Tag Archives: Product vs Process

Arts & Crafts

Many, many years ago I used to buy craft kits for my own children – often as Christmas gifts.  Sometimes they enjoyed creating the pictured product, sometimes they used the supplies to make something entirely different, and sometimes they did nothing.  I have also purchased the occasional craft kit for myself but I tend to use the instructions more like guidelines, changing things along the way much like the way I ‘tweak’ recipes when I am cooking.  It could be that I wanted to personalize it but probably also a little ‘don’t tell me what to do’ rebellion.

I’m not sure exactly when I went anti-craft but at some point I began to despise product crafts. Maybe it was the year I volunteered in my son’s Kindergarten class when I spent hours cutting out pieces for the children to assemble according to the prescribed pattern.  Maybe it was after I opened my childcare home and watched a steady procession of elementary school children bringing back exactly the same craft products year after year after year.

Over the past fifteen or so years I’ve rarely provided any sort of art/craft instruction and never insisted everyone had to participate.  I’ve taken a ‘loose parts’ approach to setting up the art area and the children are able to choose to use the art supplies freely throughout the  day to create whatever interests them.

I’ve watched some children create really amazing art work.  They have wonderful imaginations and problem solving skills.  If there is something missing from the art area that they think would benefit their projects they ask for it or bring it from home.  Some of these expert artists also enjoy assisting others and will lead spontaneous art classes.

I’ve also observed children who struggle with an open-ended art area.  Some don’t know how to start if there isn’t a leader showing the way.  Some are easily frustrated and give up mid project.  Some never set foot in the art area either because they are not interested or because they doubt their own ability.  There are even some for whom the ‘product’ is so important that they will send the ‘artists’ to make things for them but never attempt to create their own.

Sometimes there isn’t a lead artist in the group – there may be one or two that are very creative but they are ‘followers’.  Even though they can create imaginative artwork when working independently, if another child is present they just imitate each other.  Often there isn’t even any art, just play with the art materials – pencil swords, rolled paper trumpets, etc.  Groups like this rarely have any ‘products’ and the few they do have are exactly the same three pencil lines on a crumpled piece of paper day after day.

Some art tools, like scissors, are more like ‘weapons of mass destruction’.  Sure I think scissors skills are important but I’m not entirely certain scissors are a ‘creative’ tool that I want all preschoolers to have free independent access to.

I’ve tried to limit my ‘instruction’ to introducing new supplies – demonstrating methods and techniques – not products.  Invariably there will be at least one child who will simply copy everything I do and others who will follow along.  *sigh*  We have now created what looks like a product craft.

I think there has to be a middle ground – at least for preschoolers.  Not just ‘follow my instructions and make this’ product crafts.  Not just ‘here are some materials, play with them’ entirely child led process.   So, here are a few things we’ve done recently;

Tissue paper, paper plates & glue: ripping, crumpling, flattening, spreading, pouring, pressing and more – a lot of different ‘process’ yet the ‘products’ all looked pretty similar in the end.

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Clay, water, tools, sand, glue – several steps on/off throughout a week long experience – many differences along the way yet very similar in the end.

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Paper cones, paint, glitter, clay and sticks;

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Yes, there were a lot of new experiences, a lot of process, some instruction, a lot of imitation – trying what someone else did and liking it, and even some ‘product’.  I think the important thing was there was no ‘correction’ – no, ‘that’s not what you are supposed to be making, fix it’.  If they wanted to make something different they could – and some did – briefly – then they scrapped it and copied what the others were doing because that is what they do.  That is what they like to do – most of them – at least in this group – but if they didn’t want to that would have been OK too.

Planting

Our gardening adventures are not always very successful if you value production – most of our crops tend to fail.  Sometimes it is weather, sometimes it is insects, often we don’t know the cause.  Our beans and grains have been our most plentiful crops but even they have failed a few times. Other crops like our sunflowers and zucchini were fabulous the first time we tried them but we’ve never been able to repeat that. Luckily we prefer the process over the product and every year we are stubbornly optimistic that this year we will have the best garden ever.

As usual, this year we started some seeds early – tomatoes, peppers, purple tomatillo, spaghetti squash, sweet dumpling squash, and zucchini – to give them a head start indoors before transplanting outdoors.  We usually plant dozens of each of the seed types we would like to grow in hopes that at least one of each plant will survive to maturity.

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We always have beans, peas, grains and various herbs in our garden. Some of the bulkier plants we plant in my daughter’s yard – it is about a five minute walk away but there is more room there for the plants to spread.  We make many trips over to weed and prepare the garden bed.

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There is also time to engage in another one of the toddlers favorite activities – running circles around the fire pit;

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Last week we took the somewhat sad looking seedlings over to plant in the garden;

15-06-planting02It always feels like a parade when my little troupe crosses the busy intersection carrying all our tools and supplies.  The drivers and passengers in all the cars seem very amused.  This week we headed back to water the seedlings again…..I could only find four out of the dozens we planted?!?!

The children were happy to water the four teeny, tiny seedlings and the empty patches of soil and of course they also ran circles. I was quite perplexed about the plants.  Back home I told my husband about our ‘missing’ crop.  There were no wilted remnants of dead plants – I couldn’t explain what happened to the seedlings.  My husband replied “Probably rabbits ate them”…..

Great, yet another threat to our crops.  Least they could have done was stay to play with us.  Good thing we’re persistent.

Toddlers in the Yard

The toddlers have been doing an amazing job with their curriculum planning.  They spent most of one morning diligently moving gravel from one corner of the yard to another.  They started by using the shovels to place the gravel on the little tree slices;

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Then they carried the tree slices from the NE corner of the yard – carefully so the gravel didn’t fall off – past all the obstacles;

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Around the hill to the SW corner of the yard where they dumped the gravel into a bowl;

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Sure, if they were into ‘products’ it would have been easier to just sat here and fill their bowls up quickly but they like the ‘process’.   This process involved fine motor, gross motor, cognitive skills, cooperation and a whole lot more.

Then there was the music – banging pots and pans;

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Creating rhythms with sticks on drums;

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Singing through the big hose to create special sound effects;

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At one point all four of them were involved in a rousing rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ – it was amazing – just ask my neighbours 😉

Then there was ‘gym class’ where they practiced climbing up, dancing on, and jumping off the big stumps;

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Over in the garden there was story time – they love to tell Grandpa Tree amazing stories;

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Grandpa Tree is a wonderful listener – waiting patiently all day long to hear anything you want to share with him.

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Yes, the toddlers planned the perfect curriculum – I couldn’t have done any better.

Remember When…

Friday was an inservice day so the school-age children were here for the whole day.  I decided it might be a good day to bring out ‘the bin’.

I had filled the bin months ago when I collected some of the leftovers from the garden.  I had intended to use it as a sensory bin for the toddlers.  Now, with a good layer of snow on the ground I thought the bin might also assist the older children to remember our past gardening adventures.

As the children gathered at the table in the sunroom I opened the bin – the aroma was amazing;

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MMmmm, sweetgrass smells so wonderful.  There were other things in the bin too but the scent of the herbs was overpowered by the sweetgrass.  The children spent some time exploring the items and were able to identify both the wheat and the oats;

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They selected items they wanted to include in a little sachet to take home.  They cut up the bigger pieces to fit;

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And created their own sweet smelling little bundle;

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The sunlight streaming through the sunroom window was so bright one of the children wished he had sunglasses – and suggested that we could use the craft supplies on the table to make some.  Good idea 🙂

He selected items from the craft bin that could be used to make sunglasses – egg carton pieces and colored transparent film.  Then the construction began;

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As I assisted a toddler to put glue on the front of the egg carton the older child suggested it might be better to glue the film onto the inside of the egg carton – good idea.

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He also suggested that if we attached a stick on the side of the glasses they would be easier to hold instead of trying to tie a string around your head – so creative.  The finished products may not have worked as well as we would have liked but the process was amazing to watch.

Do you remember when the product was your major concern and ‘I can’t’ was a common complaint?  I do.

Watercolour

Last February when I attended a workshop on messy play I noted that the presenter, Lisa Murphy – The Ooey Gooey Lady, often used liquid watercolor in many of her activities.  I was excited when I discovered that Cre8tive Art Supplies carried a similar product.

Recently I’ve used it in several of our summertime activities – like painting sticks to decorate the garden.  First we went on a walk through the neighbourhood to collect the sticks.  Then we sanded them;

I added the liquid watercolor to some shaving cream foam to use to paint the sticks;

I loved the vibrant colors that were created by using just a few drops of liquid watercolor.

The baby had no interest in painting sticks but she did like mixing foam and watercolor;

As the children finished painting each stick we stuck them in the bare spot of the garden;

Once the foam paint dried there was no color left on the sticks?!?!?  It was somewhat disappointing.

Another day we tried using the liquid watercolor with water and bath puffs to add color to the deck;

Again, beautiful bright colors but they didn’t show up much on the deck even when it was wet and there was no color visible once it dried.

I gave the children some white paper to see if that worked better;

We placed the dripping wet paper in the sun to dry and watched as all the color disappeared too. 😦

Next I’m going to try using the liquid watercolor to tint some playdough.  Good thing these activites are about the process not the product!

Sculptures

We often use play dough as a sensory play activity.  As they explore through touch — squeezing and squishing, rolling and cutting – they enhance fine motor skills too. With the addition of food coloring and spices the dough can excite the sight and smell senses also.  Of course there is always at least one child who insists on tasting.

When I make a new batch of play dough I divide it up into individual portions and put them in sandwich bags. The sandwich bags are then placed in a container and stored in the refrigerator until we want to use it.  I love watching the expressions on the children’s faces when they eagerly grab their ball of play dough and then quickly drop it back on the tray.

“Ooooh, it’s so cold!”  Feeling the change in temperature and texture as they work the dough adds a little science to the activity.

Using this storage method the play dough lasts much longer than if it was left at room temperature but it still doesn’t last forever.  Inevitably the dough will begin to loose its usefulness I need to make more.  The new batch will have different characteristics – maybe even some glitter or sand.

When I saw this activity over at Nurturing Young Minds I thought it would be a terrific way to extend the interest the children had shown for following the animal tracks in the snow outside.  I still had the ‘pumpkin spice’ dough we had been using but I didn’t think it would be a good substitute for snow.  Instead of just tossing it out I decided to let the children make some sculptures that they could take home.

I introduced the activity to the younger children in the morning when the older ones were in school.  They were thrilled to cut and shape the familiar dough but initially left the decorations untouched.  I think they may have been unsure about adding ‘stuff’ to the dough because usually I throw out the dough when it gets ‘dirty’.

I took some dough and supplies and made my own little sculpture as an example.  Tentatively they started making their own creations.

I left them to enjoy their creative process while I gave the baby his bottle.  I observed them from a distance as they made sculptures and then carefully separated all the ‘stuff’ from the dough and then made something new.

This process kept them engaged for over an hour! They seemed unconcerned about their lack of any ‘product’.  When I said it was nearly time to clean up for lunch that they hastily added a few loose bits to their ball of dough and placed it on the tray to dry.

The older children got their turn with this activity during quiet time in the afternoon when the little ones were napping.  They immediately dove in, rolled out their dough and stuck on some decorations – a process that lasted less than five minutes.  Then they moved on to other quiet time activities.

We’ve been watching the sculptures dry — checking daily to see if they are firm enough to pick up.  Today they will take them home.

For some it was all about the process and for others it was the product.