"My Family" Drawings by Preschool Children
Adapted from a letter sent to a preschool © Marvin Bartel, 1998
Family Pictures Created by Children in Your School
HOW IT HELPS THEM
I was so pleased to see the display of pictures of families drawn by your children. I if I were a preschool teacher I would encourage the children to repeat this activity quite often. I'd probably ask them to repeat it every Monday. Children love rituals, and could be one of Monday rituals.
"What is your family going to be doing in your picture this week?" "Did something happen at your house this weekend."
I would ask the parents to save these in folders as a visual journal and part of our assessment portfolio for each child. This activity has so many positive benefits for children this age.
1) Creating their family picture builds their ability to think because they think, plan, and make choices while they are working. They are practicing and developing their memory and visual expression skills.
2) Creating their family picture gives them something to talk about, which also develops verbal, thinking and expression skills.
3) Creating their family picture helps them learn about size relationships like bigger and smaller. It is okay for them to size things differently than we would, but they do make size choices. I ask them, "How big do want yourself and the others in your picture to be?" As an artist, I can choose to make myself any size I want to. I learn to decide for me in my art. Nobody tells me.
For a child, size may be an indication of importance, but often first things are bigger because there is more space on the paper when you start. Of course, what is drawn first is often the most important part.
4) Creating their family picture develops self pride, self-confidence, and identity as they think of themselves as belonging and important. It is totally their own picture. The teacher doesn't have to assemble it. None of it is copied. It comes from their own developing self-knowledge. This tells them they are a person, not an object or an animal. Nobody else made any part of it, except for the written words placed above the people.
5) Creating their family picture develops body image knowledge and awareness. Whenever they draw themselves they are learning more about themselves and their bodies. Adults who are told under hypnosis to forget all they know about their bodies become very handicapped, especially in math skills (our numbering system is based on 10 fingers). Some teachers have greatly improved body image concepts in children's' pictures by having the children do body awareness activities prior to drawing pictures of themselves. They play games such as, "This is my tummy, I rub it." "This is my ear, I pull it." "This is my toe, I wiggle it." - and so on to make the child's passive knowledge into active knowledge which then shows up in their pictures. Some feel that a child's intelligence is improved this way over a period of a few months (probably hard to prove, but it seems possible).
A three year old girl was drawing a picture of a girl. She was putting fingers on one of the hands. Generally a child this age is not yet concerned with getting right number, and I would never correct a child for drawing "many" instead of five fingers. In this case I asked her, "Do you like to count the fingers when you draw them?" She did not answer my question, but she started counting the fingers. After several attempts, she correctly concluded that she had drawn six fingers. She then counted her own fingers and finally concluded that she had five. Knowing that she had made a mistake, she said, "Oooh, that's okay." I agreed with her. While I ask questions that motivate thinking and feeling, I am careful not to insist on my way and I never correct the child or tell a child that what they are doing is wrong.
Body image awareness and math are only a few of he many developmental achievements when preschoolers work with art materials. The questions tend to extend the child's ability to focus, think of details, fill empty spaces on the paper, and so on. It is a conversation between the adult (using words) and the child (using art materials).
MATERIALS TO USE
WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
- soft pencils (#B2 to B6 pencils)
- thick paint (stiff brushes)
- cut/torn contrasting paper.
Some choice of material may help certain children gain interest and motivation. Often a child who doesn't want to draw is quite interested in clay (or the other way around). All of the materials I mention here are basic art materials which give the child a clear, easy to see, recording of their drawing and modeling. These are better than things that are vague or hard to see while using. For example, colored chalk shows better on wet paper than on dry paper.
OTHER TOPICS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Preschool children are very interested in topics that include themselves and familiar experiences. They love to draw "I" and "My" topics.
1) "I am playing with my doll named Mandy." (or any toy the child actually plays with often).
2) "I am helping my mother (or other close person) (doing a specific thing the child does often)".
3) Reviewing a field trip: "I am petting (or riding on, or chasing, or looking at) . . . . (fill in animal, etc.)."
4) Seasonal topics: "I am playing in a big big big pile of leaves. I am helping my . . . . . rake the leaves. I am building a snow woman with . . . . . I am planting some flowers with . . . . ."
5) Personal habits: "In the morning I comb my hair (brush my teeth at the sink, eat my Cheerios at the table, etc.). I play with my . . . . I sleep with my toy . . . ."
6) Persons who care: ". . . . is reading a book to me on our couch. I went with my family went to visit . . . . I am helping my . . . . fix some . . . . . for our dinner.
7) Special events: "We are decorating for my party. I am thankful for my . . . . At thanksgiving I go to see. . . I am bringing a flower to . . . for . . . "
Imagination vs Repetition
Some children have a rich imagination and draw a great variety of things. Others are prone to repeat the same things and make very similar drawings over and over again. While repetition provides practice, there is a point at which it can become mindless activity and we may want to reintroduce the joy of coming up with new ideas.
To encourage a more active imagination I might try reading a story without showing any pictures and ask if the child wants to draw something about the story or draw a picture of the self in the story. It may seem counter intuitive, but being more specific in our motivation increases the need to be creative. If I am very general, saying, "Draw whatever you want to." it decreases the need to use the mind because the child will be more apt to fall back on old ideas and habits.
When the child expresses difficulty in knowing what to draw, or how to draw, I do not tell or show. I continue to use open questions. "Which person in the story would you like to be?" "How big would you like to make the people?" My questions reassure the child that I am not expecting something outside their experience or beyond their ability. They get the confidence to begin and I affirm this, especially when it shows experimentation and imagination. With encouragement, young children have a rich imagination and they are quite good scientists. They spontaneously experiment and find out how things work.
Another way to reintroduce the fun of original problem solving is to introduce a totally different kind of art material such as clay. I have them work totally three dimensional with clay - not flattening it out to use like paper. I want to see a new part of the brain being used and developed. It can be interesting to then see what happens when they are encouraged to draw a picture of the same topic and subject that was made of clay.
I am sure you have seen children scribble and make "pretty designs". This is great, and needs to be encouraged. Scribbling is important developmental work. Scribbling prepares the mind and hands for drawing - like crawling prepares the body for walking. I do not expect a child to draw people in a family if the child is still in the scribbling stage. I encourage this child to scribble. The same art materials are good for scribbling (materials that show up well and are easy to use). Preschool children also enjoy making orderly designs that have no pictures in them. Our "quest for order" is thought to be one of those basic human needs and is the basis for much art work, both for adult artists and children.
I like to ask children about their artwork. They enjoy talking about it. It helps them learn to think and express themselves. My questions help them think of things. I never ask a child, "What is it?" I ask them what they would like to tell me about it. Whether it is a scribble, an orderly design, or a family picture, talking about the work helps them learn to think. They often imagine much beyond what anybody can see in the picture. I notice that subsequent pictures become more elaborate and their attention span and focus improves.
Most preschool children do not need much motivation when they are free to make what they want with art materials. A few children seem insecure. If a child is still scribbling, I may simply ask if the crayon or marker would like to make some marks, or go skating or sliding on the paper.
I find that asking questions about themselves, their toys, their activities, their families, animals they like, and so on often gives a me a chance to suggest drawing a picture about something that is of particular interest to the child. I knew a three year old child had recently been to the zoo with her cousin. Thinking she might want to draw a zoo animal, I asked her if she remembered what she had done when she visited her cousin. She immediately said, "Can we go to the zoo today?" I said, "No, but I was wondering if remember some of your favorite animals that you saw at the zoo?" This led to several pictures that included a zebra, an elephant eating peanuts, and the people who feed them.
My motivation during the drawing consisted of questions such as, "Is the elephant the one with the long neck? What does an elephant like to eat? Who feeds the elephant? How can you tell the difference between a zebra and a horse?" Questions like this serve as reminders of things they already know, but would otherwise not include in their pictures. These open questions make passive knowledge active.
Children also enjoy making orderly designs that have no pictures in them. "Quest for order" is probably a basic human need. It is the basis for much art work, both for adult artists and children. I have been amazed by how long a child works on creating an orderly arrangement of simple line and color. This is certain to increase a child's ability to focus and attend to a task.
I hope you don't mind me commenting on your children's' fine work. Best wishes for a continued good year. Good job.
Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Emeritus Professor of Art
Many authors and researchers in art education have written about the stages of artistic development.
Viktor Lowenfeld made many observations and described the stages in his book, Creative and Mental Growth. The 4th edition of Creative and Mental Growth by Viktor Lowenfeld and W. Lambert Brittain. 1964 includes a summary with charts describing the development stages in Chapter 13. pages 395 to 402.
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