A WAKE-UP CALL FROM THE DRAWING NETWORK
Fellow educators, parents and teachers: this is a serious situation and we are not addressing it seriously:
When we undervalue spontaneous drawing in the home/school curriculum we risk compromising children’s language development. As language is critical to mental development, mental health, and learning we compromise these as well. Putting it so bluntly and in language that may sound more like propaganda than scholarship, I risk alienating you, but consider the following observations:
1) Children are born with a built in propensity to draw in response to vivid experience. My analysis of hundreds of spontaneous drawings suggests that in the early years it is their most useful language for articulating their acute perceptions, their subtlest and most complex thoughts and most intense feelings! Perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, these take shape in a drawing response!
2) It begins as scribbles and crude graphic symbols in the preschool years and, with nurturing, evolves into full-blown picture making in the kindergarten and primary years. Ideally, children in the preschool period thrive on a “daily draw” of some twenty minutes or so. A caring adult needs to be in attendance, not to show or demonstrate, but to inspire and motivate. The connection to emerging literacy begins in these years with pre-drawing and post-drawing conversations about theme and finished drawing.
Returning to the initial mood of alarm, all children have drawing as a potential but how many homes with preschool children have “daily draw” routines? Should parents be alarmed? Should PACS be concerned? Should school systems become actively involved in promoting preschool drawing? Should advocates of democracy and civil government pay attention?
3) Kindergarten/primary: these are the years when most children get to draw but typically to facilitate emergent literacy. This is good, but no substitute for free drawing where the focus is on articulating personal perceptions, thoughts and feelings and the goal is making pictures that tell stories. It is also time to integrate drawing into the core curriculum in language arts, science, social studies and art.
K/Primary teachers recognize that spontaneous drawing is a language phenomenon and an aid to literacy. Should they ask themselves if a more broadly based agenda would contribute more to the well being of their children? Should they examine the arts and crafts segment of their programs and consider making spontaneous drawing a core activity of all art projects? Might they conclude that many ‘crafty’ time-fillers are indeed counterproductive to language? Should all art be language, devoted to expressing and giving form to meaningful and heartfelt subject matter?
4) In the intermediate years and beyond, free drawing time is still very much a worthwhile activity and every opportunity should be taken to integrate illustration into Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Art when learning is enhanced.
To insure that older children get the psychological benefits of spontaneous drawing should there be scheduled opportunities for free drawing built into the week’s intermediate timetable and beyond? Are these the years when introducing art history, aesthetics, and the sociology of art would be advantageous?