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!

Winter 2016 111

An Ode to Mud

Okay, no I have not written a song or poem about mud, but what I am going to do is shed some light on the subject of the importance of playing in the mud.  Most people tend to cringe at the very thought of letting their children roll around in mud, squashing it through their fingers and toes, and getting it in their hair, and I get it.  It’s a lot of work, and can be a disgusting mess, but, that’s what hoses are for right?  So, here are just a few of the reasons I firmly believe you should let your children make mud pies, use mud as an artistic medium, roll around in mud, and do anything else mud related that their brilliant imaginations can conjure up.

  1. Mud is Scientist and Doctor Recommended – Something that I did not know about myself until my late twenties, when my husband and I bought our first house together is that I LOVE to garden!  I love everything about it, and at the end of a long day of working in the garden, I feel great.  I feel refreshed, happy, and generally just relieved of stress.  As it turns out, there is some sound scientific reasoning as to why I feel this way after a day in the dirt.  I won’t go into the detailed science of it all, but a 2007 study, originally published in the journal of Neuroscience found that a “friendly” bacteria Mud Play3found in soil activates brain cells to produce serotonin.  They essentially found that playing/working in the dirt has the same effect on one’s brain as an anti-depressant, leaving you happier, and less stressed.  So not only is the mud great for children’s mental health, but for ours as well!  It seems we should all take some time out to play in the mud.  If you would like to read more about the science of soil you can visit http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/66840.php
  2. Mud is an Astoundingly Wonderful Medium for Open-Ended Play and Learning – When children are allowed to explore with mud and a few simple household items, the sky is the limit.  They express their creativity in a myriad of ways, they enhance fine motor skills, and practice literacy and math skills.  They are given the chance to explore texture, see what happens when mud dries, or when dirt becomes wet, they use problem solving skills, and investigate volume.  They utilize their communication skills and practice working togetherRaylan Mud 2 and cooperation as they cook, clean and experience pride in their completed work.  All of the pictures I have here are of us working in the mud kitchen, but that does not mean you must have a mud kitchen to play in the mud.  Children are very resourceful and will utilize the materials you give them in the most creative way possible.  All you have to do is give them the medium, maybe include a some utensils, pots and pans, shakers, etc. and they will create their own world.
  3. Playing in the Mud Helps Children to Connect with Nature – In this age of technology I don’t think I need to say much more than that this is something which children desperately need.  As screens become a bigger and more time consuming part of our day (at home and in school) children desperately need to be able to take time out to connect with nature, and they need a variety of ways to do that.  Our children are suffering from a nature deficit, but there are so many ways to turn this around, and mud play is just one of them.
  4. Mud Play is an Amazing Sensory Experience for Babies and Toddlers – Mud provides a completely new and different tactile experience than any other sensory medium.  Babies and Toddlers should be given the opportunity to squish it in their fingers and toes, sit in it, sift it, and search through it.  You can sit them in a bin, or simply let them crawl around in the mud.  Either way they will love it, and benefit from it!

Yardley Mud

These are just a few of the ways that mud can benefit our children, and us as well.  I hope that you will take it to heart and let your little ones indulge in this rewarding and beneficial activity.  Happy Playing!

Processed Focused Art for Children: Why it’s Important & How to Get Started

 

Art

Most of you are probably wondering what exactly I mean by “process focused art”.  Art is Art right?  Well, I’m here to tell you that all “art” is not created equally, at least when it comes to young children.  Just as children need time, space, and freedom in order to have a rich and meaningful play experience, they need the exact same things in order to have a successful creative experience.  Process focused art is about just that – the experience.  Unfortunately, in the product focused lives of young school children we often see the converse of this concept being put into practice.  That is not to say that crafts, or product focused “art” is without benefit.  When children are given a cute bunny to cut and paste together they are learning how to follow directions, put things in order, and are honing their fine motor skills.  All of these are of course important, but the benefits of letting children be free and creative with their art far outweigh the benefits of having them create a product that they can’t really even call their own.

The creative experience is satisfying in such a way that it cannot be replicated or replaced by any other type of experience, and when we only allow children to participate in “creating” product centered art we are robbing them of that unique experience.  Being given the freedom to create can help children to foster emotional health.  These experiences create limitless opportunity for children to “express emotion and, by gaining relief and understanding through such expression, coming to terms with them.” (M.COX)  This type of creative experience can simultaneously foster cognitive growth in that children are given the opportunity to express and try new ideas, problem solve, and use symbols to replace real objects, which represent ideas and feelings.  These are just a few of the reasons process focused art should be the cornerstone of your little ones creative outlet.

One last, and I believe the most advantageous benefit of process focused art is the ability for children to find meaning and satisfaction in the here and now.  At some point in our lives we have all heard and pondered the ever famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination”.  There is a great deal of wisdom and truth in this one simple sentence, and I don’t know about you, but I think it is definitely a notion worth striving for.  This is an attitude that I try to adopt in my own life because I want to be satisfied and happy in the moment, versus feeling unfulfilled because I am waiting for a specific end result, something that will satisfy me in the future.  This is an especially important concept that children need to learn as they grow, even more so in our “everything you want or need is available at the click of a button” world we are living in today.  As children grow out of the stage of life where if they need something, they get it right away, it is so important for them to adopt an attitude of patience and understanding.  However, this is not something that will necessarily come naturally to young children, it is something that must be taught and something that parents can be especially mindful of.  Letting your children engage in process focused art can help children to learn to enjoy an experience without the need for a predetermined outcome.

So, how can you help your children engage in process focused art?

1.  Provide a variety of self-expressive materials for

  • Painting – Paint (oil, water-color, etc.) Sponges, Brushes, Twigs, Logs, Pinecones, Seashells, Paper, Q-Tips, Cotton Balls, the options are pretty endless!
  •  Collage Making – Again, Endless Possibilities!  Tissue Paper, Glue, Paper, Yarn, Magazines, Smooth Glass, Buttons, Small Twigs, Grass, Flowers, Leaves, Etc.
  • Dancing – scarves, Musical Instruments, Wands
  • Dough Play/Clay Play – Anything that can be pressed into or help to roll the dough! Pasta, Beans, Wooden Letters, Cookie Cutters, Rocks

These are just a few ideas, but let them explore and utilize any materials they wish!

2.  Interfere as Little as Possible

  • Let children explore the materials as their impulses and feeling require.  Avoid the instinct to tell them how to do something, or that they are doing something wrong.   This greatly limits creativity and suppresses the child’s instincts and originality.

3.  Never Provide a Model for Children to Copy and Understand that the Process, not the Product is What is Important to Children

4.  Allow Plenty of Time

  • Children need time to work their way into an experience and to develop their feelings and ideas as they go along.  Ideally you should give them as much time as they need or want.

5.  Provide Enough of Whatever They are Using

6.  Let Children Come and Go From Their Art at Will

7.  Play Music in the Background

8.  Take it Outside!

9.  Say YES to Your Child’s Ideas

Keep these basic principles in mind, and have fun watching your child engage in meaningful creativity!

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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4 Fantasticly Fun, Simple, Inexpensive, & Mouth Friendly Sensory Activities for Babies & Toddlers!

Hi All & Happy August to you!  For Love of Learning this week has been a crazy, but fun one, filled with babies, babies, babies, and lots of sensory play! It can sometimes be hard to find age appropriate activities for very little ones because they put everything in their mouths, which can be harmful. Each of these activities is totally baby (mouth) friendly in that way. Babies learn through each of their 5 senses and each of these activities engages each sense. What more could a baby ask for?! All you need for most of these activities is a plastic storage bin (medium or large) and some common household items.

Our first activity this week was one of the most simple, and one of the most engaging.

What You Need: A Plastic Bin, Cornmeal, Toys from Around the House

What We Did: Fill the bin with cornmeal and throw in a couple of baby’s favorite toys. Voila! The cornmeal feels like sand and baby will love to sit in the bin and play.

When You’re Done:  Put the cornmeal in a Ziploc and it becomes a sensory bag!

Our second sensory activity of the week was edible paint!  It was so much fun & the babies loved squishing around in it!

What You Need: Water, Flour, Food Coloring, Vanilla or Kool-Aid, Paint Brushes (large) & Sponges (large), and a Roll of Kraft or White Paper.

Recipe:  You need 1 & 3/4 Cups water to 1 Cup flour.  I did about 4-5 batches at once.  Bring water to low boil, then add flour (can be gluten-free flour if your child has an allergy).  Stir until thick.  I left it somewhat lumpy for texture.  Then separate into jars and food coloring to each jar.   For smell I added a few drops of vanilla to each jar, but would have used Kool-Aid if I had any on hand. Lastly get out a few paint brushes, sponges, and brown paper if you have any. I just laid the paper on the deck. afterwards it washes right off.

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Our third sensory experiment of the week was a little messy & gooey, but great fun!

What You Need:  A Plastic storage bin,  Cornstarch, Water

What We DId:   First, I sat the baby in the storage bin (in a diaper only) and poured the cornstarch on his legs and feet.  I let him play in the dry cornstarch for a while , then began to add little bits of water.  This way he can see what water does to the texture.  I let him play for a while with the gooey cornstarch water mixture.  When he was done I fille the tub completely with water and let him play in that.  It was really 3 sensory experiences in 1!

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Our last sensory activity for the week was definitely my favorite, and was really the most unique experience of them all.

What You Need:  A Storage Bin, 2 Boxes Fettuccine Noodles, Water, Food Coloring, 4 Ziplock Bags, oil

What We Did:  Cook Noodles and separate into 4 large Ziplock bags,  I added a little oil so the noodles didn’t stick.  Fill the bags about halfway up with water.  Add food coloring and let them sit for a while to soak up the water and cool down.  Once cool dump out the water and put the noodles in the sensory bin.  Put baby in the sensory bin (in just a diaper).  Let baby explore!

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I hope You are able to enjoy all of these fantastic activities with your little ones!