I clearly remember the first time I put finger paint in front of my oldest child. He was ten months old, and well, here. You see how it went for yourself:

You see, when it comes to art projects and young kids, I’m a huge believer in focusing on the process, not the product. The experience. The learning. When I was an undergrad studying art education, I read a lot about how children develop the ability to represent things from their everyday life in their own art, and I found it really fascinating. Your child’s art, when allowed to develop on its own, is a kind of window into your his or her own unique mind. It can tell you what she deems most important, what is a trivial detail in her eyes, and give you a sense of her self-image. However, just like learning to talk doesn’t usually result in sudden eloquent sentences and learning to walk happens with halted, wobbly steps, learning to express oneself with art is a process. And I’m here to tell you that’s okay, and more than that, it’s exciting and wonderful.

Adults often want their kids to create art that is “fridge-worthy”. They want their child’s work to look like the examples on Pinterest or on the bulletin board at school or in a craft book. However, young kids are eager to experiment with materials like a scientist and see what they can do. You may say “let’s ball up this colorful tissue paper to make flowers and glue them to the page!” but they may eagerly shred the tissue paper into tiny bits, marveling at how they can rip it so easily with their fingers. Focusing on the product, the finished work, is something that will come in time, but I’m here to say it’s fine, even commendable, to focus on the process as your young child experiments with creativity. Let go of your preconceived expectations for how a project “should” look in the end, and focus on having fun and teaching your child how to use the materials. You’ll both be less stressed, and you’ll be amazed by what he or she creates!

Want some ideas for easy “process-oriented” art for your toddler or preschooler that is still display-worthy? Check out my list below!

Painted Picture Frames: Buy inexpensive, unfinished wood picture frames and let your child decorate them with paint. Use them to frame a photo of him or her at the age he or she created the frame.

Finger Paint Wall Art: Choose colors that match the color scheme of a room, and let your child create some abstract finger painted wall art on canvas to display proudly.

Art Mug: Take a favorite art work created by your child in any media and photograph it. Use the photograph to create a photo mug of the artwork through an on-line photo service. This can also make a great canvas tote or ornament as a gift for someone in your child’s life!

Holiday Art: Instead of stressing about all crafty holiday projects for toddlers on Pinterest (many of which inevitably end with the adult doing most of the crafting!), simply cut out large holiday shapes on sturdy white paper and let your child decorate them with paint, collage, or crayons however he or she wishes.

Gallery Wall: Buy inexpensive document frames that hold standard-sized paper, and allow your child to choose what work will go into the frames on a special wall in your home. Rotate the display as he or she creates new work.

Above all, have fun creating with your child, and don’t stress!

See? They eventually stopped crawling through the paints :)

See? They eventually stopped crawling through the paints 🙂

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