Embracing the Process with Child-Led Activities

November 1, 2022

In this article, you will find 3 lesson activities you can use immediately to start child-led, process-based learning with your children.

The mind of a child is an incredible thing. They view the world around them through a unique, imaginative lens, full of wonder and excitement. Children are constantly taking in and processing new information by observing, repeating, exploring, asking questions, and trying new ideas – hundreds of thousands of synapses are formed and pruned back in their brains1 as they learn and grow. This incredible process can be nurtured and celebrated through activities that are intentionally child-led, process-based, and incorporate opportunities for social-emotional learning.

So often we as adults focus on the “end goal” – accomplishing something, thinking only about what will be there when we have finished. However, the process of creating something, learning something new, and experiencing different emotions throughout this process is just as (if not more) important than reaching the finish line. We tend to overlook the learning, growing, and creativity that happens along the way, but all of that “stuff in between” is what matters most. 

Process-based Activities Help Children Develop Resilience and Perseverance 

When presented with process-based activities where they can take the lead, children learn resilience and perseverance in the face of challenging moments and flexibility from not having a set plan. They get to try new strategies, materials, movements, or ways of thinking to get new and exciting results. When working together with a friend, a group, or a team, they are given agency over sharing ideas, compromising, and talking through things they wouldn’t have otherwise known or tried on their own. The social, emotional, and cognitive learning opportunities within process-based activities are virtually endless. 

Use Open-Ended Questions During Process-based Activities 

As educators and caregivers of young children, we can nurture and encourage their creative process by asking open-ended questions to give meaning to the little things that may get overlooked:

  • What colors did you choose to use here?
  • What textures made you feel “cozy” inside?
  • What cool things did you find out about yourself?
  • Did you get frustrated about trying again?
  • What did you feel when you finally found something that worked for you?

Not only do these questions engage children’s critical thinking, but they allow both children and adults to be present in the moment.  

Child-led Activities Encourage Children to Develop Confidence 

Children develop confidence and a stronger sense of self when they aren’t worrying about if their artwork fits perfectly in the lines, if their idea is as good as their friend’s, or if their creation looks the same as everyone else’s. Why ignore the process and focus on the end, when we can embrace it and make it the focal point of learning? When we do this, we are teaching children that something doesn’t need to be perfect or the same as anyone else’s to be worthwhile or worth doing – it just needs to be yours. So, let’s embrace the process together and have some fun along the way!  

Process-based Activities with a Social-Emotional Learning Focus 

Here are a few of our favorite process-based ideas and activities inspired by our ECSEL Curriculum Library (ECL) that you can do at home with your children or at school with your students. Feel free to make each your own, and remember: no matter how messy, frustrating, unsuccessful, or chaotic the process may be, it is still important, and there is always more learning going on than you may think! 

Activity #1: Painting Our Musical Feelings 

Painting Our Musical Feelings Listening to music can bring forth many different emotions, and we can help children express those emotions through art activities like drawing and painting 🖌️. Select a variety of songs that have different melodies, rhythms, tempos, and instruments. Set out paper and any art supplies you have available and allow children to take the lead with which colors and materials they use.

Focus on their social-emotional learning by playing each song 🎵 and guiding children to draw or paint what the music makes them feel. Observe their color choices, movements (do they go along with the tempo of the music?), and what appears on their paper. Ask them about these details to engage their critical thinking and embrace the artistic process! 

To explore the full version of this activity, please visit the ECSEL Curriculum Library 

Activity #2: Colorful Recycled Creations 

diy-bull-with-his-own-hands-from-sleeve-toilet-paper-colored-paper-stepbystep-photo-instructionActivities that focus on constructing, building, and problem-solving tap into a variety of developmental and social-emotional areas: fine and gross motor skills, negotiation and compromise, noticing similarities and differences in shapes, sizes, and colors, and so much more. Embrace the process by setting out colorful recycled materials 📦, glue, and child-safe scissors ✂️ and seeing what kinds of creative ideas children come up with!

Narrow the focus with a theme or topic that interests children (their favorite color 🖍️, dinosaurs, machines 🤖, etc.) and support them in taking the lead by asking them questions like:

  • Where do you think this piece should go?
  • Which item looks most like a steering wheel?
  • How many green materials are you going to use?

You can even turn this into a collaborative teamwork activity to focus on building empathy: How can we make sure everyone feels heard and included? 

To explore the full version of this activity, please visit the ECSEL Curriculum Library. 

Activity #3: Emotional AdLibs 

What is she feelingYoung children are natural storytellers, especially when given the opportunity to share their feelings and tell you about the things they are most interested in. Tap into this creativity and embrace the process! Start by selecting a favorite storybook 📖 in which characters experience different emotions, run into problems or conflicts, and find solutions. As you read the story, ask children to help you fill in the emotional “blanks” by looking at the characters’ facial expressions.

  • What do they think each character is feeling?
    • They are feeling _____.
  • What caused them to feel this way?
    • They are feeling this way because ________.
  • What would help them feel better?
    • They might feel better if __________.

This seemingly simple activity can turn reading and storytelling into an active learning process, all while building children’s emotional competency skills, social skills like empathy and perspective-taking, and problem-solving skills. 

To explore the full version of this activity, please visit the ECSEL Curriculum Library. 


  1. Huttenlocher , Peter R. “Synaptic Density in Human Frontal Cortex - Developmental Changes and Effects of Aging.” Brain Research. Elsevier, March 12, 2003. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0006899379903494.

Subscribe by Email

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think