open-ended art

Children’s Open-Ended Art

There have been many days teaching preschoolers where I’ve put aside the planned lessons for the morning or afternoon because my students were so engaged with the open-ended art table there was no way to stop them from creating! I love those kind of days! You might be considering all the learning that’s being abandoned because of crafts – some of my fellow teachers may agree with you, to my dismay!

Choices, Imagination and Creativity

But there’s this important fact: The amount and scope of the learning young children are soaking in with open-ended art is vital to their development!

Choices, Imagination and Creativity

Open-Ended Art is focused on individual expression rather than a perfect final product. So, preschoolers may create their unique image of a green bunny, a pink flying hippopotamus, or a spaceship with wheels driving down the street!

Children’s Open-Ended Art requires creative thinking, exploration and experimentation. These are linked to leadership skills and successfully meeting challenges throughout life.

In Open Art there is:

  • No step-by-step instructions 
  • No sample for kids to look to on how to create their art
  • No right or wrong
  • No time limit – creating one piece of art can spill over into several sessions
  • No leading from adults with suggestions on how or what to create
  • Totally self-directed by the artist using free expression
  • Exploration of “what’s there to create with” whether it’s materials, tools, or textures
  • Experimentation of how to use and manipulate materials, tools and textures
  • Unique and original created art entirely from a child’s own choices, imagination and creativity

Critical Thinking Skills

Kids will often start open-ended art with an idea in mind – a mental picture of what they want to create. They’ll create using their favorite color, or create with a favorite pair of scissors. In one of my classes several years ago, there was a three-year-old who was fascinated with car washes. He would create his idea of a car wash at the open-ended art table over and over again using different colors, materials and tools. Each car wash was different depending on his mental image that day. Another student loved butterflies, and he would fold small pieces of paper into wings for his butterflies! 

The critical thinking skill development in open-ended art would go something like this: There’s a mental picture of what kids want to create, and the question and problem for them to solve is how to follow through with a plan to create that mental image with what’s available to use.

This plan involves a step-by-step process – not instructions – but a process. What should happen first and in what order to create the intent of the mental picture takes mental planning. In turn, this involves problem solving, independent choosing, and initiative.

Through open-ended art, a child learns to take risks by showing originality in creative thinking. Children learn trial and error and cause an effect through open art creation.

Cognitive Development

For preschoolers, thought processes of remembering, problem solving, decision making, cause and effect are all part of their cognitive development. Another way to look at cognitive development in preschoolers is to remember your preschooler is learning to understand and reason things out about the world around them, what happens in the world around them, and why do things happen in the way they do in the world around them.

How does open-ended art factor into cognitive development? Here are a few examples. 

  • When kids use a crayon and push down hard to color, the lines are darker. Lightly color with the crayon, and the line is lighter. That’s the cognitive development of cause and effect. 
  • Decision making skills relate to cognitive development through open-ended art by kids choosing which tools and materials to use. Deciding to mix paint colors, using scissors with fancy blades versus using scissors with straight blades, using paint rather than crayons.
  • The cognitive development of trial and error is how to create the mental image of their art using different tools and materials in a new way, using more color, or using one color, creating a bigger or smaller version of their mental imagined art. 

Added Benefits of Open-Ended Art-

There are math skills involved with open-ended art – sizes, shapes, comparing, and spatial reasoning to name a few. By asking children how they created their art or how they used a tool to create their art is building their language and communication skills and their vocabulary bank. Practicing those fine motor skills and learning through the five senses are both a part of open-ended art learning, as well. 

Life Skills

Cooperatively cleaning up the open-ended art supplies, and leaving the supplies out and not being bothered by the mess, are both life skill learning here! It’s more fun, and cleaning up goes quicker together as a team effort. Learning to leave a messy area out for a time, and not having to see a perfectly clean area all the time, is a mental life skill. 

Try Children’s Open-Ended Art

Whether you’re a teacher with a classroom full of children or a parent wanting to keep your children busy at home, you’ll be building young childrens’ critical skills and cognitive development by giving them opportunities to create through open-ended art!