It is a fascinating past time watching a child’s consciousness emerge through their drawings, particularly if you know what you are looking for! Certain images and themes tend to arise in children’s drawings at particular ages – and this happens all over the world! Different cultures might move through stages of drawing sooner than others, but generally the pattern is the same.
When I was in my final year of university, studying for my Bachelor of Education, I was involved in an art-exchange project with Hubei, China. We worked with 4-5 year old Australian children and collected samples of their drawings. We framed them and exhibited them, alongside a similar collection of drawings from children of the same age from Hubei. The difference in artwork was astounding! The Australian children’s drawings were simple and active. They were free in subject matter and the way I saw them our children portrayed the way they FELT about their pictures using the minimum of lines on the page. By contrast the Chinese children’s drawing were very intricate and detailed. They used every spare bit of space on the paper and filled the white space with drawings executed with depth and perspective. They were technical masterpieces in the way that the Australian children’s drawings were filled with joy and reflected their active lifestyle.
Clearly these children, who were of the same age, experienced the learning of drawing in different ways. We do not tend to coach our children in technical details of drawing until much later in age, instead letting our children unfold in their own manner as they draw. For me, this process is preferable as one can see how the child thinks, and what they are experiencing in their environment and their bodies as their drawings develop naturally. All the same, I do believe there is room for imitation and instruction in drawing, particularly for the child who WANTS to learn more.
My colleagues and I always found this a touchy subject to broach in our Waldorf community of teachers – many who believed that drawing time should be as the child needed it to be: an opportunity to experience colour and make their mark on paper. Others believed that as children learned strongly through imitation that the teacher should draw too. I would always draw with my classes. Yes, the children on either side of me would often copy what I drew but I was careful not to draw anything that was too ‘beyond’ their level of skill or experience. Instead I focussed on using different techniques for using the block crayons our school provided, and drawing simple patterns to encourage pre-writing skills, with an occasional detailed picture when it was requested. The children who craved detail were very attentive to these drawings and would take up particular techniques I used to enhance their own drawings. Often I would learn from THEM! Children are very observant.
For children who were ‘stuck’ in doing the same drawing with the same colour everyday I would sometimes sit next to them and draw something a little different, to give them new ideas. But never did I correct a child in their drawing, and never did I question the appropriateness of their choice of colour or subject matter.
And still, even with a variety of ‘skill-levels’ within the children of each of my classes, they would all at some stage end up drawing the same patterns/images at around about the same age. It is a phenomenon I have never grown tired of observing, and of course I am delighted to see it happening for my own children too.