I am concerned about the progress of one of my students. Not a big revelation, but what may be a surprise is why. What concerns me are his drawings.
Some of you may not know that I was just a couple of ceramics classes away from having a minor in art and at one point just a few decisions away from becoming an art teacher. As part of that education I learned a lot about the stages of children’s drawings and some related child development concerns. And of course I have a few years of experience with young children. So I have seen lots of drawings!
We don’t have as much time for art activities in school as we once did, but my students still draw enough for me to closely observe their progress from pre-schematic to schematic stage. In essence that just means “how they draw people”. Children begin with uncontrolled scribbles on a page. Then as they develop better fine-motor control and become more observant, they move through different stages of drawing and people become more and more recognizable. Although the transition is a bit different for each child, and for boys vs. girls, there are consistent elements in each stage that all children go through.
One of the early figures children draw is a big round circle with arms and legs. The face generally has two “dot” eyes and a big smile. There is no body or neck, and sometimes no hands or feet. Then children move on to stick figures. As they gain more experience the face gets more details, hair is added and the hands and feet appear. Later there is clothing. The details that children are beginning to notice in life appear in their drawings. Girls start adding pretty finger nails and boys start adding boots and hats.
What concerns me about my student is that despite a birthday and nearly a year of drawing, he is still in the “smiley face with arms and legs stage”. The art teacher inside me wants to explore the reasons for that! It is not lack of practice. He has had opportunities to draw each and every week. Students illustrate their stories during writing time. They have personal journals they draw in during free time. They draw seasonal or holiday pictures. Not lack of fine motor control. He has excellent handwriting! So that makes me wonder about his observation skills and perception of people.
I’m not going to continue to analyze my student here; that’s not the point of this. The point is that my concerns and conclusions about this particular child are just one example of why it is so important to keep art in our schools. Art is not simply “pretty pictures”. Drawings reveal a great deal about a child’s personality, concerns, experiences, and abilities in other areas. In the past I have met with the school counselor about a child who consistently colored everything red. Turned out she had been watching horror films with a relative and was terrified of getting killed. Another year I had a student who colored everything black and we discovered that even after a year had passed, he was still mourning the death of his grandmother. I’ve had many other students in class who drew pictures of traumatic events and experiences, phobias and fears. If they had not had the opportunity to draw in school, many of their problems would have gone unnoticed!
So, as much as we are pressed and stressed to teach these children to read and calculate, you can rest assured that in Mrs. Maurer’s class they will also continue to draw!