Stop Limiting Children’s Creativity: Process Art & Loose Parts

by | Feb 13, 2023 | Educators, Parents

Children are wonderfully imaginative and creative by nature. Not yet impeded by the structures and rules of everyday life like us adults, they can surprise and delight with their fresh ways of seeing things. However, sometimes, as educators and care providers, we can unintentionally limit this natural creativity. Let’s look at a couple of ways we can be mindful of our creativity-crushing patterns and encourage more freedom of expression – process art and loose parts.

Process art vs. product art

There are times when we implement activities with a specific result or end-product in mind. For example, during Christmas there were many activities which included painting Christmas trees in a precise way. At the end of these activities, all the Christmas trees look exactly the same.

While these make for adorable, themed take-home pieces for parents, in a way we are stripping away children’s freedom of creativity. By implementing rules and structure on “creative” activities, we’re encouraging them to “follow the rules” and create the same product as everyone else rather than using their imaginations.

A goal we could all keep in mind is to promote the process of art (“process art)” rather than the end result of art (“product art”). A useful reminder to easily differentiate process vs product art is that process art is unguided and doesn’t enforce specific expectations of an outcome.

Instead of focusing on the end-product or how the art looks after, try to think about the process of creating the artwork. Allow the children to enjoy the activity freely – let them manipulate and explore materials in their own way, even if it does not look ‘pretty’ and even if it does not look like what it is ‘supposed’ to.

  • Product art example = guiding children to create a green tree with a brown trunk, red decorations, and a golden star at the top.
  • Process art example = children experiment with colours and patterns however they choose, even if it doesn’t result in an obvious Christmas tree in the end.

Loose parts

We can also encourage creativity by offering materials that are easily manipulated, such as loose parts. Loose parts are small objects that children can use in play to create different patterns, forms, and meanings. These objects have flexible purpose that can be combined to create endless possibilities in play. They cultivate learning for children in developing creativity as well as critical thinking skills. It encourages them to use their imagination as well as freely experiment with fresh concepts.

Loose parts can be incorporated as media options during process art activities as well as being freely available in play spaces or as provocations.

Loose parts are materials that can be:

  • Moved
  • Combined
  • Sorted
  • Lined up
  • Redesigned
  • Taken apart
  • Connect together

Examples of loose parts:

  • Cardboard, newspaper, and wrapping paper.
  • Pinecones, flowers, sticks, leaves and acorns.
  • Straws, beads, pom poms, cotton wool.
  • Sand, shells, sticks, and stones.
  • Wooden blocks, rolling pins, and cups.
  • Large buttons, spools, and yarn.

Here are some resources on how to incorporate loose parts in various activities: