process creative activities childrens house nursery southwell

Process vs. Product Creative Experiences

Why your child will not be coming home with a painting/sticky every day at Children’s House Nursery in Southwell.

I firstly need to mention, if your child attends Children’s House Nursery then they will not be coming home every day with a painting or a sticky. I’m not sorry about that – I am in fact delighted.

Many childcare settings produce pieces of ‘product art’ – where every childs’ work looks virtually the same, where every painting or sticky resembles what it was supposed to be i.e. a Christmas tree painting really looks like a Christmas tree.

Now clearly sometimes we have a Picasso or a Rembrandt in our nursery but mostly we have children who are having fun and learning and getting very messy with the paint, glue, glitter and playdough etc.

We love nothing more here at Children’s House Nursery than a tray of mud, cereals, or playdough or jelly. You name it if it’s messy we do it!

Product-Focused Art

A ‘product’ piece of art is when an adult has decided what the end result will look like and therefore the activity will be very adult-led. The eyes are all in the right place, the colours are perceived to be correct (a green tree etc).

When a group of children take home a product art piece they all look very much the same. Every child’s end ‘product art’ conforms to a pre-conceived idea – they look wonderful taking pride of place on those kitchen cabinets but is that what we want?

It’s important to ask in ‘product art’ – who is the end result for? For the child? For the parent? Are we creating art for the sake of producing it?

There is learning to be had in a ‘product ‘piece of art – the children are learning to follow instructions – the adult has shown the child where to paint, where to stick etc.

Learning the skills of following instructions and of copying is vital to child development, i.e. tracing letter formation, extending vocabulary etc. There is a time and a place for everything.

Here at Children’s House, although we may at times produce ‘product art’ we prefer to focus on a process creative experience, why?

We want children to explore different materials and textures, using all their senses, to manipulate different materials like play dough, cereals, mud. To use their imagination as to what can be done with those materials (mixing paints to create colours etc.) and to talk about any differences or changes (hard/soft or when materials change for example when baking or using clay)

We believe the value is in the experience, the doing rather than the end result.

Process Creative Activities

A process creative activity values the child’s experience.

Your children will bring paintings and art home from nursery and you may be told it’s a Christmas Tree or an Easter Bunny – but it may not look like that. It will be individual. It will be your child’s learning experience, however, you may not even get anything to bring home because your child has been painting themselves or sticking things to the apron. Either way, your child is still learning in an enriched environment.

With creative activities, we believe it is more about supplying children with resources and letting them explore, discover, work things out and become critical thinkers, make connections and start to understand the world around them with no preconceived idea of what will happen or whether they will produce anything at the end of their experience.

Sometimes we might for instance have an idea of painting a certain thing. For example, a tree – we might even prop up an image of a tree or even print off a silhouette of a tree as a visual aid.

We would provide them with the pots of paints and some brushes, some sponges, some glitter – then we pop an apron on and let them choose how they want to interpret their own ideas of a tree. They may prefer to dip their hands in the paints one at a time or every colour in one go and spread it all over their paper.

That is ok.

They might use a paintbrush and paint the whole piece of paper blue, which is ok, they might even put one dot of paint in the smallest corner of the page and then tip a whole pot of glitter on top.

That is ok.

All the above shows they are thinking on their own and exploring different paints, colours, and ways to make it how they want it. When they decide they have finished, and their picture is a giant splodge of an undeterminable colour on their piece of paper.

Then that is marvellous.

You may have your thoughts on how it ‘should’ look but how it does look is nothing like that.

That doesn’t matter.

If that child has laughed and smiled and got really messy or painted the table instead of the paper, then that process has been far more of a learning experience than what the end product looks like.

The child has learnt to explore the materials they have been given, hold and manipulate tools and made their own choices of which direction they want the process to go.

Children live in the moment, so that creative experience is the most important thing to them there and then.

For your child it will be an exciting and magical time.

Some children dislike the texture of paints or glue, and it takes time for them to get used to that. Forcing a ‘process piece of art’ isn’t helping to value their independent journey with creative experiences

If we do a water play activity, maybe we would like to teach the children how to wash the dolls. We know they love water play and dolls, so we combine the two to make a new learning activity.

It is still the process of the activity that is most important. There is no need for an end product. We can put a tray of water out, with some flannels, bubbles, dolls and jugs and then show the children that we wash the dolls with the flannel and the bubbles and you can pour the jug of water over a doll.

A child might completely disregard what we have shown them, and they will pick up a jug, fill it with water and pour it on themselves.

That’s ok

That child will have learnt from that experience and understand the consequences of their actions.

They are exploring pouring and filling, learning how to achieve their goal of getting the water into the jug and emptying it and pouring it again and again. They have learnt that by pouring it on themselves they get wet.

Throughout this process, they have laughed and smiled and achieved something independently.

The end result may end up being a very wet child, but the support then comes from helping them to get changed into dry clothes, showing them that’s it’s fine and it doesn’t matter that they got wet because they had fun practising a new skill.

Our emphasis for our children is on learning through play, through the experience.

It’s about the child having a sense of independence learning how they can do it for themselves whilst having the support from an adult, knowing that it is ok to need some help but finding the confidence to do it themselves

If every child has an end product and that end product is exactly the same as every other child, then as they grow up they can lose their sense of achievement in producing an individual creation.

All children are unique and to know that that is a positive thing. Each child is amazing in their own way and being able to explore and choose their own experiences helps to give them that positivity and individuality from a very young age.

Our role and a parent/carer role is to build a child’s self-esteem by valuing their creations whatever they look like.

Let’s pin up the process art on those kitchen walls and celebrate the fact your child really did do that. Wow!!

(Please don’t leave them on the car floor to be trodden on).

A child needs to know that what they have achieved at the end is fantastic and exciting and then that gives them the confidence to keep producing their own work.

Which is what makes the process more important than the product at the end of it.

It must not be forgotten that the basic law of children’s creativity is that its value lies not only in its results, not in the product of creation but in the process itself. It is not important what children create, but that they do create, that they exercise and implement their creative imagination.


So, if your child comes home with very little or if your child comes home with a piece of art …

That’s ok

Celebrate that painting or sticky. Talk about it, the colours, the shapes, they have been learning and developing their own skills not learning to follow an adult. We celebrate individuality at Children’s House Nursery.

Your child is unique – we value that – we want to develop that uniqueness – we want to inspire the thinkers and doers of the future, not the imitators or copycats. Let’s teach the children how to think not what to think.

We may not have made today but we have played today.

Totem Pole Learning

And the best bit, all the messy stuff happens at nursery, so we get to do the clearing up, not you.

Heather Linley, Karen O’Connell & Nicola Carter