Painting with Eric Violette and a preschooler

I had a few special guests stay at my house this past week. Eric Violette, the guy from the free credit report . com commercials, and his fellow band members were in town to perform and while staying in my home, I asked Eric if he would like to join Wy and I to do a little painting…

Eric was a really good sport to paint with us and being that he has no experience with early childhood education, it was a good opportunity for me to make a few observations about adults versus children when it comes to creativity…

I started by having both Eric and Wy sign their names on their canvases. When I handed Eric the marker and told him that I would like him to begin by writing his name on the board, he asked where he should write it and how big or small. I explained that it was his artwork and he can write his name anywhere he wants and any size he wants. I then handed Wy the marker and he made his “name” too…

I placed a set of squeeze bottles and a set of spray bottles filled with paint next to Eric and told him that he could create anything he wanted using the bottles. I could see his hesitation and he asked me what I wanted him to make. I redirected him to the paint and said “it’s your painting, you can do anything you want”…

Eric chose to begin with the spray bottle and Wy chose the squeeze bottle. They both began their work…

They traded materials and worked side by side on their paintings…

There were two distinct approaches taking place that I thought was interesting. Wy was focused on exploring and squeezing the paint out of the bottles – he was not focused on the end result – he was only focused on the process…

Eric was focused on creating something more distinctive. He used the paints to work towards an end result even though he did not know what that end result would actually be as he went along…

I noticed that as adults, we do tend to think in terms of finished products. We go into our work expecting to produce something specific. Unlike adults, young children go into their work without these expectations. Their desire is to explore the materials and see what happens…

As adults, we model different forms of creativity. When Eric chose to paint with his fingers, Wy decided to try it too…


I am not sure exactly at what point in their development children begin focusing their attention on the end product but I do know that young children need the freedom to explore the materials without having to worry about adult expectations. When it comes to the young child, we need to realize that it is what they get to do that keeps them engaged in the creative process not what they get to make.

In the end, I had two beautiful paintings to save for my wall. Each painting was unique and each represented the artist that painted them. One was a result of exploration and the other was a result of imagination…

Thank you to Eric for painting with us and allowing me to observe and write about the process…

Learn more about product versus process from Educational Creativity!

“The opposite of play isn’t work, it is rote. ~Dr. Edward Hallowell” This quote was shared by Teacher Tom. Read more about how exploration and play can make a difference in the future of a young child…

By |2011-07-19T06:00:38+00:00July 19th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Sherry and Donna July 19, 2011 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Oh I love this Deborah … What an interesting little experiment. Now I want to find a good sport adult and see if they they seek my permission or ask the same questions or stew over the end result or ……. ????
    Donna 🙂 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:50 am - Reply

      I would love to see if you get the same response too! I didn’t give any instructions as to what to do and I also chose and art process that doubted Eric had tried before:)

  2. Candy Lawrence July 19, 2011 at 6:26 am - Reply

    I want to play too! Get me a canvas!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Haha – grab some paint too!

  3. Kierna July 19, 2011 at 6:44 am - Reply

    Isn’t it so true that we as adults, are so afraid to just ‘do’, we worry about whether something will be right/good enough etc. Great experiment 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Thank you Kierna!

  4. Scott July 19, 2011 at 7:37 am - Reply

    A really cool experiment, Deborah. We adults are so goal oriented – “What do you want so I’ll know what to do?” and kids just do. I’ve seen this tendency in my kindergartners – often they will ask, “What do we do here?” and wait for my response. Maybe something in formal schooling begins to create an expectation for doing things the “right” way or following directions. Or maybe it’s just a result of development. Hmm. More pondering needed.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Yes – I am still pondering too:)

  5. Greg July 19, 2011 at 8:18 am - Reply

    We could all do with a little kidifying. Living more in the now without eyeing off the prize at the end. I know art appreciation is a very individual perception, but I much prefer Wy’s work. It seems to a living creation. It’s a shame that most of us were like that at some point, but had it driven from us. I try to be as childlike as I can in many things that I do, but I must admit that I still have the end goal in mind most of the time. Well I better go & squirt some toothpaste on the vanity mirror.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:52 am - Reply

      Haha – too funny!

  6. Greg July 19, 2011 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Deborah, I love how your site provides a link to our own blogs when we leave a comment. That really is paying it forward. 🙂 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:49 am - Reply

      It is nice to be able to pay it forward this way…

  7. Roopa @Putti Prapancha July 19, 2011 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Great Post!! Reminds me how as adults we forget to ‘just play’ and are always onto ‘doing/making something’ !!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:48 am - Reply

      We do forget to play – I think we always work with agendas and goals as adults so it is hard to transfer this into just going with the flow..

  8. April July 19, 2011 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Wow that was so cool for him to join you to do some art!!! He is a cool guy :). I love both of their art!

    When I do art alongside Anabel I try as hard as I can to not “make anything”. I might try some new techniques but I don’t like to make anything. The reason why is because it distracts her. An example is when my grandma plays playdough with my daughter she will make some really cool elephants and dogs, etc. Well my daughter sits and watches in amazement but when she realizes she can’t do it, all she wants to do is hand the playdough to my grandma instead of making something on her own. Or if I were to paint something way more advanced than she can do then she will say, “mommy paint that on mine” and I will say, “you try it” and she will say, “I can’t do it”. But when I just paint freely or abstractly, she is content to do the same along with her favorite letters and a few rudimentary (I say that in a good way) figures that she has progressed to!

    I remember a few years ago I was subbing for a preschool teacher and I couldn’t find the plans, I saw that they were doing an ocean theme and one of the books she had laid out was “An old lady who swallowed a shell”. So I thought we could make pictures of everything we swallowed. I drew a few things and as I looked at the kids pictures, I noticed that they had all drawn the very same things I had! Well lesson learned, modeling is good for very many things but I try to limit it during art time!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:47 am - Reply

      He is very cool:) Isn’t that interesting how they all want to draw the same thing or want the teacher to draw for them? It is a good reason just to keep our modeling focused on the process too. I like teaching young children some drawing skills but hate to take away from their natural curiosity and exploration of the materials.

    • Carrie July 19, 2011 at 10:15 am - Reply

      Now that you mention it I do the same things sometimes with my kids. When we have play dough out I’m usually just working it in my hands or creating snakes/balls. Even sometimes with legos I’ll just build (though those are usually more product oriented).

      My 3-yr old is already into that state of “I can’t do it”… he’ll bring me the paper if he wants something specific drawn. I usually hand it right back to him and tell him to do the best he can.

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 10:45 am

        I think that because adults are past the developmental stage of needing to explore the materials, it is hard for adults to find satisfaction in simply exploring the materials. Adults want to create something with the materials that is satisfying. The key thing to keep in mind – just as you have discovered – is that young children still are at a place where they need time to explore the materials and they find that exploration very satisfying. Without time to explore – they lose interest because we skipped a step in their developmental growth.

      • April July 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm

        Very well put 🙂

  9. jenny @ let the children play July 19, 2011 at 9:24 am - Reply

    So interesting Deborah. Did he realise he was going to be fodder for your blog 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Yes, he knew I would write about the painting but I wasn’t sure what I would write until I began the observation. He was a really good sport!

  10. JanetLansbury July 19, 2011 at 9:50 am - Reply

    Wonderful experience, Deborah! And beautifully described. This reminds me of an experience a friend shared about her first days working with preschoolers. She asked one of the children, “What are you painting?” And the little girl answered, “Paper.”

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 9:55 am - Reply

      Hahaha! Great answer!!

  11. emma July 19, 2011 at 10:32 am - Reply

    just curious – what’s in the squeeze bottles? looks like a lot of fun 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 10:42 am - Reply

      There is liquid tempera paint in the squeeze bottles and watered down tempera paint in the spray bottles:)

  12. Sharon July 19, 2011 at 11:15 am - Reply

    MaryAnn Kohl has a great article on art versus craft I think is a valuable resource for both parents and teachers at:

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing the article Sharon!

  13. Kristah July 19, 2011 at 11:38 am - Reply

    great experiment, i should try this with teenage step daughter is in town. and you are right we do think alike.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 12:50 pm - Reply

      It would be fun to see what a teenager would do!

  14. jeanne July 19, 2011 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    Deborah – this is now one of my favorite posts, thank you for sharing it. Makes me think that Eric (adults generally) wanted to follow rules – or assumed that there were some – and also instinctively gave respect to you as the provider of materials. Children differ in both those cases. And, of course, your Wy has a relationship with you so perhaps ‘exploring’ is already a known way of behaving? How dear when Eric and Wy began their own sharing of materials and ideas on equal terms. Lovely.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm - Reply

      I agree – Wy’s experiences under my leadership may well have played a very important factor in his exploration. He is used to me handing him a paint bottle or brush and say “go”! Great observation of your own Jeanne. I loved their interaction as well – it was really something to make me smile:)

  15. Kristina July 26, 2011 at 1:17 am - Reply

    love this. so true. good for me to remember!

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