As the year progresses, each child in my classroom begins to develop his or her own signature drawing style. There comes a time about midyear when I can look at a drawing and know exactly which child created it. At this age, there is a wide range of fine motor control and an equally wide range of ability to create something that looks representational. But skills aside, each child also looks at the world through a different lens and depicts what they see in different ways. The notion of artistic aptitude is never the goal.
In my classroom, we try to avoid drawing activities that are “product-driven” and focus instead on the process that children go through when observing details and planning their drawings in a spatial sense. I consider drawing projects in two categories that support different skills.
First, there is the observational drawing project. This is when children are asked to look at details of an object and create a rendition of it in their own hand. This is a more scientific form of drawing; one that is more realistic to the viewer. Here, there is a focus on the attention to perspective, and contours and texture of a subject.
The other is creative, open-ended, free drawing. Drawing as a form of expression and experimentation. This kind of drawing, in my mind, is the place where kids can really explore making different marks on paper and can use drawing as an outlet for ideas. Drawing can reinforce curriculum themes this way – providing kids with a visual channel for making sense of information, whether it is a rocket ship (how can I make the pointy part on top? Oh, a triangle shape maybe) or a Jamaican flag (I need green, black, and yellow. How do I get the yellow X in the middle?)
When children are given time and space to draw on their own, they often make pictures of people; frequently family members. Sometimes, they also use drawing as an outlet for things that scare them or conflicts and feelings they are struggling with. Interpreting these drawing can be fascinating.
I had a little boy in my class this year that had a great deal of social conflicts. He was argumentative with his peers, had difficulty seeing other points of view, and frequently found himself involved in altercations. Teachers gave lots of positive reinforcement when he did well and spent substantial time explaining to him why his negative behavior was alienating to others.
One day this boy had struggled with his classmates, destroying something they had built, but then worked hard to redeem himself by helping them rebuild it. The teachers and peers made a big deal over his repair. He quietly internalized all of this and then brought some drawings he had made to show me.
When I looked at his drawings, which had illustrations of crying faces with X’s through them and hearts and sunshine and arrows pointing to brighter images, I realized the true power of drawing. This little boy used marker and paper to process what had happened to him, and as a means to communicate it to others.
Visuals are influential to children, especially in the early literacy stages. Drawing offers not just an opportunity to build skills; but a venue for expression and communication. The boy’s last drawing had the number “3” with a check mark, a heart, and and X’d out face. When I asked the boy to tell me about this last one, he said: “I did three good things today. And that made me happy.”