process art activities for kids

What comes to mind when you think of preschool and toddler art activities? Macaroni collages in the shape of a heart? Cute little handprint turkeys or thumbprint flowers? Pre-cut animals glued onto a barn?

There is nothing wrong with any of these craft projects, but they all have one thing in common: The focus is squarely on the result, and it's a predetermined result. An adult has concocted a cute art project that might be a little bit fun for the kids and will surely be loved by their parents, but there isn't a lot of room for drawing outside the lines.

The thing is, from the children's perspective, the important part of art is the process, not the product.

While you will certainly see children who care deeply about the result of their efforts and get super frustrated when their drawing isn't recognizable, most young children simply want to experience creating art. They want to feel and smell the sensations of painting, sculpting with clay or doodling with markers. They want to make a mess. They want to get lost in a creative fervor just like the very best artists of the world.

So what do we do to help encourage these little Picassos? Enter: process art.

What is process art + why is it important for kids?

At its core, process art is art that focuses on the process of creating, rather than the product that is created.There is no predefined result and there are no expectations.

The purpose is simply to explore the materials, feel the deep focus that comes from the creative process, and have a rich sensory experience. So instead of filling in a pre-drawn flower shape with tissue paper, a child may splatter paint, then glue on some feathers, and then draw little birds. Or they may create a painting, cut it into shapes and make a collage.

Five children given the same materials will never come up with the same result in process art. This is quite a simple concept, but it can be challenging to execute, especially if our children are used to creating things to please us.

Why is process art important?

The benefits of process art go way beyond fostering a love of art (although it certainly does that, too!). Here are some reasons why process art is totally worth the mess:

Focus: While adult-defined art projects for kids have a clear end, process art does not. The child is allowed to keep creating as long as they please. This kind of activity develops strong concentration and the ability to focus for long periods of time.

Confidence: While having an expected result can be discouraging to kids and lead them to believe that they're "not good at art," process art is free of expectations. Can you imagine working with no fear of results or expectations? What a gift to give our children. They learn that the experience is what's worthwhile, not creating something to please someone else.

Independence: Even a small child can be independent with process art. There's no need to ask an adult to carefully cut out printed shapes or help them draw a specific image. The child leads the way which means that they can create based on their own skill level.

Keys to success with process art

1. Interesting materials
Process art does not take a lot of preparation. All you really have to do is provide an array of materials and provide space for your child to work.

One way to encourage a reluctant artist is to put out a variety of materials and think outside the box.

Is your kid super into cars? Place a little basket of wheels on their art shelf and see what they come up with.

Are they obsessed with unicorns? Make sure to include glitter and some rainbow yarn.

Try switching out materials regularly to keep your child interested. And remember to let them seek out their own materials, too. If you're on a nature walk and your child begins collecting feathers, mention that they're welcome to add them to their art shelf if they wish.

2. Time
It's becoming increasingly rare for children to have a large block of time to simply imagine and create. Time is key for process art, though. While your child may be able to knock out a quick craft project in 15 minutes, they may need much longer to finish their own creation.

Make sure your child has some long stretches of time to create. If you see them getting out art supplies and you have to have lunch or move on to another activity in 15 minutes, make sure to warn them and to set aside some time later in the day for them to create without a rush.

Don't be discouraged if you provide materials and your child spends only five minutes on their process art. It takes time and practice for children to get used to being in control of the creative process. It's a muscle they need to strengthen over time. Remember, no expectations!

3. No interference
This may be the hardest thing for us to get comfortable with as parents. It's so hard not to hover over our children to make sure they're not making too big of a mess or to share how beautiful we think their art is. Even taking pictures can be distracting if your child notices.

Interfering in even a small way can break the child's flow and take away from their feeling that the process is really theirs.

If you have trouble letting go of the mess, take the art outside. Your child may even start to gather their own materials from nature.

10 examples of easy process art activities for toddlers and preschoolers

1. Rock painting
Creating something temporary is a great place to begin with children who need to build their creative confidence.

All you need for this one is non-toxic paint and some rocks outside. Start painting rocks and then back away as your child gets into the process. See what they come up with! Leave the rocks outside for the rain to wash and then paint them again!

Nothing sends a clearer message that the process is what matters than creating something temporary.

2. Painting mirrors (or plexiglass)
Painting something like a mirror or plexiglass outside is another great example of temporary art. Bring an acrylic mirror outside and paint over the beautiful reflections of nature.

Painting on mirrors is also a fun way to introduce self-portraits!

3. Collage
Collage easily lends itself to abstract art and thinking outside the lines. You can provide supplies but also encourage your child to gather their own found materials.

4. Tinker trays
If your child isn't as drawn to painting and drawing, a tinker tray can be a wonderful way to encourage their artistic side.

Simply fill a tray or tackle box with little objects like popsicle sticks, toothpicks, beads, foam pieces, whatever you can think of. Your child can create their own sculptures.

5. Clay
Working with clay can be highly soothing and is another excellent form of process art for kids who prefer to build and sculpt than paint. Provide some simple tools and let your child create.

Keep the clay in an airtight container with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out so they can use it again and again.

6. Creative paint brushes
Show your child how they can clip anything (yarn! A leaf! A pompom! Lace!) into a clothespin to make their own paintbrush. This kind of exercise shows them that painting doesn't need to look any certain way.

7. Color mixing
Provide a tray with little blobs of different colored finger paint on it. Encourage your child to explore the colors, mixing them together right on the tray.

Alternatively, provide little dropper bottles with colored water and a big bowl of regular clear water. They can create art right in the bowl.

8. Chalk art
Set out a container of sidewalk chalk and a spray bottle of water on the patio or sidewalk. So many possibilities!

9. Set up a maker space
Set aside a space for things like toilet paper tubes, bits of string, nature items and interesting containers. Give your child total freedom over what to create.

10. Paint with movement
Use little toy race cars or a ball to paint with movement. Simply run them through the paint and zoom all over the paper.

These ideas are fun and a great way to get started but remember, you really don't need any set activity to try out process art. All you need are some fun materials and the right attitude for your child to experience the joy of the creative process.

Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.


Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.


Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.


Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.


boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.


Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.


Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.


Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this


This incredibly soft comforter from Sunday Citizen is like sleeping on a cloud

My only complaint? I've slept through my alarm twice.

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, there are many factors that, as a mama, are hard to control. Who's going to wet the bed at 3 am, how many times a small person is going to need a sip of water, or the volume of your partner's snoring are total wildcards.

One thing you can control? Tricking out your bed to make it as downright cozy as possible. (And in these times, is there anywhere you want to be than your bed like 75% of the time?)

I've always been a down comforter sort of girl, but after a week of testing the ridiculously plush and aptly named Snug Comforter from Sunday Citizen, a brand that's run by "curators of soft, seekers of chill" who "believe in comfort over everything," it's safe to say I've been converted.

Keep reading Show less

This viral post about the 4th trimester is exactly what new mamas need right now

"We are alone. Together. You are surrounded all the other mothers who are navigating this tender time in isolation. You are held by all of us who have walked the path before you and who know how much you must be hurting. You are wrapped in the warm embrace of mama earth, as she too settles into this time of slowness and healing."

Artist and teacher Catie Atkinson at Spirit y Sol recently shared a beautiful drawing of a new mom crying on a couch—leaking breasts, newborn baby, pile of laundry and what we can only assume is cold coffee, included. Everything about the image is so real and raw to me—from the soft stomach to the nursing bra and the juxtaposition of the happy wallpaper to the palpable vulnerability of the mother—I can almost feel the couch underneath me. I can feel the exhaustion deep in this woman's bones.

My heart feels the ache of loneliness right alongside hers. Because I remember. I remember the confusion and uncertainty and love and messy beauty of the fourth trimester so well. After all, it's etched in our minds and bodies forever.

Keep reading Show less