Process Centered Art & Learning for Young Children

I have written previously about process centered art, and the value that the practice holds, however, I realize that for many people this may be a new model of what children’s art (and subsequent learning) “should” look like.  I wanted to give a bit of further explanation, along with a recent real life example of when focusing on the artistic process gave way to some collaborative learning.  I believe that the key to understanding and embracing this worthwhile method is recognizing that whatever it is that the individual child creates through THEIR process is what that child’s art (and subsequent learning) “should” look like.  This is a very dissimilar concept to what the American education system teaches.  Many educational institutions, such as the NAEYC, advocate for process based art and learning, especially for preschoolers and kindergarteners, yet much of the research continues to be ignored by our education system.  Most schools tend to concentrate mostly on the PRODUCT of children’s art (and as a whole, their learning), which holds very little significance for young children.  Product focused art is exactly what it sounds like, it is “creating” something where the value lies in the end product.  However, the end product is generally one that has been given to you.  It is something that someone else has already created and you are merely replicating their work, and being told by an adult how to do so.  From what I have observed, this type of art, a recreated craft or picture, is often more for the benefit of parents,  to show them that their child has “created” something that is recognizable to them.  Still, this recreation often holds little worth or meaning to the child who made it.  The largest benefit of these types of crafts for young children is that they get to hone their fine motor skills.  This however is something that children can also achieve through process focused art, along with the other innumerable benefits that go along with the practice.

Just to reiterate and refresh, here are just a few of the wonderful things that can be learned and gained while focusing on the process instead of the product:

  • Social and Emotional Development: It is relaxing and theraputic, Children get to express their emotions, they feel a sense of accomplishment and success, they can use symbols to replace real objects which represent ideas and feelings, and they learn to find meaning and satisfaction in the present.
  • Language and Literacy Development: Children discuss their art with adults and peers as they are creating, and they can add print to their art, or dictate what they would like it to say
  • Cognitive Development:  They can make comparisons of texture, color, mediums, etc., they can plan, they can make predictions, they can learn to problem solve and make decisions.
  • Physical Development: They use small motor skills to paint, write, glue, mold, and make collages.

It may seem difficult to know where to begin with process focused art, which is why I wanted to give a real example of a collage that we created last week.  This was created by two of the one year olds and one of the two year olds I have in my care.  It was really wonderful to watch them work on this.  Children are often capable of so much more than they are given credit for, and this collage was a perfect example of that.

The first thing that we began with was a wide variety of materials.  The children were able to freely choose which materials they wanted to use, and how they would like to use them.

I started this activity with both watercolor and tempra paints, different colored paper, paint brushes, sponges, several types of yarn, cotton balls, felt, pieces of differently textured and patterned fabric, contact paper, tubing, and q-tips.

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I let them pick through the materials and they both said that they wanted to paint, so I put out the water colors and tempera paint and let them use their hands, brushes, sponges, cotton balls, whatever they decided on.  They spent well over an hour painting, and using the different types of tools and mediums available to them.

Once the two year old had finished painting I asked her if she would like to use anything else on the table, and she said that she would like to use the scissors.  I let her choose what she would like to cut and she choose paper.  She practiced using the scissors for a bit, but became frustrated, so I showed her that she could also use her hands to rip the paper, which gives a different effect than cutting.  She loved ripping the paper and once the one year old saw her doing this, she wanted to join in, so they both spent some time doing that.  The one year old also started teasing the cotton balls and yarn apart.  Throughout the rest of the process they cut yarn, ripped fabric, and cut fabric.

As they worked we discussed how colors mix to make new colors, we talked about the shapes and colors of the felt that I put out for them, we also sorted the shapes, we talked about the sound ripping paper makes, but how “ripping” yarn makes no sound at all.  We talked about all of these things along with much more.

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I had contact paper taped to the wall, with the sticky side up, and when they were finished with all of the above I put all of the materials that they had painted, cut, teased, and ripped into two baskets and showed them how they could stick the materials to the contact paper.  They LOVED this so much that they worked quietly together for nearly another 40 minutes.  The whole project lasted about 2 1/2 hours and they were entirely engaged and active the entire time. The two year old couldn’t wait to show her mom and seemed to be so thrilled about what they had created together.   It was really a perfect example of what process art can help children learn and achieve.  We were so successful that the next day I repeated parts of the process with the second one year old, we and added to our collage.

I hope that you will try something similar with your little ones and help them to experience some hands on, in the moment, messy, extensive learning!

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An Eggtraordinary Activity for Your Littles

Please excuse the cheesy title, but I just couldn’t help myself!  I have been meaning to post this gem of an activity for a while, and figured todayimage would be the perfect day (even though it’s a little chilly) because the kids are out of school today and tomorrow.  If you are looking for something fun to do with them, and have an hour or so free, look no further!  I would highly suggest taking your little ones outside and throwing a few eggs.  I did this activity in August with the twins, who are 5, but this activity can be done imagewith any child who can throw.  I actually spent some time-saving egg shells in preparation for this activity, but you can just as easily go pick up a carton of eggs right now and use them for this activity, (maybe just consider making scrambled eggs for lunch, or breakfast tomorrow, so you’re not wasting the eggs).  After you have gotten your eggs, you crack each one gently on the top so that you have a small hole at the top of the egg-shell, then dump the egg into a bowl.  Put each shell back in the carton and fill each one with a different colored paint.  Tape some Kraft paper, or white paper to something outside (I used my fence), and let them t  When they are done throwing let them finger paint.  It’s such an easy activity and was such a huge hit, I know I enjoyed throwing those paint filled eggs along with them!  I’m posting some of the pics of our little egg adventure below.  Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Reasons Why Cooking with Your Kids is Beneficial & a Simple Recipie to Get You Started

I’m sure that most would not consider cooking to be an exceptionally “educational” activity for their little ones.  However, you may be surprised to learn that cooking and baking with your children offers plenty of opportunity for cognitive, emotional, and physical growth.  There are many educators out there who will tell you that preschool is the ideal time to begin cooking with kids, however I believe that you can start giving them small tasks in the kitchen at whatever age you believe them to be ready.  Most children are developmentally capable of helping around 14-18 months.  Here are 6 benefits to cooking with young children, along with a simple play dough recipe for children of nearly any age to help make.

1.  Cooking Helps to Build Fine Motor Skills:  Stirring, pouring, kneading, and shaking are all fine motor skill builders, and can help with hand-eye coordination as well.  The are simple yet, important tasks that can be performed by little ones as young as 14-18 months and up.

2.  Cooking Can Help to Calm and Relieve Stress:  If your children are anything like all other children then dinner time can be one of the most difficult times of the day (there’s a reason parents call it the witching hour/s).  If you are trying to get dinner on the table and your children are frustratingly restless, ask them to help you.  Give them a simple task to help you with dinner.  This will help to keep them active, entertained, and calm.  Tasks such as kneading and stirring are perfect for this.  In my experience children become very calm while performing these tasks, and enjoy doing them for extended periods of time.

3.  Cooking is an Activity That Families Can do Together:  This one is fairly self-explanatory, but if both you and your spouse work, or you are a single parent, cooking dinner together is a great way to spend time together.  It’s something that you have to do anyway, so why not make it a family activity?

4.  Cooking Helps to Build Math and Reading Skills:  As your children grow it is very important for them to recognize just how important reading is.  With older children (starting around age two) you can explain to them that when you cook you follow a recipe.  You have to be able to read the recipe and follow the directions in order to make the correct thing.  Show them the recipe that you are using, and then as you cook show them where each step is written.  When they are a little older and able to read you can give them one note card at a time each with a simple instruction on it.  Cooking also helps to build math skills.  Children learn what a cup is versus a tablespoon, etc.  As they get older you can explain to them that 1/4 cup + 3/4 = 1 cup.  You can have them pour each into 1 cup to visually show the math.

5.  Cooking Helps to Build Self Esteem:  This is true mostly of older children.  When you help to cook/create something it gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment.  You have learned several new skills, and have successfully created something delicious that you and your loved ones can then enjoy together.  That’s quite an achievement for a young child!

Cooking is a Lifelong Skill:  Cooking is a skill that you will carry with you through life, in childhood, through college, and into adulthood (and will hopefully be something you then teach your own children.)  People who cook versus eat out are generally healthier and eat foods that are more nutritious for them.

Here is a very simple recipe for play dough that can get you and your children started with some basic skill building.  This is something that we made this morning, and it was a huge success!

  • 1 Cup flour
  • 3/4 Cup water
  • 1/4 Cup salt
  • 1/4 Cup oil
  • Spices are optional, but I used Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cloves.  You can also add food coloring if you prefer.

First, bring the water to a boil.  While the water is heating up mix the flour and salt in a bowl.  E is 18 months old so I put the flour in a cup and let her pour it into the bowl.  We did the same with the salt.  When the water is finished boiling I poured it into the bowl, and let her stir it once it cooled down.  I then let her pour the oil in and mix it some more.  I separated into 4 balls, and let her use spice shakers to add to each ball of play dough.  She LOVED doing all of these things.  I let her take her time and from start to finish it all took about an hour and a half.  Happy Cooking!

 

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Squishy, Fun, Baby Friendly, Edible, Gluten Free Playdough!

Today, a good portion of our morning consisted of making, then playing with this awesome no-cook play dough.  The kids enjoyed measuring, pouring, stirring, squishing, smelling and tasting!  Its messy, but very much worth the sensory experience!

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To make put the following ingreadiants into one large bowl:

1 cup rice cereal

1 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup apple sauce

3 tbs. veg/canola/olive oil

1 packet of any flavor kool aid

stir and squish with hands and enjoy!

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We made several batches and I let them take their time and induldge in the great sensory experience.  When we finished making the paydough I set out several objects for them to play with along with the play dough. They loved the entire experience!

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This Week: Exploring Nature & Literacy

nature hike 4This week was a crazy, busy, hectic, fun, exciting, and learning centered one. Instead of just having the two babes this week we were lucky enough to have two more little ones join us. They are 5 going on 6 and I have known, and cared for them their whole lives. Kindergarten is fast approaching for them, so I took this week as an opportunity to get them back into the mindset of playing hard but also learning and practicing. We played math games, read lots of books, made our own books, built “robots” from loose parts, painted, and my absolute favorite of the week: simultaneously explored nature and literacy. I LOVED this activity because it gave it them time and space to explore nature, while drawing a correlation between natural objects and letter sounds. It really is a very simple activity, but it is filled with opportunity.

{This activity is VERY adaptable to younger & older children.  It was even great for the babies because they both love being outside & roaming around in the grass}

First, I explained to them that we would be going on a nature hike and that they would be gathering items in nature. I told them that they would then come back and sort through their objects and lay them on a large sheet of paper with the alphabet written on it. They would then sort the items by the first letter of the word. As an extension I later had them choose a few of the objects and write out the word phonetically.

Next, I asked them to help me get ready for the activity by choosing the materials we would need to be successful in our endeavor. The gathered baskets for carrying the objects, scissors for cutting, kraft paper for writing the alphabet, and rocks with letters on them (which I had previously made for another activity). They were more creative then I would have been because I would have just written the alphabet on the paper. Instead they choose the rocks and laid them out on the paper.  This is why I always like to have them plan with me.  It becomes THEIR activity, instead of being wholly mine.  They are more interested & get to exercise their creativity.

Then, we left on our nature hunt…

nature hike 1

They gathered the items that they wanted to use.  The items included flowers, grass, weeds, sticks, apples, leaves, petals and more.

 

                     Nature Hike 2nature hike 5Once they were satisfied with the materials that they had chosen we walked back to the house and they laid out their materials on the sheet of paper with the alphabet.  We completed the above mentioned extension later in the day. 

Nature hike 3

I hope you find this a useful activity for you & your little ones! 

5 Great Reasons to Read to Your Baby (Yes, From Birth!)

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It is a common misconception that because a baby cannot yet speak, and cannot understand what you are saying or reading to them, that a baby doesn’t need to be read to until they have a better understanding of language. In fact, it’s just the opposite! Reading to your baby is what is going to help them grasp their native language.

Another reason I have found many people choose not to read to their baby is because the baby seems more interested in grabbing the book, or trying to put the book in their mouth. This is perceived by parents to be a sign of disinterest. This is not true. When your baby gets to the stage of grabbing and putting EVERYTHING in their mouth you should let them play with the book for a few minutes before reading to them, and then when you begin to read, hold the book just out of grasp. This way baby will focus on the pictures and sounds. When you have finished reading the page, let baby touch it. Babies learn through all of their senses, so letting them touch and chew is still a great learning experience for them!

It may feel a little strange at first, reading to a person who doesn’t respond as you’re used to. However, reading to your baby from the beginning can help give them a great start, and a leg up. Here are 5 great reasons to read to your baby:

1. If you don’t read to your baby from a very young age, by the time you do start reading to them it will be very difficult to get them interested. The earlier you start the more likely it is that your baby will have a positive relationship with reading that will last throughout life.

2. It has been found that “Kids whose parents frequently talk/read to them know more words by age 2 than children who have not been read to. And kids who are read to during their early years are more likely to learn to read at the right time.” – Kelly Meyer, DO

3. Reading to your baby exposes them to the sounds they need to learn to be able to speak (they should have all the sounds necessary by age one). The more exposure they have to the language the better they will be able to speak.

4. Fostering social and emotional development in children is very important. When babies are read to they hear the emotions in your voice along with the many expressive sounds we hear in some of our favorite children’s books.

5. When you take the time to read to your baby/children it shows them that reading is something to be valued. You are teaching them that it is an important skill, and one that should be appreciated. When you are excited and joyful about reading, and you make reading time a time of closeness for you and your child, they will associate reading with happiness and positivity.

Here are a few books that are great for babies!

              Read to Me Baby PC: http://www.bookshopsantacruz.com/read-me-baby-tee-onesie