Focusing on the journey, not the destination is exactly what process art is all about. You may have heard us use this term or seen the sign hanging near the art station each week, explaining that we like to highlight the process of creating more than the end result. We do this because we want children to explore new materials, make choices of their own, gain a new understanding of a certain concept, and have fun while creating art!
So many art projects designed for children come with a detailed set of instructions. They tell you to cut this, glue that, color in between the lines, and lead to uniform results. You end up with a perfectly colored rainbow, ten identical construction paper snowmen, and a child’s creativity gets lost.
When we plan the art station at LEAP, we focus on what LEAPers will get out of the act of creating, the process of making something that is a product of their own decisions and imagination. We keep the station intentionally open-ended and simply provide materials to create with. We do provide some guidance, but never discourage children from altering the project to fit their own vision. In fact, you’ll often hear us encourage children to try something different and support their choices to use the materials in a way we weren’t planning for.
Just this week, a little LEAPer strayed from painting with a brush on paper and painted his arms instead! During water painting, we saw children dumping out their bowls of water, creating mud to paint with!
This type of art project encourages little ones to make their own decisions. It allows them to create something individual and unique. Not being told exactly what to do and not being stopped when they do try something different allows them to problem solve, to think both critically and creatively.
You may have noticed we don’t shy away from getting messy either! From week to week, we see toddlers with paint in their hair, blue hands (and arms!), and mud underneath their fingernails. That’s okay! It’s why we tell you to bring your child dressed in clothes that can get messy and why you won’t hear us complain when your little ones start painting on us, too!
Squishing, dipping, dumping, slapping, and squeezing paint and play dough allows children to explore textures and sounds. They can see how paint looks and spreads differently depending on the surface it’s on. All of these actions work toddlers’ fine motor skills which are still developing and strengthening at this time.
Next time you want to do an art project at home, think about how to focus more on the process than the end result. It’s always exciting and sometimes amazing to see what your little one can create!
Music is universal. It’s cross cultural and enjoyed by all ages, from infants to grandparents and everyone in between! Stevie Wonder summed it up well when saying, “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand.” Young children, especially, seemed to be tuned in to the language of sound and song. Think back to when you were a child—do you have any memories that involve music? Can you remember the words to songs you listened to in preschool or elementary school? Did you learn your ABC’s by singing the alphabet song? I’m sure you answered yes to at least one of these questions.
Music makes a positive impact on your child’s development—socially, emotionally, cognitively, and helps with fine and gross motor skills. It’s why we end every LEAP class singing a song together, why we have an entire station dedicated to exploring and experimenting with sound each week, and why we still remember nursery rhymes from our own childhoods. So how exactly is music impacting your child’s development—why does music truly matter?
Often, language development in young children begins with music. Before babies are even born they hear music and sounds and even react to them! As toddlers, hearing music exposes children to new sounds, words, and the meanings of words. Songs with repeated phrases help children commit words to memory and increase their vocabulary—a vocabulary that is expanding by as many as 10 new words every day! Tapping along or clapping during the LEAP song helps children learn to keep a beat, a pre-literacy skill that leads to more successful readers.
The urge to react to a song or move to a beat is evident in infants and toddlers, and eventually starts to look like dancing. Dancing brings us joy, makes us laugh, and also helps develop muscles that are growing quickly in early life. There is so much more happening when we dance and make music than meets the eye! Playing with instruments and waving our arms in the air often involves cross-lateral movements (arm and leg movements that cross the center of the body) which are necessary for the brain to be ready to learn to read. Holding on to instruments requires fine motor skills while hitting a xylophone with a stick improves hand-eye coordination. All of these things are happening when your child bangs on a drum, shakes a tambourine, claps their hands, or dances around the room to their favorite song.
You may notice that your child is still working on the idea of sharing, that he or she may talk to you or to themselves more than they engage with other children their own age. This is totally normal for two and three year olds. They are still learning how to be social at this age—they only see the world through their own eyes, acquiring new information and building on their own understanding constantly. That’s a big job and doesn’t always leave room for being social. Music is an excellent way for children to begin to interact socially and learn to work together, problem solve, and cooperate. Through music they experience what it’s like to create something as a group that is different than what they can do on their own. These experiences are the basis of being able to share, compromise, and form friendships. That’s why we sing as a group each week, creating something much better together than we could ever create individually.
Speaking of singing as a group… Our LEAP song goes to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching"!”
Goodbye my friends,
It was so fun
At LEAP, at LEAP
Goodbye my friends,
It was so fun
At LEAP, at LEAP
We made great art,
We're getting smart,
We picked up rocks,
We played in a box
It was so fun
At LEAP at the Zoo
Imagine you are playing with a toy car—what can you do with it? You drive it around with your hands, you watch it roll on the ground after a good push, and you race it against other cars across an imagined finish line. Cars do just that, they drive. Now, imagine you are playing with an empty cardboard box. How do you choose to play with it? Is your cardboard box a rocket ship, blasting you into space? Do you step inside the box and imagine you've entered a time machine that can take you anywhere? Maybe you want to paint your box, turning it into a unique piece of art. A box is not a box at all. The possibilities are limitless!
In childhood, it's important for children to have opportunities to exercise their creativity and individuality. Open ended materials, like a box, can help children reflect their understanding of the world and how they fit into it.
At LEAP, you'll notice we display an abundance of open ended materials, in the hopes that children will take control and guide their own play in whatever way they choose. We call these materials, "loose parts." When it comes to play, the term loose parts describes abstract items and materials that children can manipulate, move, change and explore. These can range from natural items like sticks, rocks and shells to household items such as fabric, buttons and kitchen tools. We also include ways for children to examine loose parts in a different way—magnifying glasses allow children to take a close look various containers allow children to explore how parts move and flow.
According to Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky's book, Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children,
"When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of 'what if' that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children's ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children's play."
Loose parts give you a glimpse into a child's mind and help them grow by supporting physical, cognitive and social-emotional development.
Want to see more of these benefits firsthand? Get your own loose parts station started at home by collecting everyday items from around the house and keeping them in a special area. You can add to your collection by picking up natural items when you go on walks through the neighborhood and visit your local park. Once you've got your collection started, sit back and watch what happens! How does your child play when they're in charge?