Art vs. Crafts in Preschool – What’s the Difference?


process art

Process Art







craft not art

Teacher Created Craft Model

“It’s the process, not the product.”  This important statement is a well-known mantra of early childhood professionals.  Process art is experimenting with a variety of mediums and exploring personal artistic expression for the pure joy and satisfaction of the experience.

The purpose is not to produce a specific art work, but to learn the many ways that materials and colors blend together to make something new and unique.  When it comes to art and young children, process art is the gold standard.

Crafts, however, have an end result in mind.  Using a set of directions, a model, and a few specific materials we hope to make a cute and identifiable craft product that is similar to the original.

You can distinguish easily between the two by assessing how much preparation time the teacher has put into the activity.  Did the teacher print, trace, and cut out components for children to color or glue together while following her preassembled model? Or did the teacher simply gather and provide the objects, paper and art materials needed for the children to sit and begin?  The first is most definitely a craft, while the other is open ended process art.

There’s always a debate raging about this topic, and it exists because learning is always the goal when working with children, and there’s so much more for them to learn and discover when an art experience is open ended.  However, teachers often feel the pressure to send home cute kiddie crafts, as parents seem to really enjoy them.

One problem with prescribed crafts is that they are teacher directed and not child led.  There’s a lack of creativity and critical thinking skills being used by the child, which can result in a lack of engagement or boredom.  Children may view the work as drudgery.  The biggest problem is that children will compare their results to the teacher’s perfect example and be either extremely disappointed or frustrated by their own efforts.  Worse yet, they will feel inferior and believe they are not “good at arts and crafts.” Some children won’t even attempt the activity, believing they can’t do it.  Anyone who has suffered their own Pinterest fails can identify with this emotion.

My perspective on the arts vs. crafts debate is that there is room for both process art and crafts in preschool. I agree that process art should be the main focus (about 75%), but a few crafts sprinkled in (25%) can be beneficial too.

This being said, crafts for children should be chosen carefully and require them to practice the skills they need to learn — tracing, cutting, gluing, etc.  However, this means the craft must be VERY simple with enough open-ended choices to satisfy little artists.  For example, when we worked on paper tube owls last fall, children chose their own earthy-toned paint colors and decided which type and how many feathers to use. The model we followed had only two googly eyes glued on.  I demonstrated how to bend the top edges down to create the look of ears.



I can hear the outcry now, “what does a child possibly gain by completing a toilet tube owl?”

If we consider the theory of Multiple Intelligences, we recognize that all children (and adults for that matter) have individual gifts and challenges.  One of my personal joys in teaching young children is discovering their special talents and interests.  We all have something unique that makes us who we are.

While I’ve always admired artistic people and their creations, my own skills are very limited.  Not from lack of trying mind you, but facts are facts.  Maybe I am the product of too many teacher-led crafts in my own youth, but I rarely can come up with an original artistic idea.

However, I love when I see a cute craft project or pattern that I would like to try to duplicate.  As a visual learner, I NEED a photo or actual model to copy.  Often, I need written directions too.  The notion occurred to me one day that maybe, like me, not all children are equipped with the artistic surge to create on their own?  Maybe they needed a little inspiration to see what was possible?  This is when I realized the value of including  some craft projects in my preschool program.  Once children see and experience what can be created with just some paper, glue, and feathers; the door might open to similar ideas and creativity in the future.

What are your thoughts?






Salad Spinner Painting

spin art galaxy 2


Salad spinner painting is such a simple, yet engaging activity for young children. You don’t need any special materials or major preparation.  Children practice many important skills, and have fun while doing it!

You can tie this activity in with many different themes, depending on the colors and shapes used (Easter eggs, Valentine  hearts, 4th of July, snowflakes, etc.).  Photos on this page are from our Space and St. Patrick’s Day themes.  I wanted to tie-in color mixing the first time we tried this; which explains why we used red, blue, and yellow paint for shamrocks!  We can’t wait to try it for Earth Day using shades of greens and blues.

Supplies needed:

  • Salad spinner – Ikea has an inexpensive option that works well, but we used an older one we had on hand
  • Tempera paints or any other types you want to use up
  • Children’s Scissors
  • Card stock is best for this project (heavier/firm weight plus absorbent)  Tip:  I purchase in advance when on sale at craft stores like Michael’s or JoAnn’s.  Recycled Materials:  Old file folders can be used in place of card stock
  • or Water color paper

spin art galaxy 3

spin art galaxy









Age/Developmental Levels:

  • Beginner – Adds shape to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle
  • Intermediate – child cuts out traced shape, adds to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle
  • Advanced – Child traces and cuts out own shapes , adds to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle

Skills/Learning Goals:

  • Fine/Gross Motor – large arm movements – squeezing paints, turning spinner handle, tracing and cutting out shapes
  • Science:  Awareness/Experimentation with centrifugal force and color mixing (if desired)

Theme tie-ins (endless):

  • Shamrocks, St. Patrick’s Day
  • Space, Solar System, Galaxy, Planets
  • Earth Day
  • Snowflakes, Winter
  • Hearts, Valentine’s Day
  • Easter, Easter Eggs

spin art shamrock2



spin art shamrock

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Best Preschool Egg Hunt


The best egg hunt for preschoolers is one that is simply fun with no fighting, complaining, or disappointments.  Ways to accomplish this perfect egg hunt?

  1. Limit the amount of eggs per child
  2. Each child searches for an assigned color
  3. Do not fill the eggs
  4. Let children turn in their eggs for a treat bag

I’ve tried all types of egg hunts, this has been my favorite for four year straight. The children are excited, happy, and content! What more can you ask for?

Why does it work so well?

  1.  Assigned colors (chosen or randomly picked) give children a mission and a focus.  It eliminates that overwhelming feeling of having to grab every  egg they see.
  2. Limiting the number (we do 10) allows children to search just long enough that it doesn’t become boring or exhausting.  It also encourages them to stop every so often to count how many eggs they have and how many they still need to find.  (As a teacher, this is one of my favorite parts — counting practice that is initiated by  children).
  3. Empty eggs – egg finding is the goal, not stopping to check each egg and being excited/disappointed with contents or the fact that you are not finding the same types of fillings as the other children.  Empty eggs are also fun to hide again for each other once all 10 have been found.  In my experience, the children invent their own games to play with the empty eggs and often ask to take their eggs home.
  4. When all the eggs have been found (and outside play time is over), we head indoors to get our identical treat bags.  I usually fill them with 10 identical items — one for each egg found. (Another Option:  The first year I numbered all the eggs and then gave them a number of specific treats based on the number, so they could practice number identification and one-to-one correspondence.  For example, #1 was one tiny notebook, #2 was two sharpened pencils, #3 was three small pages of stickers, and so on, but I found it difficult to continue each year.)


More tips for a perfect egg hunt:

  1.  Have a basket of each color to match the eggs the children will find.
  2.  Start the hunt with one egg in each basket to help children remember which color they are searching for.
  3. Remind children of rules before hunting:  find only your color; do not pick up other colors; only help a friend if he/she wants help (remind them that we all like to find our own eggs)
  4. Once a few children have found their ten, ask the remaining children if they would like their friends help them find their eggs.  This provides help for younger children or those becoming frustrated.
  5. Recycled Materials Tip:  The same baskets (and most of the eggs) can be used each year.  A few children have asked to take home their eggs the last two years, so a few color sets had to be replaced.  Plastic eggs are readily available on sale after Easter, so why not?

Treat bag ideas (non-edible):

  • Wikki Stix (always a favorite or other crafty obect – individual play dough, set of crayons/markers)
  • writing object (sharpened pencils are my favorite – can be used right away)
  • small spiral notebook
  • cute figure of some type (duck, chick, animal)
  • cute holiday socks (inexpensive and useful to families)
  • themed stickers
  • reusable bag or container to hold items to bring home
  • card game or book
  • one parent-approved snack, such as organic fruit gummies or  crackers
  • one tiny chocolate bunny (because to me that says Easter)!