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4 Process Art Ideas for Toddlers and Twos

December 8th, 2021 | 4 min. read

By Jaimee Council

Toddlers and twos explore art as a learning experience or an experiment, discovering what is stimulating and interesting. They are more interested in doing art rather than making a finished product. Process art is a fantastic learning opportunity for even the youngest children! MaryAnn F. Kohl, author of many art books for children including First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-Ended Art Experiences, explains what process art is and the benefits for young children, and shares 4 exciting process art ideas that will fascinate toddlers and two-year-olds.

Hi, I'm MaryAnn Kohl, author of many books about art for children. I'm here today to share some of my thoughts and ideas about art for our youngest children. I wrote a book called First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-Ended Art Experiences, and I'd love to share some ideas from the book, as well as talk about my philosophy.

I want to thank all of you for the hard work that you do and for giving children the opportunity to be creative and to learn—learning through play, learning through creativity. I know that you're out there working so hard. And thank you Gryphon House for the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas. 

In particular, I'll be talking a little bit about something called process art. Perhaps you've heard of it. Process art is a kind of art where there is no finished product in mind. We're not copying an adult sample. The children are creating with materials that we provide. In some ways, we do have control over how the art might go because of the materials that we choose. But in general, there is no planned product and the children are exploring, experimenting and discovering on their own.

It's a wonderful way to do art because there's so much learning, and the skills are developed through play! We all know that play is developmentally appropriate for our youngest children, and that's why process art is also developmentally appropriate. 

Some people will say, “But what about crafts?!” Crafts are good. Crafts follow directions. Crafts have a fun outcome— something cute. Maybe the craft even goes with a theme or something happening in the class. But crafts are not art. 

I think maybe the biggest definition and thought that I can communicate today is that process art is art and we should call it art, and crafts are crafts, and we should call them crafts. That way we know exactly what we're doing and can communicate to parents as well that—this is art, this is crafts.

Crafts do have value, but they really shouldn't be that much of a part of your program. Yes, when you need a Mother's Day gift or a Christmas gift or a Holiday gift of any kind, crafts come in pretty handy. But even within that, it can be very open-ended.

One thing I'd like to share with you are some examples of some process art ideas. 

Process Art Example One: Painting with Water

One of my favorites and easiest process art activity is to have buckets of plain water and big paint brushes— the kind painters use! The ones that are wide. Go outside with buckets of water and paint brushes, and paint everything! Paint the driveway. Paint the playground. Paint the rocks. Maybe even paint the wall.

The nice thing about painting with water is that there's no cleanup, it evaporates, and children can keep on painting. Children love this, and they are learning while they're doing it! And again, isn't that part of why we do process art? So that children can learn? 

They're exploring, experimenting, and discovering. I'm going to say those three words quite a bit, because those are the words that really define process art. It's almost like being a scientist. You experiment, see how things go, and learn from it. 

Process Art Example Two: Box Art

Here is another example that's really easy and so perfect for toddlers and twos. Get a great big appliance box, or any kind of box, and give the children crayons or markers or even paints and let them paint or draw right on the box. 

You can even cover the box with plain paper if you'd like— newsprint or butcher paper. Let them just stand up and use their big arm movements. Big arm movements are really important for young children. They need to move and they need to express their bodies, and through art— what a great way to do it! 

Process Art Example Three: Nature Art on Sticky Paper

Do you have contact paper? It can be clear contact paper, or it can just be any kind of contact paper that you peel off the covering and then the sticky side is up. I would tape this to a table or the floor or a wall, and then let's go out for a walk and collect leaves and pine cones and whatever might be out there. Yes, even gravel works because kids do love little rocks. Bring everything back in, and then stick it to the contact paper. 

If it's a clear contact paper, you can eventually hang it up in the window. Is that a product or is that just display? I think it's both, but the product was not the goal. The exploring, experimenting, and discovering was the goal for process art. 

Process Art Example Four: Handmade Paint

One last idea I'd like to tell you about from the book First Art for Toddlers and Twos— one of my favorite things in the book is sever al pages called “22 Homemade Paint Recipes”, and they are wonderful! Oh, there's so many ideas using food coloring, cooked beets or cooked spinach to get color, all kinds of mixtures with flour and water, things that people tend to have around any way! 22 different homemade paint recipes, and you don't even need to go to the store. Well, maybe if you're doing the beets or spinach, you might need to! 

As a final thought about process art, I have to tell you that art with children is my true passion. I love the kids. I love the opportunity for them to be themselves and create openly without boundaries. Oh wait— boundaries! Of course, there are always some boundaries for safety and clean up, but it shouldn't be a boundary of saying, “This is right, or this is wrong.” And I think if you're with young children, you already know that. 

I'd love to invite you to come to my process art page that's on Facebook. It's called “Process Art with MaryAnn Kohl”, and every day our members are sharing the most amazing process art ideas, usually through photos or videos.  I am blown away every day by what I see. We also have an opportunity in that group to ask questions and help each other. We have a wonderful time together, and please join us.

I had a wonderful time sharing my philosophy about process art, and I hope everyone will think it over. If you haven't heard of it before, come join us on Facebook at “Process Art with Maryann Khol.” I'm happy to be here and happy to share the book— First Art for Toddlers and Twos. Thank you again. 

Author(s)MaryAnn F. Kohl

Jaimee Council

A graduate of Appalachian State University with B.S. in Communication - Electronic Media and Broadcasting, Jaimee Council served a content strategy team lead for Gryphon House and Kaplan Early Learning Company from 2021-2022. Her talents include writing, photography, video production, audio production, blog management, website content management, social media management, some design, and data analytics for websites, social media, and customer relationship databases.