“I’m going to make a cow,” said the 3-year-old as we prepared to leave her classroom for Expressive Arts.
When we arrived in the art room, the girl again announced that she would make a cow. As she hesitated, I asked her to gather the materials she’d need, upon which she decisively chose brown paper, markers and oil pastels. After placing her materials on the table she looked at me and said, “Draw it for me.”
“This is your cow, but I’ll help you to make it,” I replied. “Let’s think about the shapes in a cow. What’s the shape of her head?”
She thought for a moment and answered with eyes sparkling, “It’s a circle!” Without prompting she picked up a marker and drew a circle. She then added dots for eyes.
“Is there anything else you’d like to add?” She paused to view the cow and drew two short lines at the top of the head. “Ears,” she declared.
While it would not be necessary to draw more than the face, I was curious to see if she’d go further. “And what shape is the body?” In her unique artistic style, she drew a large circle around the smaller one of the face. She then connected two long lines for the legs. Studying her drawing she said, “Cows have four legs.” She drew two more long lines.
She then cut it out, held it at eye level and smiled widely. “I drew a cow!”
This happened again in the 3.5-to-4-year-old class. After helping turn the witch’s jail into the witch’s house, a boy wanted to duplicate it on paper so he could take it home**. “Draw it for me,” was again heard. When I said I’d help him, he replied, “But, I don’t know how.” I told him I understood. I had to practice a lot to learn how to draw. “I’ll help you practice. Let’s find the shapes.”
Together, we looked at the shapes found inside the house.
When asked what he saw, he answered: “a square and a triangle.” That seemed enough coaching. I continued to observe. He surprised me by beginning with a circle which turned into a spiral. He was really enjoying himself and narrated as he drew. “This is the black face of the moon, see?” he pointed out a line he had drawn with black marker. Then he continued to transform his circle into a spiral, for the joy of it. He filled his paper with color, lines and dots, each representing that which he described, including the witches house. His enjoyment of the process expanded as he continued making his drawing.
When he finished, he asked me to take a photo for his family. He was very proud of his work. I commented that he was able to draw exactly what he wanted. I also said that if I had drawn it for him it wouldn’t have turned out just the way he wanted because only he knew that.
“Yes!” he agreed passionately.
Guidelines for Teachers:
As teachers, we want to encourage children’s independent learning while having them feel supported. Here are a couple of examples of how we can cheer on their efforts.
- Looking at an object, person or photo, ask, “What shapes do you see?”
Allow any shape a child finds to be the correct one. Encourage their drawing of that shape. Have them look around the room for other examples of that shape. If discouraged, they may wish to draw the shape several times while being coached before attempting to make their drawing.
- “Draw what you see in your imagination in the air with finger. Now try it on paper with just your finger. Great! Now what would you like to draw it with? Crayons, markers or oil pastels?”
If the child tells you that their parents draw for or with them, as I did with my own daughter, I simply say we have different rules at home and school. Children get that.
We want children to be satisfied with their drawing. While there are different stages of drawing, within each there are also different degrees of satisfaction.
Some will scribble with a wide smile. Others will make representational art and still not be satisfied, particularly when the actual drawing does not match that of their imagination. If you can have them pause before starting again (or crumpling up their paper), look at it together. Ask what they want to change and what they really liked about their drawing. This often helps them to focus and let go of any strong emotion before they try again. Praising their efforts rather than the drawing itself strengthens their resolve.
Studies are showing that it is the effort that is important. Encourage them to keep practicing. We can encourage a can-do attitude. Skills can be taught later, as needed.
Referring to the my last blog post: I’ve noticed the progression on what had once been scary for the children as they continued to play. At first they’d check to see if she was inside the jail. Discovering that she'd escaped, they screamed and ran away. After playing at being scared, soon a brave child or two would find the witch and play with her. I began to notice them putting a chimney on top of what had been the jail and calling it the witch’s house. I felt very fortunate to watch the power of play and how the children as a group worked together to diminish their fear with child-sized portions of courage.
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