Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Children's drawings have to be considered as a visual communication form, as for most of the children it is the best way to express their thoughts, fantasies, ideas, and emotions.
As a communication form, it has, it's own 'language' based on fundamental elements, like line, shape, colour, form, motion, texture, pattern, direction, orientation, scale, angle, space, proportion. In children drawings’ case, the most fundamental elements are the line and shape.
The line is a mark made using a drawing tool or brush. The shape can be considered as an enclosed line. The line forms the boundary, and the shape is the form circumscribed by that boundary. Line and shape are two elements that are nearly always used together.
There are many types of lines: thick, thin, horizontal, vertical, zigzag, diagonal, curly, curved, spiral etc. and they are expressive having the drawing person's emotions included. What about the shapes represented by children drawings? The usage of basic shapes is characteristic as the most commonly used method of simplifying of the more complex forms.
Needs in Different Age Groups^
Children in their very young age (1-2 years old), by scribbling^, are exploring and discovering different ways to get lines and shapes on the surface using different materials. They don't need to have any further skills regarding drawing.
Children from 2 to 4 years old are mostly interested in 'How to ...?' questions. For example 'How to draw a house?' or 'How to draw a flower?' or 'How to get the pink 'colour'?' During these years they should learn how to simplify complex forms to basic shapes to be able to represent them on their drawings.
Once they achieve the 5-8 years old age group (called Schematic Stage^) children will be interested in finding schemas to follow while drawing. This is the ideal period for them to get their knowledge founded based on fundamental elements of visual language, like line and shape.
Belonging to the experimental period for the children of this age group the best learning process is to get their skills developed by their own experience. They should find out basic pieces of information by exploring, observing, comparing, and concluding. To get through these stages beside practical experiences, the using of verbal skills are inevitable.
After my art teaching experience, the main benefit of this long, playful, step by step process should be to make the children able to choose the right type of line and shape to get to the desired result that suits to the drawing children's initial intentions.
^Viktor Lowenfeld, an Austrian professor of art education at the Pennsylvania State University, influenced many art educators by emphasizing five stages of artistic development for children from 2 to 13 years old (a.k.a. lowenfeld and brittain stages of artistic development). Scribble stage is for toddlers around 2 years old. Pre-Schematic and Schematic stages are describing the appropriate media and themes needed for children aged between 5 and 8 years old.
New Skills Development
But as developing process it is connected with the children's other skills, having multiple positive impacts upon their personality. Besides other beneficial influences, it helps to keep children's mind opened to new ideas and knowledge; by maintaining children's curiosity it leads to more developed learning skills; and also fastens their self-confidence.
Learning new skills or developing them is a complex process. Talking about the basic elements of visual communication it is very important to understand that they belong to the personality's subjective area.
That means that any kind of knowledge about this subject should achieve the children's mind as an option and not as a statement. Adults got involved in this process should consider it as an element of adult-child interaction and never seen as a separate task to complete.
What children need is to get challenged to watch, to see and to verbalize. They need to observe and compare these elements within a different environment and to verbalize their conclusions. To them, visualization is crucial.
Getting their interest alive, challenging them to explore, getting them focused, listening to their conclusions, correcting and completing them are the main tasks of adults involved. Not easy tasks. They require a lot of attention and creativity. But worth as it's very beneficial by challenging the adult's creativity as well by helping to get a healthy adult-child partnership.
Ask Question Not Give Answer
To achieve the purpose I'd like to share some of my ideas about the question 'How adult involved in the situation described in this article should react?'
Firstly I'd like to advise to avoid providing children with concrete pieces of information regarding this subject. Instead, once the question being addressed to the adult the answer should be given by visualization.
That means that the child should get an image or images as a reference with the right answer included in an visible form.
For example, if the adult is asked about the right shape of a human head, instead of saying 'It's an oval', it would be better to show at least two different shapes (for example, an oval and a square) and ask the child to choose the shape that suits the most with the form of a human head.
If the child seems to be interested in further discuss of the matter, he/she can be asked to give a reason for his/her choice. The adult should share his/her point of view only if the child's answer seems to be different, or additionally, he/she can complete the child's conclusions.
If the child's initial question seems to be too complex to find the answer by a simple choice between some options, he/she can be helped by further visualization.
For example, if the child facing an oval and a square still finds it hard to define a human head's right shape, a third image (other than a drawing) can be introduced with a human head on it for the child to compare it first with the oval and then with the square.
It's not all the time possible to go through a long process to get an answer and the adult needs to share concrete pieces of information with the children regarding basic elements of visual communication. If this happens the adult should try to give a very objective answer, without any taste of subjectivity, because there is a tendency of the children to consider pieces of information got this way as an irreversible truth.
To sum up, drawing is an ideal form to communicate ideas and emotions with, especially for children. As they pass year by year their drawing skills should be developed step by step. The ideal period to them to get their knowledge founded on basic elements of visual communication, like line and shape is the Schematic Stage (5-8 years old children).
This age group belongs to experimental period, fact that requires to get this process based on visualization, rather than getting concrete pieces of information provided by adults.
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About the author:
Bela is a professional fine artist/painter/graphic designer and an experienced art teacher. He has taught art for twelve years in a high school for fine arts, working with students of various ages, both in primary and secondary education. His experience also involves exam preparation courses and private tutoring. Bela holds B.A. in Professional Fine Artist at University for Fine Arts and Design Cluj-Napoc, Romania.