Self Guided Learning: Focusing on the Process Instead of the Product

We begin today’s blog by reading the story The Little Boy, by Helen E. Buckley. This story brilliantly illustrates how when we focus on the product instead of the process, it inhibits children’s creativity.  The little boy at the beginning of this story was very excited that he was going to be able to draw at school.  He liked to draw. He could draw lions, tigers, chickens, cows, trains and boats. He was confident in himself.  He was eager to begin the task. In his new school though, he had to wait for the teacher’s instruction because there was a certain way to draw the picture and the teacher was going to show them how.  As you read the story, reflect on the little boy’s feelings as he could not explore and experiment with the colours he liked.  Ask yourself how it changed the boy’s future creativity and willingness to take risks. Every time I read this story it reminds how we play a role in children’s learning.

It is often tempting when we work with children, to want to do structured crafts that produce an end product and look nice to take home.  Some children, as they get older, like arts and crafts that have steps and patterns, and there is value in this to a degree. One question to ask ourselves is why do we feel product oriented art is important? What does it teach children? What did it teach the little boy in the story?  What kinds of experiences can we offer instead?  Offering open ended art that encourages the process of experimentation promotes many skills for children:

  • Allows the child to experiment  based on the developmental stage they are at (they are not being asked to cut with scissors for example before they are ready)
  • Encourages self esteem as there is no right way to use the materials and they can do it independently
  • Is encouraging – there is no model and therefore no sense of failure that their creation doesn’t look like the model
  • Allows children to express their feelings, emotions and ideas through exploration
  • Offers no judgment because there is no preconceived notion of how it is supposed to look
  • Gives children a sense of control and accomplishment from being able to use the materials as they see fit
  • Heightens creativity as they are focused on the process not the end result

How can home child care providers support children in learning through process versus product?  You can support them by offering a variety of materials, mediums, tools, and items from nature.  Observe what seems to interest them and offer more of it. Allow them the time and space to explore. You can offer inspiration by having books or a variety of attractive loose parts available to create with.

If children are given the materials, time, and space, they will create and may surprise you. You can support the parent’s understanding of the importance of this type of process play. Perhaps give them a copy of the story The Little Boy or have conversations with them about what their child learned when they were creating, so they too can see the value in the play process.  Give them language to use that emphasizes the process, for example instead of saying, “what is your picture?” (which focuses on the end product, say “tell me about how you created your picture, sculpture, etc.” 

Investing in Quality Peterborough has some great resources in their library about encouraging open ended, process led play.  This library is free.  Check it out when you have some time!