LEARNING TO DRAW / DRAWING TO LEARN
For adults the word “drawing” implies the idea of representation. However children make drawings for a range of purposes, the key purpose being to communicate a message or meaning. All children draw from a very early age, or more accurately, make marks. Mark making emerges alongside verbal language and in it we can observe the child’s struggle both to understand their world and to communicate their understanding of it. For children mark making/drawing is about
· helping to organise thoughts, feelings and ideas
· sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas with others
· developing these feelings, thoughts and ideas.
All children develop their mark making/drawing skills naturally – they do not need to be “taught” to draw. The role of the teacher is to engage children in talk and discussion about their drawings and to encourage active looking/observation. Children proceed through clearly identifiable stages of development in their mark making/drawing, these stages having first been identified by Lowenfeld and Brittain in the 1950s. In general these stages are summarised as follows:
· the scribbling stage
· the schematic (symbol) stage
· the stage of dawning realism
· the stage of realism
Increasingly, however, teachers are reporting that children at a very young age are saying “I can’t draw!” We can only assume that this is as a result of an over-emphasis on adult styles of drawing exemplified in “How to Draw” manuals, colouring-in books, replicating samples and clipart. The message being given to children by over-reliance on such forms is that their own drawings are no good and that there is a correct way to draw – this is not what is advocated in any visual arts curriculum, where the emphasis is always on process, rather than the mindless copying of drawings that has been drawn by someone else. If allowed to make marks/draw regularly children naturally develop scale, perspective and dimension and all the skills necessary to draw well with a personal style.
Young children’s drawings of themselves and their families/friends can be very revealing. These drawings reveal the child’s developing consciousness and a growing awareness of his/her body. Such drawings frequently are used to assess a child’s level of emotional and intellectual ability because they usually hint at how the child relates to others, to the outside world and at how the child perceives him/herself. This is why drawing is often used as an assessment tool by various professionals such as psychologists and therapists.
In their drawings young children picture their own world, both real and imaginary. The dots, lines and squiggles of early mark making develop into more controlled bounded shapes that are used to represent the world and what is in it. Children create figure and ground (baseline) and invent personal symbols that are adaptable to representing different situations e.g. a schematic for showing the human form. What is most interesting is that many of these schemata seem to be universal and to exist in different cultures e.g. the cloud and sticks symbol that represents a tree.
Children also use drawing as a tool for investigating the world that is around them. Observational drawing encourages children to focus their attention and to actively look at what is being drawn. Drawing intensifies looking, is a wonderful way for children to record their discoveries and is therefore the ideal investigative learning tool. It can therefore be used in many subject areas. How much more would children learn about, for example, insects by closely observing them with a magnifying glass and drawing them, than if they merely read and wrote about them?
Drawing is also a means through which children can visualise as well as tell stories. Children will often naturally draw a series of narrative images and then proceed to tell or to write the narrative because the drawing helps to organise thoughts and ideas in a logical sequence. “When you are finished your story, draw a picture about it”, is often the instruction heard in classrooms. Should we not at times reverse this sequence and give the children the opportunity to organise their story ideas through drawing. Personally I have found that the sequence of telling, drawing and then writing a story works particularly well in learning support situations.
Emotional intelligence is also developed through drawing which focuses on the inner world of the child. Imagined worlds, fears, dreams, feelings and ideas can often be the subject matter of children’s drawings. Drawing allows the child to engage with those things he/she loves or fears, allowing the child to celebrate happy events and to escape/confront events which are threatening or which cause anxiety. Emotional state can often be diagnosed by art therapists through the examination of colour, size and placement in children’s work. In the classroom therefore we need to present children with drawing themes that allow for the expression of personal feelings.
Drawing is furthermore a key tool in enabling children to remember and to reflect on experiences. Making drawings while on a field trip, for example, enables children to reconstruct the sequence of the trip and by focusing on individual images, to recall individual events.. Drawings such as this help children both to recall and to reconstruct what they have seen or experienced. Drawing events on timelines aids the memory of historical events, making labelled diagrams of natural objects helps children to memorise details of those objects and drawing on maps helps in the memorisation of geographical information.
Drawing helps children to shape and to share what they imagine with others.. In drawing children take their experiences, observations, memories, fantasies, dreams and nightmares and combine them into unique new combinations.
Finally drawing is a problem solving and designing tool for children. In a drawing a child can formulate a proposal about a possible solution to any problem posed. An example of this might be drawing a solution to a mathematical problem. By posing questions such as “I wonder what.......” or “What would happen if.......” the teacher can engage children in problem solving through drawing. A good example of this in visual arts education is the use of drawing to create a design for a possible constructioThe Primary School Curriculum outlines a programme in drawing that enables us as teachers to provide the opportunities for all children to develop and to use their drawing skills.. The key objective in the curriculum, for all class levels, states that the child should be enabled to make marks/draw with a wide variety of drawing tools on a wide range of surfaces and to look at and respond to their own drawings, to the drawings of others and to drawings by artists. A summary of the other objectives suggests that at all class levels we should be providing opportunities for children to make drawings as follows
· drawings that allow them to explore and to experiment with different drawing tools and surfaces
· drawings based on their experiences
· drawings based on their imaginings
· drawings based on their observations
Opportunities for children to draw present themselves in all curricular areas at all class levels. Infants drawing a picture of Humpty Dumpty falling off his wall are making a drawing based on imagination while a sixth class making a drawing of a favourite scene from a novel are doing the same. A first class making a drawing about a farm visit are making a drawing based on their experiences while a fifth class making a labelled diagram about an experiment in science are making a drawing based on observation. The key question though is, do we place enough value on these drawings? Do we recognise them as being a valuable learning tool? Do we realise that children not only learn to draw but that they also learn through drawing?