Blogger Katie Salo

Process & Product Art In Storytime

Recently, I’ve read a lot of debate about offering crafts in storytime and what purpose that serves. One of the major concerns is what kind of art we are using — process versus product art.

Let’s get some definitions straight though. Process art is when the emphasis is placed on making art and using different mediums whereas product art is when the emphasis is placed on following instructions to achieve an expected result.

There are a lot of valid points from both sides of the debate, but my question is…why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we use both kinds of art with our storytime kids?

Process Art with marble painting
Process Art with marble painting
Process Art
Pros: Gives the child a chance to really do whatever they want. Less pressure about making “good” art and more about just having fun. All about the experience.

Cons: Some kids freeze, have no idea where to start without having instructions to follow. Can lead to some mess which I personally don’t mind, but some kids/parents do not like. Often, parents seem more hesitant to try it and experiment.

Product Art: stand-up cat
Product Art: stand-up cat
Product Art
Pros: Teaches the child how to follow instructions, which is useful later on in school. Art that parents enjoy displaying/bragging about. Children bring home crafts that easily remind them of the storytime theme of the day.

Cons: Limits creativity. Requires a lot of prep work that not every librarian has time to invest in. Can be costly. Parents take over the craft. Concern that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to complete the craft/art.

Personally, I see benefits and downsides to both kinds of art. But even through all that, I think we can give our patrons both! What do you say? Let me know in the comments!

Further Resources & Reading:

– Katie Salo
Youth Services Manager
Melrose Park Library


  1. Rachel Payne

    Thanks for this post Katie and I like your balanced approach! I get on my anti-product high horse, but it is usually when I see librarians doing product art/crafts with toddlers and even threes. At this age, kids are still learning what paper, glue, play dough, and other art materials are all about, let alone how to use them. Process art is the most developmentally appropriate art activity for the very young, since they can explore and there is no pressure for things to look a certain way. Also, doing product based crafts with toddlers is an exercise in frustration and often the parents do the whole project. If you must create a product at this age, what can work is a product young children can add process to. Have children glue cotton balls onto a sheep form or collage leaves onto a construction paper tree. Children need language skills to do product arts and crafts, so these activities work best with kids four and up in my experience.

  2. Angela Critics

    I tend to find myself leaning towards the process side. As Rachel pointed out, with the truly little ones, product-based crafts usually end up being done by the parent. But even with older children, so much of what they do is product focused that I want to ensure they get the chance to enjoy the process. Even when I do a product focused craft, I tend to include an element of process. Or I create a sample and tell them that this is one way they might do things. But in Miss Angela’s program, there is no wrong way to do it. It makes me incredibly frustrated to hear a parent tell a two year old that they are doing it wrong because they are gluing something on upside down or chose the “wrong” color crayon.

  3. Evan

    We JUST had someone come and talk to our Children’s staff about using process-oriented crafts instead of product-oriented crafts. I have to say, I tend to cringe when I see very ‘kit’-like crafts, where basically all of the work has been done for the children and then they just slap it together. While I understand that the youngest children don’t have all of the scissor and cutting skills that some crafts might require, it is quite dismaying to see how many older kids STILL don’t have good command of their scissors. When I am looking for craft ideas I give pause if something seems too cookie-cutter and the kids will just be cutting out, gluing, and coloring.
    One of my favorite crafts involved sewing together a paper pocket with yarn, and then decorating a ‘pal’ to put inside the pocket. These were manilla cardstock pieces of paper, folded, holes punched, and then the kids do the rest of the sewing and decorating. Great for fine motor skills, and they had a blast decorating their pockets and pals to their hearts’ content. I’m less-inclined to believe that the product-oriented crafts stimulate imagination and creativity. Children will have plenty of time for the product-oriented stuff once they get into school. The more open-ended and creative you allow the children to be, the more fun they will have and the more they will benefit, in my humble opinion.

  4. Kelly Doolittle

    I’m a library assistant at a larger library in an average sized collegetown and I plan and implement the toddler & family storytimes for our Youth Services department. I tend to think the whole process V. product approach to arts crafts is too intellectualized. To create art or “projects” as I tend to call them, that stimulate further understanding of a theme in any manner is a wonderful thing. The days I have slightly more complicated projects, I encourage the grownups to help as that encourages sharing between the child and the caregiver! What greater gift in these times of continual electronic distractions – sitting down together and figuring out how to make something fun or lovely or educational? It is not only about a child learning how to use scissors – it’s more about the joy of just making something! Like Angela, I stress my prototype project is just one way of doing things. As I watch the patrons create and play, I listen and answer questions and praise, praise, praise for every outcome: “I love how you used the black crayon & the blue crayon on that tree!” or “I just love your 2-headed dragon! He must be really smart!” I rarely hear a parent say “You shouldn’t do it that way…” and when I do I always say something to the effect of “It’s ALL good!” We’re having fun – that’s the most important thing.

  5. Stacy Vincent

    I work in a busy public library in a low-income area, and crafts are an essential part of my storytimes here. My predecessor always did a craft and encouraged me to continue doing one, but I was hesitant at first. Its a lot of work at eats at our supplies budget. However, after my first few storytimes I was sold. People in our area often can’t afford preschool or crafting supplies, so coming here to do crafts is a major treat. I also feel it is developmentally important. Just yesterday I had a coworker mention that the crafts aren’t important because they simply get thrown away. I, however, think they are invaluable for the fine motor skills they teach and the opportunity for creativity. I cringe when I hear parents say things like “stay in the lines” or “you’re supposed to do it this way.” Luckily they are the minority. I definitely lean toward process over product and will continue doing crafts with my storytimes indefinitely.

    1. MaryAnn F. Kohl, art book author and educator

      I think a mixture of crafts and process art is the key. Sometimes you let kids explore and discover their own art, and other times they follow steps to make “something”. Both are important. I like to suggest that people use the word art when they do art, and crafts when they do crafts. This helps the parents learn to see the difference. Keep on creating! You have a great attitude.

  6. Robbi

    I do story times for the Itty Bittys at my library so 0 to 3 1/2. In my 2 to 3 1/2 story times and sometimes even in my 15 months – 3 1/2 special story times, we do “crafts.” And I feel like mine are a decent mix. I tend to not make an example because I find that when I do that, parents latch onto it and every kid’s ends up looking the same. I do try and stop the parents from taking over and often walk around saying, “It’s more about the process than the final product, anyway!” Which I guess shows on which side of this I normally fall. But, as I said, I try to do a bit of both so right before we start in, I explain it (mostly for the parents benefit so they don’t feel lost) and then let them go. But I do themed story times so for example, if I did a food story time, maybe we’d use cookie cutters and dip them in paint and then put them on paper. And if the kids end up fingerpainting instead, that’s fine too. Or if the story time is about cats, maybe we’ll make a handprint cat so the kids are putting their hands in paint and then the parents are helping add whiskers, a tail, ears, and googly eyes. But I make sure there’s plenty of room on the page for kids to just paint or color and I encourage that. I try to have a very relaxed, kid-led story time. 🙂 Nice post!

  7. Julia

    I learned a long time ago that art is so important…it’s an extension of what they are learning in storytime. It is a great way for children to use fine motor skills and creativity. I do storytime for babies (0-23 months) and I try to do one art piece each season. I made flowers out of craft foam for Mother’s Day and had each parent paint her child’s hand to make a handprint in the center. I had them do sand art with shakers. I’ve also had them use marshmallows to paint with. A little process and a little product. Both are equally important.

  8. Rebecca Dunn

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you Kate for opening up the debate. I don’t think the discussion is about which craft is better or worse. What I think it comes down to is how the educator/librarian/parent approaches the project and encourages the children. I’ve done many a process and product art projects where the caregivers ended up manipulating the outcome. Likewise, I’ve done process and product projects that evolved into unique, child-driven artistic experiences. It’s when I look back and evaluate a storytime that I find that the success of a craft often stems from how much energy I put into encouraging caregivers to be helpful but not overbearing. I like to have an example, but I always encourage the child’s own unique perspective, emphasizing individual creativity. When the stars are aligned and this happens, it’s a beautiful thing. I love what Kelly said here in the comments, “What greater gift in these times of continual electronic distractions — sitting down together and figuring out how to make something fun or lovely or educational? ” I’d like to add to it. Both process and product crafts are excellent tools in implementing a touch of art education in the library. They’re also a great way to take the stories read at storytime one step further to enjoy a shared experience. A little direction and a lot of encouragement goes a long way.

  9. MaryAnn F. Kohl, art book author and educator

    Hello! Love your topic. You may know the 20 or so books I’ve written filled with Process Art. I’m the person who coined the phrase that is now used, and I’m very proud of the fact that people use this term to explain a certain kind of art that is exploratory and promotes a child’s thinking and expression. Yes, I like Product Art too (I call them crafties), but when we are talking art, I am all for the creative process. One of my books is called “Storybook Art”, with process art ideas that are companions to many famous picture books. I’m sure you would love it for story time in your library. I do full day trainings about Process Art for librarians all over the country, and everyone loves the hands-on exploration time. Anyway, I just wanted to chime in and say hello and say “I love Process Art!” I love all kinds of art. I think the important thing is to know when children are creating from their imaginations, and when they are following directions to copy an adult. That’s the essence of it. I love reading all the comments on your page. Very smart people, librarians!!

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