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Young children drawing: the significance of the context

Kathy Ring

College of Ripon and York

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 13-15 September 2001

The role of drawing in children's learning is frequently misunderstood. Even within foundation stage classrooms, where the opportunity to draw is often freely available, there is usually an adult focus upon 'mark making leading to writing' rather than communication and creativity. Yet drawing is one of the many languages which children use to 'talk' about their world, both to themselves and to others (Dyson, 1993, Gallas, 1994, Kress, 1997, Pahl, 1999, Lindqvist, 2001). Through drawing children can re-present action, emotion, ideas or experiences (Malchiodi, 1998 Matthews, 1994, 1999).

This paper uses data, collected as part of a longitudinal research project about young children and drawing across settings, to illustrate the importance of the context, physical, social and cultural, in which drawing takes place.

The hypotheses will be explored that the context in which a child draws:

Implications for early childhood education will be drawn.

The role of drawing in children's development

Until relatively recently the study of children's drawings has reflected a 'top down' approach which takes the pursuit of realistic representation as its goal and a stage theory which has been generalised from the work of Luquet (1927), Piaget (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958), and Kellogg (1970) as its model of development (Matthews, 1992:26, 1999:84). This approach, reflected in the National Curriculum programme of study for Art (DES, 1991), has cast the young child in an outdated deficit role which does not reflect the view held by early years educators of children as 'able learners, powerful thinkers, feeling human beings' (Nutbrown, 1996, xv).

Also damaging to some extent, for the understanding of the role of drawing in young children's learning, has been the exchange of the word 'drawing' for 'mark making' in educare settings (Athey, 1990, Nutbrown, 1994). The term, in emphasising the importance of children's earliest marks for writing development, can give the message that pictorial representation is inferior to the more important role that the reading and writing of symbols has been given within the National Curriculum and within society in general. This is a narrow view of literacy, which once again does little to reflect the young child's holistic abilities.

Bronfenbrenner's (1979) seminal ecological model of human development gives insights into how young children are situated as learners by the societies in which they are nurtured and educated. His model is supported by studies of young children in home/ pre-school and school settings (Tizard and Hughes, 1984; Trevarthen, 1995; Schaffer, 1992) which have shown children to be

'...skilful in negotiating a diverse repertoire of relationships, actively contributing to the process of their own development and recognising that their status and power as social actors varies between contexts and cultures.' (Woodhead, Faulkner & Littleton, 1998:1)

These studies have concentrated upon the relationships between children and their 'significant others'. Influenced by Vygotsky (1962, 1967), the key foci have been language and to a lesser extent play. Little is known, however, about the impact upon a child's use of drawing of firstly the different settings of home and pre-school or school, and secondly the roles taken by 'significant' others in 'formal' and 'informal' learning contexts, particularly over any length of time.

The influence of context on young children's drawing development

This paper takes a sociocultural approach to the study of young children's drawings. It recognises that:

(Bruner, 1996; Vygotsky, 1962, 1967; Rogoff, 1990; Wertsch, 1985)

Drawing is seen to have originated from children's physical action (Matthews, 1994; 1999) and play (Vygotsky, 1995). Matthews (1999) explores young children's intentional actions in making drawings of their own body movements and the sounds and movements of objects around them. He calls these 'action representations'. In common with Athey (1990) he describes development as 'an interaction between what is unfolding in the child and what is available within the environment' (Matthews, 1994). Athey concentrates on drawing as a reflection of children's inner schematic representations, the developing organisational or conceptual systems by which they make sense of diverse aspects of life. Matthews, however, sees children's drawings 'located within a family of expressive and symbolic actions used fluently by children between 3 and 4 years of age' (1999:49). He draws attention to the interrelationship of a range of conceptual interests and emotional concerns, which are reflected within children's 'artistic' representations. Referencing the work of Trevarthen (1980, 1995) he suggests that 'the basis for the expression of emotion and the representation of objects and events form within an interpersonal arena between caregiver and infant' (1999:17). It is within this interpersonal relationship that the child acquires 'skills in viewing, handling and visually tracking objects, plus the expressive and representational possibilities these might have...' (1999:18).

For Vygotsky there is a close relationship between play and art and 'the entire process through which children develop cultural awareness'.

'Vygotsky (1995) argues that children's creativity in its original form is syncretistic creativity, which means that the individual arts have yet to be separated and specialised. Children do not differentiate between poetry and prose, narration and drama. Children draw pictures and tell a story at the same time; they act a role and create their lines as they go along. Children rarely spend a long time completing each creation, but produce something in an instant, focusing all their emotions on what they are doing at that moment in time.' (Lindqvist, 2001:8)

Play is seen by Lindqvist to create meaning. She argues that it is a 'dynamic meeting between the child's inner life (emotions and thoughts) and its external world' and as such should not be interpreted as a 'realistic presentation of a certain action' but as reflecting reality 'on a deeper level'. Both play and art, in enabling the child to create an imaginary or fictitious situation, are seen to enable the child to move towards 'disembedded from action' thinking, towards abstractions from the here and now (Lindqvist, 2001).

Building upon the work of Wells (1986) and Bruner (1996) the term 'meaning making' is used extensively when considering the child as a learner from a sociocultural perspective. Dyson (1993) sees a symbol, be it a word, picture or dance, existing because of a 'human intention to infuse some tangible form - a sound, a mark, a movement - with meaning and, thereby, to comment on or take action in the social world'. Symbol making is, for Dyson, 'the essence of being human' and drawing, as a symbolic system, is one of the ways humans liberate themselves 'from the here and now'. Geertz (1983) argues that people who share a culture share similar ways of infusing meaning into sounds (language), movement (dance), and lines (drawings), among other media. Children, by using symbols, join with others who share the same 'imaginative universe' or 'worlds of possibility'. Dyson illuminates the way drawing is helped by the critical role of talk and gesture to become 'a mediator, a way of giving a graphic voice to an intention' (Dyson, 1993:24). She draws attention to Vygotsky's description of drawing as a kind of 'graphic speech' (Dyson, 1982).

Drawing as narrative in young children's development

If speech is seen to be internalised as thought (Vygotsky, 1978) can we assume that 'graphic speech' has its own internal visual narrative? Gallas (1994:xv) takes the view that children's personal narratives, formed in an attempt to order and explain the world from all aspects of their experience, 'are often part of the silent language that embodies thinking'. She takes 'an expanded view' of children's narratives, not confining them to the spoken or written word, but including the stories they tell from early childhood 'in dramatic play, in their drawings and paintings, in movement and spontaneous song.' In putting forward her view of the young child as a powerful meaning maker, Gallas draws attention to adults within school settings not enabling young children to make use of their 'enormous number of innate tools for acquiring knowledge' (xv) or their different modes of representation which might be visually, verbally or kinaesthetically based.

'...Children do not naturally limit the forms that their expressions take. Because adult communication relies so heavily on spoken and written language, however, schools necessarily reflect that orientation and channel children's narratives into a very narrow realm of expressions, in effect limiting rather than broadening the child's expressive capabilities.' (Gallas, 1994:xv)

Because of years spent with adults less flexible in thinking and communication she feels that most children 'lose their natural gifts for narrative expression.' (xvi). There is a lack of recognition by most adults of the power of drawing in serving a narrative function for children by externalising their experiences, thoughts and feelings through visual images. Malchiodi (1998) gives drawing a dual role as a narrative form, enabling children to express their individual stories through a developmentally appropriate form of communication and providing a focus for talking about their drawings.

Given the emphasis on reading and writing within the statutory curriculum, the innovative work of Kress (1997) on young children's meaning making has importantly drawn attention to the need for a broader view of literacy, which includes both the reading and making of visual signs. He argues that children are bombarded with a variety of stimuli both static (pictures, signs, posters) and moving (T.V., video, computer imagery). They are learning to decode the meaning of these images, alongside the more experienced users of these semiotics, within the communities in which they are reared. Kress's thesis is that 'children act multi-modally, both in the things they use, the objects they make, and in the engagement of their bodies; there is no separation of body and mind' (ibid.: 97). He draws on detailed observations of his own young children engaged in multi-model representations using:

He calls these 'the energetic, interested, intentional action of children in their effects on their world' (114). He argues that:

'It is essential that .... children are encouraged .... in their fundamental disposition towards multi-modal forms of text and meaning making. .... Above all there will need to be particular emphasis on developing their awareness about the dynamic interaction between the various modes, and their awareness that all modes are constantly changing in their interaction with other modes; and through the sign maker's use.' (154)

Pahl (1999) uses Kress's thesis to study children's meaning making in nursery education and notes that the objects children made in the nursery settings often have a 'fluid quality'. Children create layers of narrative as they represent and re-represent versions of stories in their play. A shopping basket made from a cereal packet and strips of card for role-play in the nursery might be transformed into a carrycot for a doll when the model was taken home. She argued that children had more opportunities to utilise fluidity in their meaning making at home where objects could be freely transformed from one function to another without the watchful gaze of an adult. She sees these 'lines of enquiry' offering scope for children to explore the gap between 'me' and 'not me' using the models they make as 'transactional objects'. The models children carry from nursery to home offer them opportunities to explore the inner workings of their minds through the outer material representations of their thinking shaped in particular ways by the environments in which they try to record their understanding of the world.

Drawing is seen by Kress and Pahl to be one of the many languages which children use to 'talk' about their world in informal settings, both to themselves and to others. Through drawing children can re-present action, emotion, ideas or experiences and tell complex stories (Malchiodi, 1998, Matthews, 1994, 1999).

Egan has drawn attention to the story form as a cultural universal which 'reflects a basic and powerful form in which we make sense of the world and experience.'(1989:2) Given the emphasis on a traditional view of literacy and narrative within the statutory English curriculum, it is not surprising that oral storying and story writing have received far more attention within research than storying through drawing. Exploring the young child's use of drawing from a socio-cultural perspective allows the impact upon the young child's drawing behaviours of the views and beliefs of older and more significant others across both home and pre-school settings to be highlighted. It also emphasises how the young child, operating at profound levels both cognitively and emotionally, uses narrative across modes of representation which include drawing.

Short introduction to project

This paper draws on data collected as part of a three year, longitudinal research project 'Young Children Drawing at Home, Pre-school and School: the influence of the socio-cultural context'. Evidence was collected for one month, at the beginning of the school year to compile case studies of seven children's use of drawing across home, pre-school and school settings. It was a longitudinal study that took place over a three-year period. Two key research instruments were used for data collection:

  1. Booklets of each child's drawings collected by the significant adults in each setting

  2. Semi-structured interviews with significant adults and with the children

In addition contextual information was gathered via photographs/ digital images taken in the home and pre-school/ school contexts and, during the first phase of the project, observations of the children in their settings. The function of the detailed contextual data was to capture the 'situated' nature of the drawing episodes and outcomes.

The evidence was collected from September 1998 until November 2001 during a period of continuing change in the UK for all involved in both pre- and primary schooling. Government strategies introduced during this period included, for example, statutory baseline assessment, the Literacy Hour and the daily numeracy lesson.

The following detailed exemplar, drawn from the study, concentrates upon the experiences of one child and shows how he begins to use drawings as a narrative form to 'talk' to himself and to others and by doing so constructs new meanings. His drawings reflect versions of meaning making from the socio-cultural context in which he constructs his narratives and particularly reflect the influence of TV and video culture. There is evidence that the cultural assumptions about drawing in the child's home and pre-school/ school contexts affect what he draws, how he draws and how often he draws. Yet the child demonstrates a unique drawing style and an exploration through line of intensely personal responses to experiences. In doing so he participates in the making of his culture (Kress, 1997) and shows himself to be an able and powerful storyteller.

LUKE

Phase 1: Luke aged three, drawing at home

At just turned three Luke was the youngest child in the sample. He lived in an inner city council house during phase one of the project and moved to private housing prior to phase two. He had one younger brother. Luke attended a Family Centre three days a week.

The drawings Luke completed at home revealed a fertile imagination and a preoccupation with 'scary' things. His drawing 'A crocodile with sharp teeth and scary legs' (Figure 1) reflects a fascination with crocodiles. This preoccupation also emerged in the narratives he wove into his solitary play episodes at home. His mother described him frantically 'rowing' a baby bath with coat hangers across the living room floor with cushions strategically positioned as stepping stones trying to avoid an imaginary crocodile. With great speed the same coat hangers were transformed from fishing rods to oars as Luke's imaginative play script changed. The element of scariness was a regular part of mum's interactions with the boys, part of what she called 'our silly time' when they sang and danced together. 'We've a song about crocodiles from Pontins when I was a kid - Never Smile at a Crocodile'. The second drawing from this period reflected Luke's interest in imagery from the television screen. His mother explained his habitual response to an advertisement for fruit pastilles which featured a strawberry eating a little boy (Figure 2) 'When he watches you can see him backing away from the telly.' The television and videos were a big part of Luke's mother's day and she enjoyed watching children's programmes with the children, often referring to characters from them in conversation and building them into play with the children.

Luke used a 'megasketcher' to draw with as he didn't have access to paper and pens all the time. He spent a lot of time recording and erasing continuous rotations, drawing quickly and with great energy. Paper, pens and scissors were reserved for when his younger brother was asleep and were used at the kitchen table. Luke was fascinated by scissors and systematically cut paper into strips, turned each strip at a right angle and cut it into a smaller strip until he was left with tiny pieces of paper. Sometimes he made a mark on the paper as a prop for his cutting action. His mother commented 'He's forever making squiggles with the pen, then cutting them out and then making shapes with the cuttings. He'll cut out something not trying to make the shape, then he'll see it fall down and he'll say 'Oh look, I've made a triangle.' He'll pretend he made it properly.'

Luke's mother drew with or for him and described how when she tried to draw the teletubbies for him he insisted on the detail being a correct representation: 'I did La La and he said 'La La's head doesn't go like that.' You have got get the right colour, the right shade.'

Phases 1 and 2: Luke aged three and four, drawing at the Family Centre

During both phase one and phase two of the project there were strong messages given by staff at the Family Centre, to both Luke and his mother, about the importance of drawing people. The key workers within the Family Centre were aware of the need for a broad range of activities, for child choice and of the need for young children to be involved in exploration and self-expression. Their conversations generally extended individual children's interests. However the messages given by 'Desirable Outcomes for Children's Learning on Entering Compulsory Education' (SCAA, 1996), gave further emphasis to a tendency within the Family Centre for key workers to channel children towards emergent and adult recognisable mark making. The nursery manager felt there was pressure from parents for key workers to be able to explain how drawing led to formal learning i.e. writing. The practice within the setting of including drawing within the term 'mark making' allowed drawing a valid place within the curriculum, but seemed to be devaluing drawing as an activity in its own right. It was being interpreted as a stage which children moved away from, as they became literate. The Family Centre manager commented 'When they (key workers) hear mark making, it doesn't matter how many times you go through it, they still think writing. That's there at the back of the mind all the time. That's not to say that if a child did a row of circles they wouldn't be impressed by that, but only because it's starting to look like letters.'

One of the ways in which the Family Centre gave messages about the purpose of drawing was by its inclusion within the child's developmental record, as part of a progression from horizontal and vertical marks through figure drawing and onto early writing. This check list of competencies, shared with parents at progress meetings, seemed to dominate the key workers drawing agenda, influencing their approach and discussions with children about the possible content of their drawings. Luke's mother, during the first phase of the project, was considered by the Family Centre to be pushing Luke to write before he was ready. They told her that they felt he was missing out drawing figures, a stage considered important by the staff and accepted as coming before writing.

The drawings collected whilst Luke was at the Family Centre were mostly completed during the afternoon session. The routine at the Family Centre was for the morning to be spent in 'free flow', with free choice of activities and rooms being allocated to a particular type of activity e.g. large construction. For the afternoon sessions the children were allocated to a base under the supervision of their key worker. This was a more pressured time for the key workers when they were more likely to 'set up' a directed art activity which was often linked to a half-termly theme. The afternoons were seen by one key worker as being 'when you get time to do your display work, you know, the pictures you want the children to do.' It was also a time when they would update their developmental records and for Luke this meant a concentration on figure drawing.

Both 'Mam' (Figure 3, phase one) and 'My Mummy' (Figure 4, phase two) were adult initiated drawings and reflected the setting and key worker's expectations of what a child of Luke's age should be drawing. 'Mam' was drawn following the key worker's modelling of a similar figure, and during the completion of 'My Mummy' Luke was shown where to put the eyes and nose, but did decide to put the hair on himself. Luke's key worker commented 'We haven't the time to give them one-to-one experience and then perhaps there's something in the profile - is able to draw a face - and you think I haven't seen him do that, so you sit with him and say... shall we see what we can do?' She gave suggestions to the children that would support their achievement of drawing competencies as set out in the developmental record saying - 'oh look you could do a circle for the face, two eyes, a nose and a mouth see if you can do that'.

Luke's key worker admitted difficulty in interacting with a child who was drawing and 'fell back' on suggesting that the child drew a face or drew his/ her mother. 'I do it, yes, because I'm stumped to know how I can help them.' Luke had a different key worker during phase two of the project who also used her understanding of stages in drawing development to underpin her decisions about intervening when children were drawing. 'Normally with drawings it is just scribbles on the paper. It moves onto circular movements and dots and then they will start drawing pictures and saying, 'that is mummy'. ...We might not be able to recognise it but they will start saying what it is and then you will start seeing pictures of a head with arms and legs, and then they will start putting in the eyes and things.' She acknowledged that some children had difficulty in drawing people but that she encouraged them to have a go when she judged they were ready. 'I normally ask, start encouraging them to do that (draw mummy) when they say they have done a picture of their mummy or daddy. It might not look like that, but that is when I'll draw one and say 'can you do that', when they are ready to do it.'

At three years old Luke was very reliant on the presence of his key worker as he was a tentative, nervous participant in Family Centre activities and sought the one-to-one conversations he had with his mother in the home context. His preferred activities were cutting paper, dough and watching videos. Among his peers at the Family Centre he was unusual in his ability to remain captivated by video and television imagery. 'He absolutely loves television. He is the one child who will sit there and be actually enthralled by it. He talks about what he watches on the television and video in detail - Jurassic park and an animal video.' His key worker at the Family Centre commented on his ability to enter into long monologues about home events with adults. 'His speech is very very good, very forward for his age. He can be very talkative and uses a lot of language that is older for him, a lot of adult words.' Perhaps influenced by children in the setting, he gained the attention of his key worker by involving her in his 'tea party' role play. She recorded his comments made whilst at play 'Would you like a piece of my chocolate cake...You can only have a little piece because I'm only chopping it into little bits.' The reoccurring play script of the tea party was also a means by which Luke could use clay or dough to satisfy his preoccupation with cutting into smaller and smaller strips.

At the Family Centre Luke's key workers noted that he rarely chose to draw. 'Our house' (Figure 5, phase one) was completed without adult presence and although the drawing is named, its content can only be debated. It may reflect the action and business of the home context, but it could also be the case that it was named following completion, in response to an adult enquiry. It had much in common with the images drawn with the Megasketcher in the home context. Luke's representation of 'Dr. Jekyll when he turned into a nasty monster' (Figure 6, phase one) was completed in response to an adult's request for him to draw. It reflects both Luke's continued use of drawing to explore and represent his fears and the influence upon him of video or television images. His choice of topic followed discussion with the key worker about what the content of the drawing would be.

Phase 2: Luke aged four, drawing at home

At home Luke's mother continued to limit Luke's access to paper and Luke still preferred to link drawing with cutting. Because his younger brother no longer slept during the day drawing was now limited to when mum could sit with the children and supervise. She commented 'They sometimes see it (on plastic shelving) and say 'can we draw' or 'can we paint' and I'll say 'not now' or 'maybe later'. Paint at nursery ' out of sight, out of mind.'

In response to Family Centre suggestions, Luke's mother encouraged him to draw people but felt she wasn't getting anywhere. 'He won't draw people. Very very rarely draws people.' 'Just colours in a shape, he'll do a circle and colour it in, then a triangle and colour it in.' Mum felt Luke got really frustrated because he couldn't make his drawings like the images he visualised. 'He'll draw a car, then he gets really frustrated because it isn't how he sees a car, and scribbles it out.' Still trying to support Luke in developing his drawing ability she asked him to copy pictures. 'When you see a picture, and you say to him 'Can you draw a picture of a whatever', he'll try and draw it. Because it doesn't look exactly like a pig, he'll say it's rubbish, and if it is the mega sketch, the zipper goes down and he won't even have it on.' Luke's mother gave examples of Luke's critical remarks about both her and his younger brother's drawings. 'That doesn't look nowt like a house. That doesn't look nowt like a cat, where's its tail?'

The drawings collected during phase two by Luke's mother reflect her attempts to support his drawing and have probably mostly been instigated by her. 'Pumpkin' (Figure 7) is a shared effort between Luke and his mother as is his attempt to draw around one of the leaves collected on the way home from the Family Centre (Figure 8). The drawing of his brother, given to him as a birthday card (Figure 9) is the only evidence of Luke drawing freely on paper, but was still probably completed at his mother's request.

Phase 2: Luke aged four, meaning making through role-play

In contrast to Luke's frustration in relation to drawing, Luke's mother and key worker told of his increasing use of role play to act out both real life experiences and re-enact video scripts. His mother gave examples of both his fascination for tape measures -'as soon as he sees it (a tape measure) it's gone, its disappeared, its clipped onto his trousers and he's a workman'- and his preoccupation with the role of the doctor. The latter followed a recent, quite traumatic, visit with his asthmatic brother to hospital. Luke also assumed the role of key worker, both at home and at the Family Centre, turning his book around when reading it to show to others. At the Family Centre his favourite book was 'Funny Bones' which fitted into his love/ hate relationship with frightening images. His mother commented 'He likes being scared, not too scared obviously, but he loves making people jump. He loves being jumped upon as long as he knows it is going to happen.' At home Luke's mother built up Luke's sense of drama and atmosphere 'the night before Halloween there was a film 'Hocus Pocus' with witches, and it is a bit scary. But what we did was we turned all the lights off, and put the pumpkin on top of the TV and lit it...'

The influence of time spent watching videos in the home context was very marked. His mother said 'When its on... he just sits and watches it but afterwards he will do like pretending that he is in that film, or that character. Nine times out of ten he's always the baddy.' His mother discussed how he used familiar objects to support a role. 'He had the radio cassette and the microphone on his lap, a little karaoke thing, and that's what he does, his character Woody, in film, because they are all moving house, and he is in charge and he's telling them to get a moving buddy, a partner, so they won't get lost, and Luke is sat there copying it word for word. Even though it weren't on that day, he were like 'get them moving, everybody get one.' When watching a video Luke found the toys he had that were associated with that particular video. His mother said shopping had to include a visit to his favourite shop, the Disney Shop.

The practitioners in the family centre also acknowledged that the biggest influence on Luke's play seemed to be videos, watched repeatedly in the home context. 'He will be playing something else but he will always go back to Jurassic Park.' At the Family Centre Luke used construction to support his play and often 'set up' the play scenario and then invited others to join him. As the oldest child in the nursery, and with the departure of the older children to school, Luke had obviously grown in confidence and was now a leader, particularly in role-play. He had strong ideas about how the 'story' should be re-enacted. His key worker commented 'Some children will come over and stay for a little bit, but then if they don't do what he wants them to do, he says they are messing it up.' Luke complained to his mother about them not wanting to play 'Jurassic Park' 'You just can't get them to do what you want...they want to go and play Mums and Dads.' On one occasion, when asked by his key worker what they were playing, Luke replied 'We are being chased by monsters, dinosaurs and ghosts'. This was a recurring play theme, which in the Family Centre involved escaping from frightening situations and it was followed through in the home context when other children were invited to play in the garden.

One of his favourite games, introduced by Luke to neighbourhood friends, was 'stampede'. This again had been watched on video and was explained by his mother 'It is a load of animals chasing them.' 'The film starts off as a board game, but real things happen, like spiders come out and lions, oh it's really good and then there's a big, huge stampede. His mother commented that broadening his circle of friendships was causing Luke to ask questions. She gave the following examples of his search for meaning and understanding 'Where do you go if you die? What if you are good, what if you are bad? He thinks that you have to be old and have 'twisted neck' before you die.' 'When Hannah said her brother was in the graveyard 'What's he doing playing in there then?' 'He died' 'Children don't die' and they are arguing about it.'

 Phase 2: Luke aged four, moving towards formal writing

Although Luke had not regularly and voluntarily drawn people, as a four year old at the Family Centre he spent a short period of time each day as part of a small group of children preparing for statutory schooling the following September. All the key workers took turns in leading these sessions, which involved the children in working with numbers in addition to the stories and singing they had when they were younger. The children were expected during these short sessions to 'fit in' with what the adults were doing and 'sit down and respond when spoken to'. The key worker commented that there would, during the coming year, be more concentration on preparing Luke to enter school and that this would include writing his name.

Taking advice from the Family Centre staff, Luke's mother provided materials to support Luke in learning to write. 'We've got this learning to write thing and its like mazes when you've got to go a certain way, and he's fantastic with them. He loves doing them, going through the gaps and doing squiggles.' Writing numbers was, however, not always seen so positively by Luke. '...He recognises a load of numbers and letters, but as for writing them down. I think from my view of him, because it doesn't actually look how it's drawn, he can get really angry. Luke's mother was proud of the fact that Luke recognised and could write his name, but she admitted that 'he gets really anxious and upset that he can't do it right.'

Phase 3: Luke aged five, drawing at home

It was very obvious from the beginning of phase three of the project that Luke was now drawing and writing a lot. Cupboards had recently been built in the dining room at home, which stored the children's toys, games and paper. Luke's mother felt this had influenced their choice of activity. 'With everything being put away I don't know if its out of sight out of mind.' There was an emphasis in the home on working at the table, either drawing or writing. The scissors and the Mega-sketcher were no longer readily available and although the boys were able to get their own paper from the shelf, pens were kept in the mother's bedside cabinet and she therefore again limited drawing. Although mum had said Luke wasn't cutting any more and chose to write and draw, Luke said he was not allowed to cut at home any more. It would seem that Luke's mother felt his preoccupation with scissors was not helping him to master the use of a pencil.

Luke was now happy to draw. Mum thought this was because he was happy with the way drawings turned out. 'I think he can draw something now and recognise it. Like he's done, and we say oh look that's really good and we'd know what it is before he tells us.' There was a huge change in Luke's ability to represent images in a way that he found satisfying and which allowed him to use them to communicate with others. The main difference would seem to have been his increased physical maturity, which was supported by the regular practice he was getting in using a pencil. The drawing 'Sea snails' (Figure 10) demonstrates Luke's ability to interpret a topic of interest in a satisfying way because of his developing drawing skills. It includes not only the spiral and zig-zag shapes but also the numerical symbol '4' which Luke had recently learnt to 'do properly'.

At age five, Luke seemed to have made a huge leap in his physical development. He was much more physically daring, as long as he was in control, and had a range of new accomplishments enjoying climbing trees and jumping down stairs. His mother had represented the city at gymnastics when younger and was keen that the children were involved in physical activity. Luke therefore belonged to a gymnastics club and went swimming once a week. Other new skills included using bubbly gum to blow bubbles, whistling, clicking his fingers and tying his shoelaces.

Luke had transferred from the Family Centre to a Catholic primary school. Towards the end of his time at the Family Centre staff thought that at times he was over confident and dominated the younger children and his mother certainly thought he had changed. 'He's harder. He's not as sensitive and he's more rough'. 'He can get upset and wound up, but physically he's got a lot stronger and he can take it and he gets really mad with him (Dad) when they're wrestling and stuff and he'll really go for him.'

Luke still liked to draw individual pictures. These now obviously represented internal and meaningful visual images for him and he seemed to be attracted to drawing as a way of capturing stages of a story. 'Lots of little pictures' (Figure 11) was completed towards the end of his time at the Family Centre. 'Luke had a fantastic story to tell with it'. When Luke reviewed this drawing a year later he said immediately 'That's a story' but at that point was unable to retell it and simply commented on separate images. A wonderful 'Holiday Diary' (Figure 12), completed by Luke's mother with his help at the beginning of the reception year, records the salient features of his holiday experiences and shows how, probably unknowingly, his mother is helping him to bring together drawing and story. 'Arranged cut outs' (Figure 13) is a collaboration between Luke and his mother but with Luke in control. Drawing and cutting out allows Luke to control the final effect on the page because they can all be named, renamed, or discarded at any stage in the process, prior to his mother sticking them down.

Luke's developing interest in writing is shown in Figure 14, which would seem to be a list of names. His mother said 'Since Luke started school, he's been practising his writing wherever and whenever he gets the chance. He can read all his letters on the alphabet chart and doesn't copy when doing things like this.' Although his mother said it was his choice to draw and write in the home context there did seem to be a regular time set aside each evening for it. Importantly, there seemed to be little pressure put upon Luke as to the content of his drawings and without being asked he included at the bottom of the page a drawing of himself. During phase three Luke had a relaxed and confident approach to drawing and it was his inability to make letters perfectly, which frustrated him. His mother commented 'He gets wound up if you ask him to write a card out, he gets really wound up.... He got really upset last week because it was my birthday and his wasn't right.'

Phase 3: Luke aged five, drawing at school

Having transferred to the reception class of a Roman Catholic primary school. Luke was taught by a confident and experienced early years teacher who was concerned to introduce formal education gradually, seeking to provide a balance of child and adult initiated activity.

As in the Family Centre, the class teacher's expectations regarding drawing were linked to realism and figure drawing 'A lot still just have the circle with the arms and legs coming out of the head but I would expect to see a recognisable face'. The children were allowed to draw whatever they wanted if a drawing table was set up, but the teacher commented that the children often replicated the standard images which adults drew for them and cited as an example a recent preponderance of house drawing. The passing of an idea from child to child was confirmed by Luke's representation of a house, drawn for the first time during his initial weeks at school. Although Luke's teacher felt the girls generally seemed to be more interested in drawing than the boys, she noted that Luke was often to be found at the drawing table.

The third and final phase of the project gives evidence of Luke's choice of drawing as a developing form of representation and meaning making. He may have been attracted to drawing in this setting, whether at the drawing table or in the office, for a range of reasons. Most importantly, for Luke's growing confidence in his own ability, in this setting drawing was an activity without teacher direction, where he was free to express and explore his own ideas and where he knew they would be valued. He had always been able to concentrate and become quietly immersed for long periods of time in activities that were meaningful to him and he was now motivated to draw because of a real sense of achievement in relation to his drawings. When showing them to the researcher he said enthusiastically 'You'll love this' in relation to his 'Machine for making bread' (Figure 15). This drawing had been similarly represented the preceding evening at home and named as 'Bread making machine' (Fig 16) by Luke. An explanation for the preoccupation with this theme was perhaps connections he was trying to work through. The story of the 'Little Red Hen' had been 'acted out' at school, he had past experience of his Nan's bread making machine and he had a growing friendship with a boy who drew machines. Perhaps these factors led Luke to try to make sense of the way a machine can deliver a loaf of bread in this way. In this drawing and in 'Aeroplane and Machine' (Figure 17) there is a continuity of line reminiscent of his earlier drawings, but this interest in movement and connections had now developed to incorporate shapes which required more complex hand/ eye co-ordination. He was now far more physically confident in his ability to draw images that were acceptable representations both to him and to others and because he felt his drawings were now capable of conveying a message, he was beginning to be able to talk about them.

The class teacher tried to support her understanding of the need for talk about drawing by planning for a work experience girl to sit with the children at the drawing table. She gave her the following guidance 'Don't do it for them. You're there to talk to them basically; you're not there to draw. Let them get on with the drawing. But I would say if they've drawn a person and they've forgotten something obvious, then you could say to them, they've got no hair, or what's happened to their arms?' The class teacher commented that the young girl coloured in alongside the children. 'She's quite arty and she likes just sitting doodling.' Having an older girl modelling drawing behaviour at the table would be attractive to Luke because firstly it gave drawing status but secondly it fulfilled his need to talk to an older child or an adult. His teacher commented 'He likes to talk... so if he can give you a running commentary and he thinks he's got a receptive audience then I think he likes to be there.'

Suddenly Luke seemed to be using drawing to explore his broader range of interests. Interestingly there did seem to be a growing division between play and work and there was no evidence of the influence of cartoons, which had replaced his fascination with video images and stories, in his drawings. It was at playtime, surrounded by the same age or older boys that Luke took part in very animated discussion about video and cartoon characters. 'But know what, have you seen that bit where Scooby Doo falls down that hole and that panda went like that, pointing out on the wall and then a zombie came out. That was the first zombie. Oh have you seen the T-Rex movie? Oh you should, it goes, its good. Right this T-Rex eated only one dinosaur. It bit it, then it ate it. It was one of the nice ones. Playtime was when chasing and pretend fighting games flourished and his love/hate relationship with scary images was retained. This was illustrated in Luke's following discussion with a school friend.

LUKE

But you know what? One day, one night, my Dad told me this story and do youknow what he said? This little boy went on holiday with his Uncle Nick and doyou know what? One day the little boy looked out of the window at the field and they were playing football and he went to tell his Granddad and he said those are ghosts. And then the next night he stayed up really late and looked out of the window again and they were playing football again and guess what they were playing with? A head! Somebody's head!

SCOTT I've seen it real me. I've seen someone kicking someone, a dead people.
LUKE Oh, don't tell me about it will you. Oh please don't. I'm not going to listen.
SCOTT It's not scary; it's not scary.
LUKE Right
SCOTT Once I heard this boy scream and there were monsters out of the windows, zombies.
LUKE There's no such thing as zombies.

In the classroom Luke spent a lot of time in the office area, mark making and copying words rather than the role play and 'dressing up' area 'If he's in the office you could lose him for virtually the whole day.' 'Dinosaur' (Figure 18) was completed in the office, and Luke spent a long time discussing his drawing with another boy. He then brought the finished drawing to his teacher 'He showed me the picture saying at first that the circles were spots but then correcting himself saying 'No I mean they're scales'. Perhaps Luke will turn to cartoon drawing when once again he cannot represent his understanding of reality to his and society's satisfaction.

Discussion

Figure 19 is a first attempt to tabulate a pattern of drawing development, not confined to stage theories. It derives from Dyson's illumination of the way drawing is helped by the critical role of talk and gesture to become 'a mediator, a way of giving graphic voice to an intention. This adaptation (Figure 19) places emphasis on drawing as an iterative process during which a child may display more than one of the listed features simultaneously, depending on the media, the task and the context.

AGE

KEY ACTIVITY

FEATURES

Around

1

Exploration of available medium

The child:

  • has no intention to symbolize;

  • manipulates the: sounds of language; movement of own body; graphic marks of drawing and painting implements; structural possibilities of blocks and other constructive media;

  • explores the distinctive physical and visual properties which each medium offers;

  • responds to the material, the material responds to the child.

1-2yrs

Use of gestures, marks and words to symbolize - to represent - significant actions in their world

The child:

  • begins to use these symbolic tools to invest meaning in drawn marks (Vygotsky, 1978);

  • derives symbolic meaning from the gestures, not the marks (Matthews, 1994);

  • uses the marks as a critically important prop for dramatic play (Wolf & Perry, 1989)

Around 3

Attempt to "read" the meaning of what they have made

Attempt to communicate its potential meaning to other people

The child:

  • notices, after drawing, similarities between salient physical features of the world and his/her own graphic constructions;

  • invests his/ her marks with meaning through talk with others;

  • is prompted to talk about his/her drawings, read his/her marks and discover hidden meanings through the interest shown by other people (Golumb, 1974, 1988);

  • names, reinterprets and renames his/her drawings in order to respond to the interest of others (Malchiodi, 1998).

  • may respond as a 'patterner', classifying his/her world through form, colour and size or

  • may respond as a 'dramatist, showing more interest in actions and adventures, dramatic stories and tales' (Gardner, 1980) and inventing stories about his/her drawings;

Around 4

With experience drawing accompanied with talk about evolving intentions

The child:

  • reinterprets their original intentions, making them more suited to their products, if their intentions prove too ambitious (Golumb, 1974, Brittain, 1979);

  • eventually uses talk to represent meanings, to interact with others about those meanings, but also to regulate drawing itself;

  • uses consciously a range of genres and stylistic conventions in his/her drawings.

Around 5

Autonomous, personal drawings

The child:

  • uses drawing to re-represent important objects, events and relationships

  • partakes in general rites of drawing alongside peers (home/ wet playtimes)

  • uses drawing to fulfil the educational agenda in school settings

  • is supported by talk in planning a particular drawing, monitoring his or her shaping of lines and curves, evaluating progress.

Figure 19: A sociocultural pattern of drawing development adapted from Dyson (1993:24)

Conclusion

The role of drawing in children's learning is frequently misunderstood. Even within foundation stage classrooms, where the opportunity to draw is often freely available, there is usually an adult focus upon 'mark making leading to writing' rather than communication and creativity. This paper draws attention to the need for practitioners to

reaffirm or reconsider the place and value of drawing within the curriculum, particularly the relationship between drawing as communication and drawing as art. There is a need for practitioners not only to 'tune into' and thus give value to children's drawings as re-presentations of their interests and pre-occupations, but also to use re-presentations as starting points for provision which will motivate a child's or children's thinking and support learning.

 

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Figures

Figure 1 Crocodile with sharp teeth and scary legs

Figure 2 Strawberry eating little boy from fruit pastille advert

Figure 3: Mam

Figure 4: My mummy

Figure 5: Our house

Figure 6: Dr. Jekyll when he turned into a nasty monster

Figure 7: Pumpkin

Figure 8: Drawing around leaf

Figure 9: Brother's birthday card

Figure 10: Sea snails

Figure 11: Lots of little pictures

Figure 12: Holiday diary

Figure 13: Arranged cut outs

Figure 16: Bread making machine

Figure 14: Names

Figure 15: Machine for making bread

Figure 17: Aeroplane and machine

 

Analysis 1:

Child's use of drawing across a year in both settings

Frequency/ no of drawings

Content of drawings

Drawing as physical action

Drawing as prop

Drawing as mediator

Messages given to child (belief systems)

Views of adults

Provision by adults

Modelling by adults

Analysis 1:

Contextual information

Adult/ sibling involvement

Multi-modal meaning making

Frequency/ no of drawings

Use of Drawing:

Drawing as physical action

Drawing as prop

Drawing as mediator

Discussion

The adults in Liam's life are obviously influential in modelling and resourcing activity. Children use what is to hand and watch adults using what is to hand. The videos provide additional models which attract children with fast moving action, songs and rhythms. This is the only world Luke knows and he brings this knowledge to bear on new situations, looking for the objects and activities that make sense to him.

Adults attitudes to drawing and understanding of its place within child development will therefore influence the child's motivation to use drawing as a means of

Access to drawing as part of daily routine - importance of views and beliefs of adult about drawing - it is done at nursery - link to writing / academic; its part of what you do with young children - its what my mum did. Female role. Children use what is to hand. Children influenced by daily pattern of behaviour.

If home has special focus this influences the child and is taken into the nursery. Importance of choice, provision of materials and adults who model use of different materials, particularly initial exploration 'what can we do' rather than 'this is what you do'

Role model for drawing

An adult who draws

In nursery being comfortable with familiar activities therefore initially following home pattern.

Talk about drawing - joint involvement episodes

Discussion:

1. Drawing as part of a range of activities (syncretistic creativity)

Routines

Special focus (adult/ sibling/ peer involvement or modelling, child /adult reciprocal interaction (reciprosity)

Provision / Gender

2. Messages given to children

3. Narrow view of literacy

Play > Drawing > Writing (double symbolism) plus with talk

Gender issues

The importance of social interaction

The importance of oral storytelling in broadest sense

The importance of drawing and talking in carrying the story meaning

Linked to above:

 

Material not used in text

'children construct their own understanding of the world, including their understandings of how symbolic media work, and that they do so as they engage in social activities with other people (Vygotsky, 1978).'

"Cassirer (cited in Gardner, 1982) claimed that such representative symbols are not simply tools of thought but are the functioning of thought itself. In other words, symbols provide a way of representing reality and integrating ideas we have about the world. Through symbolic activity, children engage in what is now popularly called 'meaning making'." (Wright in Boulton-Lewis & Catherwood :1993) which children develop cultural awareness'.

Mikkelsen (1990:13) Storymaking a "third literacy, a way we 'read' ourselves into understanding the world, as well as a way to 'write' a new version of the world we are trying to see"

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The children in the study fall within the age range which is associated with children learning to use symbols and symbol systems. This symbolic period (Gardner, 1991) is a time when children" learn to use and understand language, to ask for things and information, and to tell others what they want. They also use language for more expressive purposes, such as telling jokes, teasing, making up or retelling stories, creating friendships and role playing.

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 21 December 2001