My 2 youngest children are obsessed by drawing. ‘Pens’, ‘paper’, ‘chalking’, ‘want to draw’ are common utterances from my one- year-old. I keep a supply of fresh paper in a low cupboard in my kitchen and a tin filled with pens, pencils, crayons and ballpoint pens. The girls also have a magnetic drawing board, aquadraw and pavement chalk in the garden. They love to draw on paper, cardboard boxes and each other. I also keep a supply of pens in the playroom high enough for my youngest not to reach. The children know that she is not to have pens unsupervised as she will draw on walls or furniture.
As I was unpacking boxes of books I came across the wonderful book ‘It’s Not a Bird Yet – The Drama of Drawing’ by Ursula Kolbe. The book shares a number of stories of children’s drawing accompanied by photographs and examples. It attempts to guide teachers to extend drawing and parents to support children’s drawing without taking over.
The book talks about observing children as they draw, listening to what they say as they draw, to learn about the meaning they ascribe to it. When children draw for the first time you can see them marvel at the crayon making a mark on the paper. This also translates to other media, for example when I tried to hurry my toddler along as she bent down to play in the dried mud on the way home from the park, she remarked ‘I’m drawing!’
When you give children feedback as they point to their ‘scribbles’ and say ‘look’, this prompts further mark making. Children begin to assign meaning to their drawings far earlier than we think, often before they can really express it in words. My youngest who is almost 2 was drawing on her magnetic board, I could hear her talking to herself so decided to sit with her.
The video shows my daughter who is turning 4 and her frustration at not getting her drawing right. With help she comes up with her own solutions and is happy to start again. My youngest who is almost 2 watches intently and joins in the conversation. The next part of the video shows my youngest daughter talking about the alphabet as she makes marks (something she has learned from her sister as she draws alongside her). The final clip is my youngest daughter ascribing meaning to her drawing and shows the suggestions her older sibling makes and how these extend her thinking.
Her elder sister is beginning to show an interest in writing. They often draw together and talk about the shapes they have drawn. I believe my youngest has learned a lot from drawing alongside her sister, she watches intently and copies her circles and lines.
Children often say they can’t draw things. I remember the Ursula Kolbe book was one of the fist things that made me think about alternatives to drawing for them. She explains that children see things differently to us so even if we draw for them we may not represent it in the way that they would like. This leads to a loss of confidence and the belief that their way is wrong. Often sharing drawing with other children is a good way around this as they will offer suggestions to one another. Giving hints helps, as does making children realise that it is okay to start again, artists make many drawings before they come to a finished product.
I save my children’s ‘best’ drawings, dating them to show progression. I am going to adopt a system recommended in the book; a folder with loose leaf transparent pockets so that the children can file their own favourite pictures and we can talk about them for years to come.