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    The Objectives for this lesson are: (Enter your objectives in this box below)

    • Identify examples of creative experiences and activities for school-age children.
    • Distinguish between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.
    • Reflect on creative experiences you currently use in your classroom.




    Creativity can happen anywhere: quiet moments by yourself, surrounded by a group of enthusiastic people, on a walk, in a car, etc. The opportunities that you provide to children and the interactions between yourself and children are critical for promoting creativity.

    Just as experiences and activities inspire your creativity, experiences and activities nurture creativity in young children. In Lesson One, you learned that creativity can be nurtured and cultivated; it is not something that simply exists in some individuals and not in others. As a school-age staff member, you are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that incorporate and nurture creativity. Creative experiences provide opportunities for children to express and demonstrate their knowledge in interesting and meaningful ways (Gandini, 1992). Fostering children’s creativity builds a foundation for healthy development and love for learning.

    Fostering Creative Experiences

    How does your program foster creativity in school-age children? Does it encourage and provide opportunities for creative expression for all children? How are you supported in promoting school-age children’s creativity? The following can guide your efforts as you interact with children in school-age experiences.

    Healthy Self-Expression

    Think back to your days as a school-age child. Can you remember when you began to develop your own sense of identity? Do you remember when you started choosing your own clothing, redecorating your bedroom, wearing trendy jewelry, listening to popular music? These are all examples of self-expression. You may have also started experimenting with a variety of artistic activities. You might have started drawing, kept a diary, made jewelry, learned an instrument, and created inventions. These are examples of taking risks and trying new things while finding one’s passions. Self-expression and discovering one’s passion are important parts of development for school-age children. As children grow and develop, they try to find their own identity or their own voice. They will take risks and try new things, and each will become his or her own person. The creative arts allow school-age children to express themselves in healthy ways and to discover what they are passionate about.

    Self-expression is a significant part of growing up. School-age children need to develop healthy forms of self-expression to can handle the emotions and stress that come with growing older. The creative arts help them do so. According to Harvard’s Project Zero, the arts “provide a unique opportunity for students to express themselves beyond verbal language.” At times, school-age children have difficulty discussing what is on their minds, and using the arts is a way to help them communicate their feelings in a variety of ways.

    Self-Expression: Communicating Through the Arts

    Using the creative arts as a form of communication allows children to express themselves in healthy ways. In this section, we will go through the six major creative arts and discuss examples of how school-age children might communicate. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way for children to use the arts as a form of communication or self-expression. The creative process allows children to make their own decisions about their work, to take risks and to make mistakes. The methods listed below are only a small portion of the possible ways children can use the arts to communicate.

    Visual Arts

    School-age children can create images or visual representations of events or feelings. Sometimes children have a hard time discussing topics that make them uncomfortable or that are confusing. Creating a drawing, painting, or other visual representation of those feelings allows children to express themselves without always having to discuss their feelings with others. Sometimes, discussing the artwork they created will be easier than discussing what actually happened.


    • Keeping a personal diary or blog: School-age children can release their feelings and thoughts in a healthy way by journaling about their life. Feelings usually kept to themselves might become topics for conversation after having worked through them on paper. It is important to remind school-age children that information kept on a blog is not private.
    • Creative writing: School-age children can use their imaginations to communicate through creative writing. They could put themselves into a story or create a character that they wish they could be like. Poetry is also a way for children express themselves. There is a large variety of types of poetry, which means poetry can appeal to many different children.


    • Playing a musical instrument: School-age children who play musical instruments may use this creative outlet to communicate their feelings. Different types of music evoke different emotions, and those emotions are necessary to perform the piece well.
    • Music composition: Creating music is another way school-age children can express emotions and feelings. Children may write song lyrics or a talented musician may even create musical compositions.
    • Listening to music: Listening to music is a classic outlet for school-age children. Their choice in music may depend on their mood or current situation. The music itself can speak to children; it can get them up and moving or match their somber moods. Song lyrics are important as well, and can be interpreted to help children through situations.


    Interpretive dance, in which dancers move based on what the music is saying to them, provides a school-age child the opportunity to express emotion and tell a story through movement.


    • Acting and storytelling: Acting and storytelling are ways children can put thought and emotion into practice. In these artistic methods, children can take an author’s words and use what the happenings in their lives to fuel the dramatic expression.
    • Pretend play: School-age children are not too old to engage in pretend play. They may act out scenes with figures or dolls or dress in costume and pretend to be a character. Sometimes, pretend play can be a healthy form of escape from the everyday stressors of life.


    • Inventing: Inventing is a creative outlet for the imagination to dream up the impossible. School-age children will enjoy inventing products or methods that may help them, their families or the world around them. This is a way that children might express what is bothering them or try to fix something.
    • Scientific discovery and hypothesis: Making discoveries and guesses about the results of experiments is another form of creative expression. It allows children to think freely and communicate their thoughts and opinions.

    Developing Personality and Discovering Self-Worth

    School-age children begin to develop their own sense of individuality and a unique personality. During these years, children start to have a deeper understanding of humor, compassion, empathy and character traits such as kindness and patience. According to Harvard’s Project Zero, “an important outcome of arts education is to help all children grow as individuals.”

    Developing a unique personality also means finding one’s own sense of style. A school-age child’s sense of style could be the way he or she dresses, does his or her hair, or adds accessories like jewelry or gear. It might also mean the way they choose to decorate their bedroom, locker or other personal space. A sense of style isn’t just about the way we dress or decorate. It is also about our sense of humor, body language and character.

    It is important to encourage this development by allowing children to be themselves. As children develop and discover who they are, they might make some out-of-the-ordinary wardrobe or behavior choices. Create an inclusive atmosphere that embraces acceptance and kindness. Have discussions about being accepting of all children. Whenever possible and appropriate, give children ownership over space or experiences in the learning environment to allow them to add their own personality to it.

    The term self-worth can be used interchangeably with self-esteem. The creative arts help school-age children develop a healthy sense of self-worth because they tend to feel accomplished and unique when they are given opportunities to be creative. Experiencing the creative arts helps develop characteristics such as confidence, courage and pride. These characteristics help children develop a healthy self-esteem and feel that they have something to offer.

    In the Learn section of this lesson you will find specific ideas related to visual arts and literature, as well as music and dance experiences for school-age children.

    Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences

    Culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves represented in your program. This may mean opportunities for self-reflection and expression. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world. Exposure to the world around them sparks curiosity and creative thinking in children. In terms of creativity, the term “culture” can be quite broad. You should provide experiences that help children define a sense of self and a sense of the world around them. This may include racial or ethnic identity, but it can also include identities related to family values, beliefs, or experiences. For example, children may explore the culture of living on a military installation, or being an only child.

    Distinguishing between Process- and Product-oriented Experiences

    In your work, you should strive to achieve balance between process-oriented experiences and product-oriented experiences. The process is the journey a child takes when they are creating. The product is what they end up with as a result of that journey. Process-oriented experiences are those experiences that are open-ended, child-directed, and focused on the experience rather than the outcome. For example, children create a piece of art, write their own scripts for a play, or experiment with building a structure out of a variety of materials. Product-oriented experiences have a clearly defined goal or outcome. An adult often decides upon the goal. For example, a class of school-age children might all make identical jack-o'-lantern faces out of construction paper at Halloween.

    It is important to understand that when it comes to a finished product or the process that leads to it, a balanced approach is best. There should be opportunities for both in your work at your school-age program. When making decisions about using process-oriented or product-oriented experiences, you should ask yourself what your goals or objectives are. If, for example, your goal is to promote children’s exploration and creative expression, it would be inappropriate to give them identical materials and ask them to build a bird house. If, however, your goal is to encourage or demonstrate specific techniques that are needed for further skill-development (e.g., knitting or gluing), then asking children to cut or glue the same materials may be appropriate.

    According to Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell, who write about integrating the visual arts into the classroom (2003), when adults continuously dictate to children the size paper to use, colors to use, and the product to make, creativity is discouraged. But not all examples of product-oriented experiences discourage creativity. Product-oriented experiences can be important when children are developing skills. For example, if a child is learning to play a musical instrument, knit, sew, or compose an essay, there are specific skills or strategies the child needs to learn. Creativity flourishes when the child has mastered the skills necessary to perform. During the journey of a creative experience, school-age children will have the opportunity to be creative, take risks and include their own interpretation, personality and feelings. A few ways of promoting creativity through your activity plans are:

    • Allow for open-ended art experiences. Have items such as paint, paper, crayons, colored pencils and markers available at all times, allowing school-age children to create anything they can dream up.
    • Limit the number of product-based art experiences. For example, do not always provide a sample product when explaining an art project. A sample encourages children to copy instead of using their imagination to create their own piece of art.
    • Create a balance of process-based experiences and skill-based experiences. There are some skills involved with the arts that you will want help school-age children improve. These include using scissors, sketching, reading music or writing. When sharing these experiences with children, you will be more focused on the end result so that children develop the proper skills and techniques.

    Encouraging Creativity

    As a school-age staff member, you can encourage the process by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating. The table below will provide you with some examples of how to encourage the creative process and what to avoid.

    Inappropriate Questions and Comments


    Appropriate Questions and Comments


    What is that?

    It can be very disappointing to a child if you can’t figure out what they’ve created. Ask open-ended questions and let them tell you what it is.

    What can you tell me about your piece of work?

    This allows the child to share what they have been working on in their own words. This also allows you to avoid guessing what they’ve created if you are unsure.

    I love that dog you painted.

    Never assume you know what they’ve created. Try to avoid being too specific until the child has given you information.

    What gave you the idea to create this?

    This encourages children to think about what they’ve created and will allow them to tell you their idea behind the creation.

    You must have been sad when you wrote that.

    Do not assume you know what a child was feeling when they created something. Let them tell you — it will give them a chance to discuss their feelings but not feel uncomfortable.

    What is your favorite part about it?

    How were you feeling when you created this?

    These open-ended questions give children a chance to think about what they like about their piece of work. They might choose the topic or the color or something completely different. It also is the best way to give children the chance to discuss their feelings without pressure.

    It looks like you need to work on your cutting skills.

    Try not to judge or critique a child’s skill level when they are working on a creative project. There is a time for skill-building activities; you can easily discourage their creativity if you constantly point out the negative.

    What title would you give it?

    This question gives you an idea of what makes this piece important to the child. It also gives them ownership over their work.

    Meeting the Needs of All Learners

    Each child develops differently, and each child approaches creative experiences differently. Some children might have difficulties accessing creative experiences. For example, a child who uses a wheelchair might have trouble reaching a traditional easel. A child with visual or hearing impairments may have trouble viewing a work of art or listening to a piece of music. A child with attention difficulties might be challenged to attend to an experience for any length of time. A child who is easily over-stimulated might not enjoy sensory or open-ended experiences. You must be prepared to meet children where they are and make appropriate creative experiences a priority for all children. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to supporting all learners:

    • Art and creative experiences should always be a choice, and there should be no wrong answers (Head Start, 2013). Each child encounters experiences in his or her own way and at his or her own pace
    • Do not let disabilities or differences be a barrier to participation. You should create adaptations that allow each child to participate fully.
    • Scaffold creative experiences for children who need support. Although creative experiences are often open-ended, it is OK for adults to provide some help when needed. You could use a picture schedule to help an individual child begin an activity (i.e., put on smock, pick up brush, dip in paint, and create!). You may use a variety of supports such as peer support, adult support, or environmental modification to help children be successful (Sandall & Schwartz, 2008).

    Displaying Art Work

    Displaying art is a way to allow children to share their creative work. There are many benefits to displaying art work such as:

    • It enriches the environment and provides ownership for the children.
    • It gives children a sense of pride and confidence.
    • It encourages and inspires children to be creative.
    • It challenges children to do their best.

    There are many ways you can display children's work throughout the learning environment. A few examples are:

    • Use a wall or bulletin board to display work.
    • Hang pieces throughout the environment with rope or ribbon and clothespins.
    • Frame pieces of art and hang them on the wall - consider rotating pieces out so all children have a chance to be featured.
    • Use shelving or tables to display three-dimensional items, such as sculptures or pottery.

    When displaying work, give children the chance to create a nameplate with the name and the title of their piece. This will show that you value their work and allow them to feel proud of the creative accomplishment.


    Process over Product

    Listen as staff members discuss process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.

    Displaying Art Work

    Examples of displaying art work in a school-age environment.


    • Reflect on process-oriented versus product-oriented experiences. Think about why they are both important and use that when planning activities.
    • Encourage creativity in school-age children by asking appropriate questions about a child's work. Remember to keep your questions open-ended to allow the child an opportunity to share. Display student work to encourage them to be creative.
    • Plan a variety of skill-based and open-ended art and literature experiences for school-age children. Keep a balance of experiences that are planned and those that are accessible during free time.
    • Spend time reflecting on how music has played a role in your life and what it might mean to school-age children.
    • Explore methods of including music and dance in both free-time experiences and adult-led experiences.
    • Don’t be afraid to move! Let children see that music moves you. It is a method of modeling healthy habits, a great form of exercise and a healthy way to express yourself.



    Thinking about process-oriented versus product-oriented experiences is an important component of art and literature education. Complete the Reflection: Distinguishing between Process and Product activity. When finished, share your work with your trainer, coach or administrator.



    There are many ways to engage school-age children in the visual arts. Watch the following video from PBS: 

    Then complete the Visual Arts: Planning Activity. When you have finished, share your work with your trainer, coach or administrator.   


    Open-Ended ExperiencesCreative experiences that allow children to explore with minimal guidance. For example, children are given art materials, but no sample or directions to work from. They are free to create anything they would like




    During your program’s Fall Family Night, a parent asks why her son is not bringing home more pieces of artwork such as painted apples and construction paper pumpkins. How do you respond?


    Finish this statement: When you are planning visual art and literature-based experiences for school-age children, it is important to. . .


    True or False? “That is an interesting house you painted” is a comment that will encourage a school-age child’s creativity.

    References & Resources

    Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2003). The Colors of Learning: Integrating the visual arts into the early childhood curriculum. Vol. 85 of Early Childhood Education series. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Campbell, P. H., Kennedy, A. A., & Milbourne, S. A. (2012). CARA's Kit for Toddlers. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

    Cornett, C. E. (2011). Creating Meaning through Literature and the Arts. Boston, MA: Pearson. 

    Gandini, L. (1992). Creativity Comes Dressed in Everyday Clothes. Child Care Information Exchange, 26-29.

    Head Start National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. (2013). The Head Start Leaders Guide to Positive Child Outcomes. Retrieved from

    Milbourne, S. A., & Campbell, P. (2009). CARA's Kit: Creating Adaptations for Routines and Activities. Missoula, MT: Division for Early Childhood.


    Sandall, S., & Schwartz, I. (2008). Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.