"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

24 April 2015

Open-Process Art: A Different Type of Library Program

I have seen, taught, led, and participated in countless craft programs, both craft programs for children and also those for adults.  Many craft programs begin with a specific end product that everyone will make, like the dancing leprochaun craft the kids at my library did on St. Patrick's Day.  There's nothing wrong with these types of craft programs per se, but there is another type of art program that can be done in a library: open process art.

This type of art involves creating for the sake of creating and doesn't necessarily have an end product or goal as the focus. It can be difficult to convince those who work with children to run a program that doesn't end with everyone carrying out their carefully crafted creation, but giving kids (and adults) the opportunity to explore and enjoy and experience can also be a great program.

I recently had a group of children visit my library. I gave them my standard library tour, read them a story, and then instead of giving them a construction paper and glue stick craft, I let them try their hands at a project: given dry spaghetti noodles and mini marshmallows, what kind of structure can you make?

It was a lot of fun to watch the kids making a huge mess with this project. Some of them took to it right away, while others had to fiddle around a bit to decide what to do. Some kids worked in groups and others worked alone.  The best part, though, was that none of the results looked at all alike. Kids made big buildings and tall ones, rectangular ones and triangles and pentagons.  One kid made a giant pile of marshmallows and jammed a few spaghetti noodles in it and called it good. Kids made parts that moved, watched their structures collapse, and asked people to help them stabilize bits.  They were concentrating, they were learning, and they had a great time.

I won't always do this type of project; there definitely is a place for craft-y things that produce actual items for people to take home and enjoy, but the looks of intense concentration I saw on the faces of the children tells me that this was a project worth repeating.


Jen said...

I love this! I'd like to see more process art and activities, versus cookie-cutter crafts. Especially for the younger kids, because the parents just end up doing the craft, anyway.

Jenni Frencham said...

I agree! The open-process art workshop I attended emphasized the fact that kids don't develop good cutting skills or other small motor abilities because everything is prefabricated for them, and that letting them play with things like this or a giant pile of clay or water beads or whatever helps them develop those skills and also helps them to learn. I loved seeing how they were concentrating as they built, rather than focusing on trying to make an exact replica of my paper plate lion, for example.