests of children i.e. discovering worms on the sidewalk after a heavy rain or a “sprout” poking its head through the earth. Light, shadows, and projects of interest of which children can touch, see, hear, manipulate become the central focus of the child’s curriculum.

These activities become the foundation for learning i.e. seeing patterns or shapes (math), symbols or descriptive language (literacy), collaborations with other children and adults problem-solving (social-emotional), caring for the art media (self-help and responsibility) and more.

Watching children engaged with other children and materials, asking questions, sharing stories, and loving learning is priceless. These children are tomorrow’s leaders. All children deserve the highest quality early care and learning and programs that focus on their needs.

I am thrilled to be a very small part of this fascinating education system at Hildebrandt Learning Centers for children beginning at birth through kindergarten as well as before and after school care.

6 responses for Art as a Process, Not Just a Product for Young Children


May 02, 2013 at 7:26 am

This is the foundation needed to cultivate the future and begin a creative process of thinking, I believe, necessary to succeed in higher education for many types of people. Something, I think is somewhat lacking in schools in America.I have come up against the product versus process phenomena recently being an early childhood education major.

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Terri Parmer says
April 15, 2013 at 6:42 am

I feel we have done our national education system a grave disservice by removing or limiting the arts in our schools for the sake of test scores or budgetary concerns. A good education is a well rounded education. We must wake up and stop giving lip service to education and do what is right by our children. I have come up against the product versus process phenomena recently being an early childhood education major. I have been placed two days a week in a second grade class. The arts and drawing are not given much time in this class. When I proposed my art lesson to my placement teacher she indicated that she would love to have something to put into the hall. When this approach is taken the focus is removed from the child and placed on the product. When teaching my lesson I tried to keep it as process driven as possible while still getting something my teacher wanted. I gave them geometric shapes and told them to make it look anyway they wanted. I have to say they did a great job but the idea of product was still there. I would love to be given the freedom to teach a strictly process driven lesson without the product driven aspect looming in the background and I know that someday I will be able to do so.

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Vincent Warner says
April 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I am currently a Early Childhood Education major at the University of West Georgia. I believe it is important not to set limitations to our students creativity. If we constantly tell our students that a finished product must look a certain way then what are they learning? Anyone can go and copy a work of art and be finished, but to let our students create something unique with no boundaries is truly art. This way we can tell so much more about the student and how life, school, and their surroundings affect them. The finished product, especially in lower grade levels, should not be the basis of a activity. Letting our students experience new things on their own is the only way to help students freely voice their opinions. If we as educators can stop getting caught up in the finished product and learn from our students process then maybe we can learn how to better service our students.

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Corey Honey says
April 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I am currently working towards my Bachelors of Science in Early Education. This approach is exactly what the University I attend is moving towards. I believe this approach to the arts is exactly the way it should be done. What do children gain by creating the exact same thing their teacher did? nothing, they gain nothing; and they are left feeling like they have no place or room to express themselves openly. It is truly a shame that it has taken this long for education to catch up to the needs of its students. It is my dream that one day, every classroom across the entire globe sees the importance of the process-centered approach and throws the product-centered approach out the window.

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Taylor Tate says
March 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

This is the foundation needed to cultivate the future and begin a creative process of thinking, I believe, necessary to succeed in higher education for many types of people. Something, I think is somewhat lacking in schools in America, or at least the ones I have been around. I remember being in preschool and wanting less structure, yes there was time for creativity and it was encouraged, but there was also a time schedule of trying to pump information into kids at such a young age in hopes that the information becomes understanding (which is really mostly just memorization not knowledge). Getting into the higher education and then it seems to be little or no hope in using creativity with learning. In fact, in many of my classes it was a discouraged way of thinking. I do fully believe a more creative approach to school and the embrace of creativity at a young can make a huge difference and impact in a life. I only wish that more people would recognize this approach, not only in a young age to where a foundation can begin, but that this idea be recognized in higher education as well, that it is possible to use a creative approach to a very mechanical class.

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Tamara Davis says
April 04, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I completely agree, with you Taylor. I have heard much about the Reggio Approach here lately, and what an amazing approach and learning process it sounds like!...but only to have title waves of pressure to conform into a process of non-thinking and only information memorization and regurgitation? I agree that all higher levels of education:primary,secondary, and collegiate education desperately need to be ripped up, re-thought, revolutionized, and completely re-created with this same student-interest based approach. Definitely glad that belief in and support of this, and similar kinds of approaches(research-based)is broadening and strengthening.
If you like watch Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms @ got it off of a blog of a headmaster at a school practicing the Reggio Emilia Approach.

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