What is Child Art?

If your child is starting nursery school this fall, your home is about to be turned into a mini art gallery, or at least your refrigerator is!  The hallmark of a quality early childhood program is child art, and lots of it!

I had the honor of leading a workshop for nursery school teachers this month about open-ended or process art activities for young children. In case you aren't familiar with the term open-ended art, let me explain. The easiest way to describe it is to compare it to a question with a one-word answer such as "did you like the book"? versus an open-ended question such as, "why did you like or dislike the book"?  Close-ended art, like close-ended questions, is limiting and doesn't require thinking or creativity.

Close-ended art, where the teacher has preset the problem, like cutting out all the pieces, and the solution, like having the children glue all the pieces together, is craft, not art. And while it may provide some practice of motor skills, it doesn't provide the treasure trove of skills that open-ended art does.

The goals of open-ended art, which quality nursery schools should provide daily opportunities for, are the following: creative expression, practice with various media, building, strengthening and refining motor skills, and fun!  

This approach to art is loaded with learning. It provides practice with hand-eye coordination, one's pincer grasp, and visual discrimination as well as all the skills associated with executive functioning. By that, I mean, planning, critical thinking, monitoring and adjusting behavior, and problem-solving, all important skills for school and life.

Young children learn by having concrete experiences with the things in the world around them. They need to see, touch and feel to learn best. Open-ended art which encourages children to create their own problems and their own solutions with materials provided gives them just such concrete experience. Similiar to skills used in science, young children use their powers of observation, trial and error, and discovery to create problems and solutions.

When your child proudly presents their creations, whether a page full of scribbles, a non-representational  painting, collage or sculpture, it should be received with enthusiasm and comments such as "I like your work, tell me about it"  or "oh, what beautiful colors and lines", rather than, "what is it?" 

Child art, should be all about the process, not the product!

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