When I was an undergraduate studying art education, we spent lots and lot of time discussing process versus product in the art room: What is more important in an art lesson, particularly in the younger grades…the creative process in which children engage or the final product that they create? Opinions vary on this topic, and volumes have been written about it. My thoughts on the matter tend to be that it’s a continuum; process matters almost exclusively in the early years of art-making, and as children grow, develop, and become more aware of their abilities as an artist, they begin to use their skills to create something specific, often with a message. This is when product begins to matter as much as process.

As a parent, however, the answer isn’t so clear. Pinterest, where I spend an embarrassing amount of my free-time pinning party ideas, home decor, fashion inspiration, and of course, projects for my kids, is chock full of product-oriented projects for young children. These are the projects we so often see on bulletin boards in schools and daycares; there are rows and rows of construction paper trees, each looking just like the one before it, clearly created from a teacher’s model. I can see value in this sort of project: children are practicing cutting, gluing, fine motor skills, following multi-step directions…but is it really an art project? I’m unsure.

It’s been interesting to watch my own sons progress as artists before my very eyes. Just recently, they begged to paint “on real artist canvases” (see above) after school. We broke out the acrylic paints and got to work. My seven year old was nearly 100% product-oriented. He set out to paint a cat, drew it first with a pencil, then carefully painted it, huffing and puffing that “it doesn’t REALLY look like OUR CAT” the whole time before finally feeling satisfied with it. My four year old was peeking at his big brother’s canvas for cues on what to do (note the similar set up of sun/grass/sky) but was so excited about the red being just like Spider-man’s suit that he happily smushed his paint all around, mixing a little red into it all and not caring that his details blurred in the process.

As a teacher and as a parent, I find myself wondering: what do parents want to see coming home from school? Do you look for process or product oriented art? What kinds of projects do you do at home? While I love process art, I also totally understand wanting to do “crafty” projects with my children that lead to cute holiday decorations, but I am realizing this is really more for me than for them. If you’re looking for a great source of open-ended project ideas for your own children, this is a favorite source of mine!

Enjoy, and happy art-making!