How Children Use Art to Process Thoughts, Ideas and Emotions

I recently took Immy to see her first movie at the cinema.  We were invited by extended family members to see The Yogi Bear Movie. I didn’t know much about the movie but imagined it to be a cartoon about Yogi Bear and thought that would be a nice way to introduce an (almost) three year old to the experience of  an outing to the cinema. The movie was in fact a combination of film and animation and the storyline somewhat above my almost-three year old’s beautiful head. There was A LOT of “What’s happening, Mummy?” and as the movie built in excitement we had to first take a toilet break as a toddler generated excuse for some time out from the stimulation, and shortly after our return, as the movie reached that final push of excitement, Immy had a little meltdown and we had to leave the cinema. She was fine, a few tears as a result of feeling overwhelmed, once we were outside she was happy to be distracted and talk and laugh and play. Though she did declare that she didn’t like the movie at all and wouldn’t like to go back again any time soon!

Since then I have been fascinated to see her spontaneously turn to drawing and painting as a way of making sense of the experience and the emotions that so obviously engulfed her.

From spontaneous bursts of colour shortly after our experience, “this is the mess in the park after the fireworks.”

~Oil pastel and paint wash

To more detailed, representative pictures with lots of talking and explanation accompanying the creative process…

~ Felt tipped pen

Art can be a powerful mechanism for the expression of thoughts, ideas, knowledge and emotion. Open ended art materials like crayons, pencils, paint and clay provide children with the means to make sense of their thoughts and ideas, and more importantly, those strong emotions which they do not yet have the maturity or language to process in other ways – emotions like fear, frustration and sadness.

By expressing her thoughts and emotions through these art processes Immy has even found a sense of peace about the whole movie going experience, moving from her initial reaction of fear to now proclaiming that she loves it and wants to go again.

Art is essential to healthy development and learning.

“We all want our children to grow into intelligent, socialised adults who make a meaningful contribution to their society.  We put a lot of thought, time and effort into ensuring they develop academically, socially and even physically, but often put much less emphasis on their creative development. In doing so, are we in fact limiting their potential to become well rounded individuals?

Art Not Craft will help you to foster your child’s creativity; providing parents with information about art as a tool for learning, practical ideas for making art happen at home (especially when it comes to managing the mess!) and activity suggestions which allow you to dip in at a moment’s notice to find new ways to engage and involve children in creating wonderfully individual works of art. “


  1. jenny @ let the children play says:

    It is an exciting thing to watch, kids and their art.

    Your e-book sounds fantastic – I look forward eagerly to it’s release Christie 🙂

  2. Can’t wait to read your e-book Christie. x

  3. Your Immy sure is a talented little 3 year old.

    Looking forward to your e-book – sounds fantastic!

    1. This experience has really shown Immy that drawing can share her ideas. When you look closely at her images, they are really very simple but when you listen to her narrative as she draws you can really see what she is trying to communicate.

  4. What a great post! I love giving my daughter unstructured art materials. I can’t wait for your e-book – I could really use some new ideas.

  5. Acacia @ Fingerpaint & Superheroes says:

    I am constantly inspired by your blog and all of your kernels of wisdom, so I am really looking forward to your book!! I was an art teacher for 5 years before staying home with my boys and have now come back to teaching art in the homeschooling community. I love this new opportunity I have come into because I can make teaching art so much more about what I believe in art- creative learning and connections with self and others, not a district’s standards.

    Thanks so much for sharing your ideas, you family and your talents!

  6. Roseann Murphy/LittleRiverSchool says:

    What a beautiful, insightful post. This kind of observation and respect shown to your daughter is a lesson in itself. Thank you for sharing the experience and the art. First time to see your post. I will continue to follow. Thank you again1

  7. Immy also has talked a lot about the movie, she certainly has continued to process it long after seeing it. It is great to see she is using her art as another way of sharing the experience of her first movie at the cinemas.

  8. Thoughtful and very well done post on how kids imagine and stay creative through Arts. I am eagerly awaiting the release of your new e-book. Congratulations and good luck!

  9. I love the title Christie – Art Not Craft. The difference between art and craft with little ones is huge. I see it as the difference between child-initiated expression and communication (just like Immy’s) and adult-initiated goals (which little ones often feel unable to fully reach). You know when you see the perfect exemplar of the item displayed as an example for the children to follow? My daughter gets so frustrated trying to make her version as perfect as the teacher’s – it drives her crazy (she has a mighty inner critic at the tender age of 4).

    I’ve never braved the cinema with my kids. Even at 4 and a half, Doots would be completely overwhelmed. We are going to the theatre in May though, to see the Sound of Music with friends. Hmm, not sure how it will go, but I think it might be easier than the movies.

    Looking forward to your e-book!

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