Many moms or contemporary teachers might think of evaluating a child’s piece of art according to
“Is it reasonably accurate?“
“Is it attractive (subjective)?“
“Was a lot of effort put into it?“
But we might want to think a little differently than this kind of rubric for children’s artwork.
Towards the bottom of this post, there are some drawings of real life kids and teens, to demonstrate a main reason why I think we should think differently than those three typical questions for artwork, and that is how God has designed children to naturally draw differently at different ages/stages of development. They are not adults yet.
I’m also going to be basing this post on ideas within lessons taught by my mother’s professor(s) when she attended teachers’ college (Ontario) in the decade of the 1950’s. She took a summer course on teaching art as a “primary methods” course and I have a handful of pages from her class notes. The author to those is unknown however, I would think that the points made would be commonly accepted by one-room schoolhouse teachers of that era. And many of them, in my opinion, still make a lot of sense.
So I have a few questions in response to the first three bolded questions given above…
Does it need to be accurate?
Perhaps so, but then again, perhaps not. Accuracy for art can be dependent on age/stage of natural development of both ability AND desire/perspective/interpretation. Do we need to expect accuracy or so much, in our comments about a drawing, direct a child to strive for better accuracy or can we simply let a child grow to an older stage little by little naturally? Why not simply encourage with your comments?! And, most of the time, try to resist the urge to “fix” an inaccurate drawing with your verbal comments or your hand drawing to add to a child’s picture. A young child’s artwork does not need to be critiqued in accuracy or compared with artwork from an adult (e.g. famous painter) or in how realistically he or she can draw nature.
The child thinks differently than an adult and has a different perspective in life. His or her expression will often be different.
A young child expresses what is in his mind at the moment – they happily draw things very spontaneously in expression. Things which are important in meaning to him or her at that moment will be often drawn largest. Often pleasant things are painted in bright colours or favourite colours, not necessarily accurate colours.
This distortion of size and colour is quite common in a child’s artwork and should be accepted as “good enough” without the discouraging comments suggesting that “it isn’t sufficient until they show something better”.
I’m not saying that we should be against “striving for excellence” but rather, that the lack of accuracy in childhood art should be a natural expectation because that is how children were made to be like. God made children to be children first. And children think differently than adults (cf. I Corinthians 13:11).
Is it attractive?
I respond with another question – “attractive to whom“?
If the child likes his or her own artwork, that should be “good enough”.
Even if they are a little sad or troubled about their art not turning out how they’d really like to see it (perhaps they couldn’t erase something better), you can encourage them that their ideas are great! (And of course, this might also be the time to help them learn how to erase better – the part of the drawing an older person can help with is one that reassures the child.)
But I’m also thinking about the times when you might look at something and think, “What a mess! I’ll just recycle all these scribbles until they have the ability to draw much better!”
But to your child, what does that say if they find their drawings constantly rejected in the plastic blue box? I’m not saying to never recycle but rather, be slow to act in that direction and keep at least a few samples of early artwork – especially ones which your child picks out as “keepers”.
And if you take the time then to ask about those moments (or even occasionally a few years later), strangely enough, your child will likely be able to account for all the blobs and every scribble! It is meaningful to them, even if it isn’t to you as much.
Was a lot of effort put into it?
Does everything require a lot of effort put into it or could it be the time for just a quick sketch to put down an idea floating around in someone’s head?
Maybe there are soooo many thoughts or designs a child would like to express quickly before forgetting them or maybe this is a day when other more-exciting things are being anticipated so the drawing is completed more quickly and without as much detail. And that should be acceptable to do a quick sketch!
Perhaps they just want to have “free-play” with the materials to discover what (or what else) can be done with them (e.g. mixing colours, turning lines into straight or curvy things, seeing how far they can go to reach the edge of the page without it bleeding over, etc.) – in other words, being more interested in “experimenting” with the tools and media of art than following detailed directions. (Be sure to allow for this natural step of “experimenting” with art supplies before asking a child to draw something specific. I think this is actually a normal part of every stage, even teenage and adult.)
It’s quite alright to allow art students to naturally develop their skills little by little throughout the years, rather than thinking of getting a certain “curriculum” done so that they get that skill polished be the end of the program.
It’s also quite alright to not limit artistic expression to only paintings and hand-drawings. Think of other artistic skills which may be of more interest to your child at that time. You can see some examples of skills beyond painting/drawing here on our product page for our art curriculum.
For the remainder of this post, I’d like to share with you the four general stages of natural development of artistic skills (taught to my mom in teachers’ college) – some tips which may help you, along with examples of art from my own kids/teens, ranging in age from preschool to senior high levels.
Each young artist was asked to make me 2-3 drawings to share on my blog:
Ages 2-4 years old – Manipulative/Play/Scribbler Stage
- Playing with materials is very frequent – paint, crayons, etc. is a like a toy to them. Providing a large variety of materials is exciting e.g. stickers, pasting to make scrapbooks of cut-outs, fingerpaint, playdough, sewing cards, felt…
- Learning that somethings can make a mark on other things – they see “results” of marking materials! This is a good time to teach them that paper is good to try this out but walls and furniture are not. We’ve had a phrase in our house that goes like this when markers are brought down to a child’s level for a period of time – “Remember, paper only!”
- Scribbling is normal and useful to experiment with what colours, directions of lines, or amounts of pressure results in looking like. The child is learning how to control his/her hand.
- Becoming able to verbally express some words (or communicate through sign language or similar), he or she will begin to name items on the page or tell a little story about it. Listen.😊
Ages 4-9 – Symbolic Stage (Kindergarten to End of Primary Grades)
- Drawing something “symbolic” within his/her area is common, as the child wants a record of what he/she knows and feels. The child is drawing what he/she THINKS, not necessarily what is realistically seen. Parents/Teachers – don’t be alarmed at the digression from realism/accuracy if children in this stage want to copy a picture in a drawing lesson or do a nature sketch of something and end up changing parts of the picture to reflect something that really wasn’t there. Remember, the child is drawing/painting an IDEA, a THOUGHT. For example, only one colour might be used, such as “everything purple” because it is a favourite colour. Another example, the child might use geometric shapes (circles for heads, triangles for dresses, rectangles for legs).
- Children like to draw pictures of “self” – for example, “Me and My Bike”. But they might also add symbols to represent the outdoors (where they ride their bike) such as a sun, clouds, flowers, trees, lollipops, etc. and not worry about accuracy.
- Children might exaggerate significant parts of their message such as a big smile, hair style, large and bright colours for the aspect(s) of their ideas which they think are important. (Arms and legs are often fastened to the head.) Be careful to not require a conventional perspective but rather show appreciation for the child’s imaginative solution to paint in the space provided. The teacher’s college notes go on to suggest that if the child is drawing very small pictures, the teacher might be encouraging “too much orderliness, neatness, perfection in copying something”.
- And, in contrast to point #3, the background is rarely drawn much, if at all. Sky and background colours tend to be absent. There might be just a line to represent the earth or a strip of blue to represent the sky. Things that fly or the sun though, appear within “sky-space”.
- Their drawings are full of thought and highly inventive, essentially displaying the use of reason to solve problems. For example, symbols can change easily to mean totally different things – if they draw a dog, they might draw another dog-looking body but add a beak to make it a duck instead.
- There are three common pictures in this stage:
- Fold-Overs – drawings to show around something, such as sitting around a table or playing a game of hockey (and what a skater looks like at different positions on the ice). It’s called a “fold-over” because, if you folded the paper along the various lines, the characters would look up-right. But the child draws these flat and at different angles because he/she already “folds these over” in their mind and feels this is the best way to show it nicely.
- X-ray Pictures (Cross-Sections) – “removing a section of wall” to show what’s going on inside and outside in the SAME picture.
- Series Pictures – the child weaves into just ONE drawing, several ideas or events which occur at various times (and sometimes places).
- Try to include the child in the topic to draw, for example, rather than just asking for a drawing “about a zoo”, ask the child to “draw him/herself at the zoo doing something”.
- Give opportunities to your child to make some choices – e.g. wallpaper in room, which drawings to display, what to wear/fashion, arrangement of furniture, a small garden plot to design of their very own.
- And, did you know that using curriculum which includes drawings similar to a style that a child already understands, can be effective to teach various topics/skills in school subjects? When teacher’s college students were trained “how to draw their own visuals” in a simple, less-time-consuming manner, in order to be effective teachers in their classrooms in a day when professionally-published curriculum was less available, they were trained in drawing symbolic/representative-type drawings!! Although my mom also drew or painted more detailed pictures (she was very artistic), the visuals she made for teaching school subjects were simple and representative. I have tended to do the same, both for projects during my school years as a student when I’d give a presentation on something to my classmates AND in drawing for our “Peppermint Stick” curriculum. And I strongly encourage homeschool moms to ALSO consider drawing simple, representative drawings to help them teach their children, instead of focusing on highly-detailed artwork. You do NOT need to be a “great artist” to draw for children! Drawing in a representative/symbolic manner IS a very effective teaching method to help children grasp concepts very well!
Ages 8-12 – Realistic Stage (Junior Elementary Levels, Pre-Teens)
- Kids become more realistic, objective, careful in finer work, and observant for details during this stage. More details may be seen for facial features, clothing, scenic backgrounds.
- Colours represent reality closer and there may be more depth (perspective, 3-D), shading, texture effects in the drawings.
- The themes of their drawings may show real or fictitious characters (e.g. cartoons, characters from imaginary stories), social events or sports/adventures. They may also begin to have more of an interest in puppetry and stage backgrounds.
- These students begin to lean towards methods and art media best-suited to their own personality and style. They might have interest in “copywork” of famous artwork, but they might not have that interest. They might like drawing or painting lessons and “how-to” books, or they might not have as much interest in those.
Ages 13+ Advanced Realistic Stage (Teens, Adults including “Moms” 😉)
- During this stage, the students tend to develop more 3-D representations in their drawings and a better proportion/sizing (unless making “abstract art” of course).
- Students tend to enjoy greater amounts of tints and shades of colour and different textures to work with, e.g. paint shades for room colours and decor, woodworking, landscaping, sewing and/or wearing various types of fabrics, cake/cookie/pizza decorating, or making art out of “recyclable” items, photography and editing.
- Greater maturity/confidence/skill in using a variety tools and artistic techniques are generally expected.