What is Process Art? 40 ideas to start!

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How to nurture creativity in your children? Process art or open-ended art is the answer.

Creativity is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”.

How do we foster creativity in our children and specifically how do we nurture creativity in art?

Creativity is the use of original ideas. It means that those ideas must come from your child, from his own imagination.

Imagination obviously doesn’t appear out of anywhere.

As Maria Montessori described, young children, learn by absorbing the impressions from their environment. Therefore they benefit from being exposed to a rich and stimulating environment.

Here again, Montessori gave us some guidelines to create that environment:

  • An orderly environment
  • Natural materials
  • A reality-based environment
  • A simple and non-overwhelming space. Less is best!
  • Freedom to explore within limits to ensure your child’s safety

The young child by being supported by a stimulating space will develop his own imagination based on what you offer to him. Early on, children will show interest in specific activities or subjects. They are naturally drawn to what they see around them: their house, the animals in the neighborhood, the changes of the passing seasons… Some children will be more interested in music, and some more by touching everything…

Following your child is important, so observe, listen and provide what your child needs.

Now, this post is more about artistic activities. When do you introduce your child to artistic activities and what kind of artistic activities?

Naturally, your child will explore with his 5 senses and will make patterns with what he comes across. Even if you were not providing crayons, I’m sure he would start to trace patterns in the mud with a stick. I have a friend who grew up in Morocco. She told me that her earliest memory was about modeling clay from the river bank. She didn’t have access to toys or to art media. But she was free to explore the natural world.

When can you introduce your child to art:

  • When he doesn’t mouth everything
  • When he shows an interest in patterns and making marks

There is no precise age. Some will be interested from 15 months old. Others will have little interest until they are over 2 or 3.

What kind of artistic activities?

If we come back to the definition of creativity, we know that it should come from the child’s imagination and that it must be original.

Therefore, it’s pretty obvious that crafts chosen by parents will be the opposite of creativity. What children under the age of 6 need to be creative, in art and in any other areas of learning, is to have access to high-quality material to create in their own ways. They need to master some skills that will allow them to express themselves through art. Young children will learn through the process and have little interest in the end product. It’s maybe where grown-ups and children differ. As adults, we want results: we want a beautiful card to send to Grand-dad. Our child just wants to use the stamp over and over again.

As parents, we need to take into account our child’s development and needs. If you have a child under the age of 6, the priority should be the process, the discovery of the art material, and the learning of skills needed to enjoy art activities.

Children over the age of 6 will have a goal when they do art. They will be happy to achieve a result. But this article is more about the children in the first plane of development.

For children under the age of 6, we should focus on “process art” or “open ended art activities”.

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Here is a list of art activities to try:

  1. Painting

  • Finger painting
  • Painting with paintbrush
  • Painting with sponges
  • Painting with various tools such as corks, lids, feathers, toothbrushes…
  • Painting on vertical surfaces: easel, painting with water on exterior walls and fences, painting on an old bedsheet outside.
  • Water colour
  • Resist painting: first, make pattern with wax crayon and cover with watercolour
  • Painting over different papers: textured paper, newspaper, foil
  1. Malleable activities

  • Make your own playdough
  • Use cutters according to the seasons or what your child is interested in
  • Use kitchen tools, cupcakes, and candles
  • Make footprint with Animals figurines
  • Use loose parts to create patterns in the playdough
  • Use roller pin, garlic press
  • Use clay
  • Use wax
  • Make salt dough to make some ornaments
  1. Sticking and connecting activities:

  • Use stickers
  • Stick with homemade glue: you can glue scraps of paper, glue cuttings from magazines, cut natural materials such as leaves, feathers, and sticks… Stick on cotton balls is great fun too.
  • Stick with glue stick or liquid school glue
  • Press tissue paper on sticky paper and cover with another layer of sticky paper to make a suncatcher
  • Wrap objects in foil
  • Provide Sellotape and material to link together
  • Provide recycling material, glue, string, and Sellotape
  • Use of a stapler
  1. Tearing and cutting

Those activities are great in connection with the one above

  • Use of scissors
  • Tear up paper
  • Cut around shapes
  • Use prickle and felt board to cut out shapes
  • Use of pin punch
  • Use of a paper puncher
  1. Drawing

  • Use crayons
  • Use wax and chalk
  • Use graphite
  • White chalk on black paper
  • Chalk on wet paper
  • Wet chalk on paper
  • Rub over objects: hide flat objects under a paper and rub over with wax crayons
  • Rub over bark in nature
  • Draw around shapes (you may want to use the Insets for design).


This list is obviously non-exhaustive!

Resources to go further

I love Mary Ann Kohl’s books for processed art ideas

My favourite Art bloggers


Do you have a favourite art activity? Do you have an art blogger to recommend? Let me know in a comment!

There is a section about art in my Montessori Parenting Course.

More info here.

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.