Open-Ended Art

Published on: December 28, 2010

Filled Under: Ask the Reader (YOU), Events/Activities, Resources, Videos

Views: 4050

What exactly does open-ended art mean anyway? Some might think that it means the teacher doesn’t really need to plan for it because they just throw out some materials and the children do what they want to create something. I beg to differ.

Open-ended art is very important for a child’s development. One needs to plan it into the curriculum. Not only when to have it, but also what materials and tools will be available for the children. We need to stimulate their mind and senses, build their creativity and self-esteem, and give them opportunities for new experiences in art. The only way to do that is to plan  it into your curriculum.

So often when I visit childcare centers or family childcare homes, I see specific “art” projects hanging. The first thing I notice is that they look very similar or even the same. Is that art? The teacher has shown an example and guided them to make theirs just like it. “But they chose the paint” or “They chose the paper,” some argue.

Those types of activities are really crafts, not art, because they have a specific end product in mind. Craft activities are fine once in a while, but open-ended art should dominate a majority of the time.

True art for young children is about the experience, not the end result. It’s about developing one’s creativity and self-esteem. Not worrying if it looks like the example. It’s about experiementing with new materials or techniques and sometimes ‘failing’. Not having it perfect or like everyone else’s.

The second thing I notice is that it’s not developmentally appropriate. By that I mean that if I’m in a toddler room and see the snowmen that they’ve hung on the wall and they all look like snowmen, that’s a problem. I know that developmentally, not all two year olds know exactly how to ‘build’ a snowman. It means that the adult in the room (aka teacher) ‘showed’ them (aka took over) how and where to put the snowman pieces. To that I want to say, “If you want it perfect, your expectations are out of orbit. These are two year olds. Of course you can ‘do it better’…and I would hope so. You’re an adult and they are young children. If you want to do it so badly, get your own paper and glue.” Of course, I can’t actually say that, so those thoughts just float in my mind as I nod and smile.

When I visit a childcare center or home and see that a few children got it pretty close and many others put all three circles on top of one another, over the eyes or better yet, used 7 circles, I know that the children were in control of their craft. I use craft here because the snowman was the desired end result. Open-ended, in comparison, allows the children to create something on their own with no adult expectations of the end result. Do not put adult expectations or judgement on a child’s art! And because there’s no end result in mind, there’s no need to show an example.

Here’s a video for some ideas using BioColor for open-ended art.

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