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The Gift of a Child's Drawing

Updated on December 24, 2014

What does a child's art tell you?

I love this drawing. It shows character balance with respect to color, pattern and the tiny heart in the middle.
I love this drawing. It shows character balance with respect to color, pattern and the tiny heart in the middle. | Source

Walk into any kitchen whose family has young children and you will most likely see the gift of a child's drawing hanging on the refrigerator door. Generally, the artwork will have a label written by a teacher and a child's signature on it somewhere. Of course, as adults we pretend to know what it is all about and proceed to chat with the child about his picture, from our perspective. Occasionally we are right but most of the time we guess wrong.

As adults our comments and questions directed to the child may indicate our failure to recognize the importance a child places on the drawing process itself. Don't feel bad, children draw from from their emotions and inner reflection and only they know what is truly represented on paper (thus the added teacher label for clarification).

When I was a preschool teacher, I would direct children to use the writing center often to express their feelings. To encourage visits to the center, it was stocked with the following items:

plain white paper
crayons
pencils
construction paper
markers
dictionary
water color paint
glue
stapler
hole punch
stickers
mailbox
envelopes
ink stampers
ruler

My Special Gift

Source

There's just something about a plain white piece of paper that entices a child to draw freely. Perhaps they see this paper widely used by parents and teachers in communicating and it is attractive to them as a means of expressing themselves. One of the best gifts I ever received as a teacher was a bound book containing drawings created by preschool students on plain white copy paper.

The creation process was simple, but needed prompting from the Assistant Teacher who worked with the children (ages three to five) on an individual basis at the writing center on this book. They were asked, "What does Ms. Dianna look like?" After talking about their ideas, they were then asked to draw a picture of what they had just mentioned. As you can see by the photos below, some of them drew very detailed pictures while others made simple shapes and colors. The defined stick figures were those of four and five year old's and the simple large circle figures were drawn by three year old children.

They drew a personal perception of me as they saw me in their mind's eye. The drawing with blue crayon is amusing in that it states I have blue eyes. I have brown. However, children often draw what they perceive to be true based upon familiar people or items. Perhaps, his mother had blue eyes and it was comforting to him. The picture of me wth big feet is so true and I had to laugh at the large circle representation. My favorite was the "100 feet" drawing. This child thought I was capable of being in many places at one time, thus the many feet.

Samples Drawings From The Book

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Circles are the primary shape used; notice the two stick legs on the side (3 year old drawing). Three year old used blue color to highlight figure, "Ms Dianna has blue eyes" (I have brown!)Stick figure of higher definition, circles used to represent face, eyes and feet ("Ms. Dianna has big feet. " I do.)Large circle for body with sticks representing feet, "Ms. Dianna has 100 feet". (four year old drawing)
Circles are the primary shape used; notice the two stick legs on the side (3 year old drawing).
Circles are the primary shape used; notice the two stick legs on the side (3 year old drawing).
Three year old used blue color to highlight figure, "Ms Dianna has blue eyes" (I have brown!)
Three year old used blue color to highlight figure, "Ms Dianna has blue eyes" (I have brown!)
Stick figure of higher definition, circles used to represent face, eyes and feet ("Ms. Dianna has big feet. " I do.)
Stick figure of higher definition, circles used to represent face, eyes and feet ("Ms. Dianna has big feet. " I do.)
Large circle for body with sticks representing feet, "Ms. Dianna has 100 feet". (four year old drawing)
Large circle for body with sticks representing feet, "Ms. Dianna has 100 feet". (four year old drawing)

The Analysis Of Children's Drawings

As I mentioned the book's creation process was simple but in reality the actual child's efforts are reflective of their personality, environment and developmental stage. It takes time observing a child's behavior and interaction with her or him to comprehend what the drawings may reveal. Once I directed a child to the writing center because they were being disruptive and needed a quiet space to refocus. He took some paper and crayons and sat for about fifteen minutes (which is a long time for a preschooler) busily drawing on paper.

After awhile, I ventured over and sat beside him. I saw a large stick figure and a smaller stick figure holding hands in the center of the paper. Above them was a colorful rainbow with clouds on each side. They were standing on a bed of green grass with small yellow flowers and a bird or two flying overhead. I tilted my head and said, "Tell me about your picture". I used this phrase because I didn't want to put words in his mouth or misread his drawing. He took a deep breath and he told me his story. Evidently his grandma had just passed away and he drew a picture of her and him holding hands looking upwards to heaven. He said, "I miss my grandma and how she used to play with me. But, I know she is in heaven now." I wanted to cry right there but I managed to hug him while we talked about how he felt about his loss.

Later when his mother came to pick him up, I shared this activity with her and the story behind the drawing. She cried and told me that he had been so quiet at home and unable to play with his brother without resorting to squabbles over toys. She said she had no idea he felt this loss so deeply. Once she talked with her son at home about his feelings, he returned to his usual happy self. This is why teachers observe children's drawings. It enables them to help shape a child's character, instill positive social skills and encourage self-expression.


Treasured Memories

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Stages of Children's Art

From the time a child picks up his first writing tool, he begins to express himself visually. The ability to form lines in order to reach figures resembling the real figure is one of the important symbolic activities that distinguish man from other living beings¹. A young child of two will scribble on a page with a marker or crayon. It may be centered on the page or in in different areas with no connection or meaning. Although, if you ask them they could probably give you some idea of what they drew.

As the child develops into a preschooler, drawings become more realistic. He will use shapes and lines as stick figures to represent people, animals and structures such as homes. They may use the entire paper or center their art in one small area. What you want to see is the use of the whole paper at this age because it indicates a balanced outlook of life. There is much more to analyzing children's drawings but for the sake of keeping this article focused I will just mention the developmental stages of children's art below²:

  • Scribbling Stage: Birth - 2 years
  • Manipulative Stage: 2-4 years
  • Pre-Schematic or Symbol Making Stage: 4-7 years
  • Human Figure's Drawings: 6-8 years
  • Schematic Stage: 7-9 years
  • Geometric Drawing Stage: 9-12 years
  • Story Drawing/Graphic Narrative Stage: 9-12 years approximately
  • Drawing Realism Stage: 11-13 years
  • Late realism Stage: 11-13 years

______________________________________________

Source: 1 and 2: Children's Drawings and the Developmental Artistic Characteristics, Lowenfeld, Mendelowitz, Read, Kellogg, Edwards, Hurwitz and Day

Self-Expression And The Art Of Drawing

It's The Thought That Counts

A child's drawing is a special gift of art from the deep inner depths of their being. I always enjoy asking children to talk about their artwork because I discover what is important to them and how they think. The next time you look at a child's drawing see if you can understand what they were trying to say. If you ask them to share their thoughts be prepared to talk for awhile about their creation. You may be surprised at what you learn.

© 2012 Dianna Mendez

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