Benefits of Open-Ended Art

Are you experiencing an ‘art slump’? I’m not ashamed to say we were – relying heavily on painting and drawing as our go-to art forms. And why not? They are quick and easy to set up, and the children don’t need any instruction. But at what cost? We realised that relying solely on these art forms resulted in decreasing engagement and a lack of enthusiasm. The children would quickly complete the activities without putting in much effort, and the art became less meaningful. Something had to change!

Benefits of open-ended artOur mission: to find our love of art and creativity again

Reflecting on our regular art choices, we realised that nearly every artwork is done on paper. It was time to think outside the box (and on a budget!), and this meant op shopping.

We wanted the children to feel excited and have a sense of ownership over the art projects, so small groups of them came for an excursion to the op shop with the instruction to find something interesting. It was hard at first to move away from all the toys, but the children quickly got the idea and began presenting interesting items. There were so many open-ended resources, with limitless possibilities for what we could do with them.

I found a large piece of lace and thought we could decorate it and use it as a tablecloth for the dramatic play space. The children jumped in with another suggestion – “I think it looks like a baby blanket. We could wrap the dolls in it.” (Sarah)

One of the children found a strange wicker frame and pondered what it was for. She held it in front of her face, peering through the gaps at her friends, who all began giggling. Another decided it should be worn as a hat instead.

After making several purchases, we got to work giving the items a new life. The focus was on open-ended art opportunities that would be child-led. We wanted them to enjoy the process of making the art as much as the final product. Each of the completed pieces would be reused in our home corner, reducing wastage and showing children that their work is valued by being prominently displayed in our space.

Benefits of open-ended art

We started with some fine motor work. Children selected balls of old yarn and ribbons from our collection and used them to thread into the wicker basket.

This experience also incorporated maths though play, with children learning pattern and sequence through the ‘over-under’ threading method.

This basket would be suspended from our curtain rail as a swing for the dolls.

With lace draped over a tree as our canvas, the children used syringes to squirt paint, marvelling at the squiggly patterns it made and laughing as big goops of paint dripped and combined with other colours.

Children experimented with how fast and high they could make it squirt, exposing them to some simple science principles such as suction, motion and gravity.

Even our littlest learners got involved, helping to decorate unique kitchen equipment with sharpies and colouring the sand in preparation for our next art piece. These simple tasks developed hand-eye coordination and the ability to observe and mimic the actions of others.

Benefits of open-ended art
Benefits of open-ended art

Our final project was sand art. We recently had our sandpit refilled and repurposed some of the leftover sand by colouring it and sprinkling it over PVA glue. This was a wonderful sensory play experience, with some children showing their creativity by making specific patterns and pictures, while others just enjoyed the colours and feel of the sand running through their fingers as an abstract piece. We highlighted these artworks with the photo frames we found in the op shop.

Benefits of open-ended art
Benefits of open-ended art

Each of these activities gave the children purpose and a goal within their art. Most of them held sustained focus and attention for a minimum of 30minutes – a huge difference to painting or drawing on paper!

When each of our projects was complete, I got to work renovating our home corner space and featuring the children’s art in as many ways as possible. Dolls were placed in the woven swing and wrapped in the painted lace, kitchen props and utensils were featured on the table or in the kitchen, and the walls were covered in the framed artwork.

Benefits of open-ended art

As an educator, it was a real joy to watch the children arrive for care in the morning and find the room filled with their own creations. Even those who don’t usually enjoy dramatic play came to check out the new space.

Sarah: “Look, that’s my one! Isn’t it beautiful?”

Educator: “They all look fantastic! I can tell you worked really hard. This one looks like waves.”

Wyatt: “That looks like a W. W is for Wyatt! Who made this one?”

The children chatted for a long time about their art, comparing notes and pointing out their piece when new friends arrived for the day. This showed a great sense of pride and ownership over the whole endeavour, and real engagement and connection to the experience.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of this process for me as an educator, was to have a parent give some really positive feedback. Her child had been excitedly telling her about the art projects at home, and this mother instantly recognised the pieces in our home corner that she had heard so much about. You can’t get more encouraging results than that!

Author:  Alyce Picone, On Call Director