Tag Archives: children’s art

The Development of Creativity

23 Sep

creativityLast week we looked at the development of the important scribble phase in young children’s art work. Today we are going to look at the development of creativity and ask the question whether the scribble and head-foot men in our children’s art work have a meaning. Is it just play or is there a higher issue at stake here? The head-foot man grows from the random scribble and the growth in the young child’s spatial knowledge as well as the increasing control over large and small motor movements. This stage of development is as important to the overall development of children’s art as the scribble phase. At our school – the Regio Centurion School in Centurion, South Africa – we organise an annual art exhibition of our students’ art works. The school has a preschool (babies to kindergarten) and a primary school (Grade 1 to Grade 7). We exhibit everyone’s work, from the babies to the Grade 7 learners. This year’s art exhibition opened on 21 September.

Research that was done on the level of creativity in people, showed that preschool children have the highest level of creativity. This level of creativity starts to fall in the primary school and is very low amongst high school students. Creativity is not a genetic trait. Everyone has the potential to be highly creative. Creativity is not only about visual art and the performing arts. Creativity is about using skills and talents to identify problems and to solve those problems in a novel way. Truly creative people look at reality in a different way. Creativity is a dynamic state. By trying, failing and trying again, the creative process grows and develops exponentially.

How can we help our children and ourselves to become more creative? When we allow young learners to explore and discover without placing emphasis on the end product, we help them to grow in self-confidence and develop the ability to try again. I read somewhere that Edison said that before he discovered the light bulb he discovered a hundred ways in which it did not work! The process of exploring and discovering is always more important than the end product. Through being involved in the process of discovery,  you also discover your own abilities and develop your own skills. This is exactly what happens in the process of exploring and discovering art. If the scribbles, the upside-down head-foot man and the purple cows are not accepted, the self-confidence to develop and learn is undermined and the small, tender plant of creativity withers. Thinking differently, even if it is patently not possible, is an important aspect of a young child’s development. Our role is to accept, to ask questions and show interest.

Loris Malaguzzi of Reggio Emilia fame, believed that visual art plays a very important role in the development of general creativity. His view is supported by the creativity guru of our time, Sir Ken Robinson. Ken Robinson believes that the emphasis on academic subjects at the cost of visual arts and drama in schools undermines not only creative thought, but also the skills young people need to be functional, successful adults in the future. The future will be a place where creativity, problem-solving skills and the skill to communicate across cultural divides will make the difference between success and failure.

How can art in the preschool make a difference? Cultivating a sense of self, believing in yourself, looking at reality in a different way and accepting other people’s way of doing things are the skills we learn in a good preschool art programme.

Yes, though the scribble looks the same today as yesterday and the head-foot man is still lying on his back, remember that even Picasso started in this way and Chagall loved floating figures!


The development of children’s art

16 Sep

Little girl scribbling

Children’s art has a universal developmental character. The problem is though 

that, as adults, we look at the scratches and marks on paper and wonder if 

there is something wrong with our toddlers. Surely they can see that it does 

not look like anything resembling reality?

The development of art goes hand in hand with the child’s motor development 

and also the child’s perception of space. To get an idea of a baby or toddler’s perception of space we have to 

go down on our knees and even down on our tummies to look at the world and 

the space around us.

Horizontal marks

The first marks on paper is almost by accident. The baby will move the crayon 

on the paper in a horizontal fashion, even looking away while he/she is doing it. It 

sometimes looks as if the baby is as surprised by these marks as the adult.


The next phase is round scribbles that will cover the piece of paper and 

sometimes even go over the boundaries of the paper. Remember the young 

child’s awareness of space? This is the embodiment of the child starting to 

experience that there are boundaries. At first this is done in one colour; and 

day after day the child will make the same scribble usually in the same colour. 

Even if the adult provides nice thick paint brushes, the round circles will still be 

there. The only difference here is that the paint covers the circular nature of 

the paint scribble.

Scribbles with more than one colour

One morning the young artist will let go of the one colour and start using more 

than one colour. It is still a scribble, but the fact that there are more colours 

tells us that this child is in fact starting to look at the scribble. Many colours might be used.

Making smaller round shapes

The next stage of the development of children’s art is getting more and more 

exciting. The big round circle is replaced by smaller round shapes, often in one 

colour, but also sometimes in more than one colour.

Naming the scribble

The next phase is truly fantastic. One day your toddler/young child will say: 

“Look, I made a car”. You will look at the “car” and you are obliged – no it is 

your duty – to say: “Wow, I can see it is a car. We can write “CAR” underneath

 your picture”.  

Just the fact that you show appreciation inspires the young child to do it again 

and again. In this process the young child starts to draw recognisable features. 

Next time the car might have a round shape somewhere!

Head-foot men

Head foot men grow out of the small circles children draw on their art work. 

It usually starts with round shapes with maybe one eye (often the eye is 

outside the round “face” – remember the spatial perceptions?). Gradually 

the figures get facial features, while legs, feet, arms and hands are added over a 

considerable period of time. As the child becomes more proficient, more detail is 

added. A characteristic of this stage is that space is used in a floating manner. 

The head-foot man may be upside down or lying on his side. This is also an 

indication of the emerging spatial insight that will eventually be good enough 

to enable the child to read and write by the time he or she is 6 or 7.

How can you as parent, teacher or adult contribute to this fantastic, exciting 

process? Well … very little. Your task is to be like Sugata Mitra’s proverbial grandmother, saying: “Did you make this? Can you do it again? Show me.” There is no 

better reaction than this. Do not interfere, show your appreciation and stand back.

Next time I will look at the following aspects: development of realistic art, creative problem

solving as part of art, how time and space are portrayed in young children’s art 

and the role of experience as well as the art curriculum.

Remember: “Did you do this on your own? Can you show me?”


Children’s Art (2)

8 Oct

Adults, parents and many teachers, often look at a child’s art and then ask the question “but what is it?” I once watched a little boy of two years draw a picture. It started out as an ordinary scribble – but it was not what this toddler was drawing that caught my attention, but what he was doing while drawing. Every now and then he would stop, look at his scribbles and then carefully add more circles. He suddenly changed his approach by taking a crayon and started to go over the already drawn lines while he made noises like a car. He ended this session by adding blue dots. He then put his crayon down and looked at his picture with great satisfaction and a wide smile on his face. To anyone looking at the picture it would have been a scribble like any other scribble. I, however, knew it was a planned picture and that although his language was not adequate he gave meaning to his scribble.

Once a child has named a scribble and an adult, parent or teacher, treated that moment with interest and respect, the true development of children’s art takes off. Between five and six years (sometimes earlier) children start to use the space on a piece of paper much more realistically. This is also the time where they can look at reality and give their interpretation of reality.

Look at some of these artworks by kindergarten children:

This is a very exciting phase because it is the start of the child’s ability to observe, to think and to put his thoughts on paper in a planned and creative way.  The success of this phase rests on the encouragement and acknowledgement of the emotionally important adults in the learning environment (teachers) with regard to the investigation of the previous phases.  If you allow the children to discover for themselves and you praise them for their investigation and discoveries, without letting it appear that you think they are wasting time and paper, they will reach the schematic phase and almost burst from their seams with creativity.

The characteristics of the schematic phase

  • Increased detail:  If the children are encouraged to observe and discuss their observations, you will be able to see how the use of detail in their artwork improves.
  • More realistic use of colour:  You will still see blue trees and an orange sky, but colour gradually becomes more realistic.  However, don’t think that a certain colour is a mistake and don’t comment about it.  Just applaud them!
  • Realistic improvement in the use of space:  Here and there the figures will still float, but most of the drawings are anchored to the boundaries of the paper. 
  • When children trust their own abilities you will notice that the space is utilised maximally.  Initially a drawing may be skew because the figure was started without considering the size of the paper.
  • Gradually the problem of space is solved.
  • By the end of the year or a bit later in the case of children with limited pre-experience, you will notice the beginning of baselines.  This is an important phase of development.  Baselines indicate that the child is slowly getting ready to organise drawings as well as to write on a line.
  • In the schematic phase you will also notice that each child develops his own scheme for feet and hands.  In the following picture of the human figure there is such a scheme.
  • Remember that boys’ development of art progresses a bit differently from that of girls.  This does not mean that they are behind, they are just different.

 I will write some more about children’s art in my next blog!

The importance of art

8 Oct

One of my hobbies is to study the development of children’s art and their creativity. Children’s creative processes have intrigued and fascinated me through all my years of working with children. This blog is the first in a series devoted to art and creativity development in children.

Creativity is not the sole domain of art. Creative thought lies at the foundation of problem solving. Visual art is viewed as an important way to help people develop creative problem solving skills.

We all want our children to have creative problem solving skills. In professions like engineering, construction and even in human relationships, creative problem solving skills separate those who excel at their professions from those who only “work”. Why is this important? The hallmark of entrepreneurs is the knack to look beyond the obvious possibilities. Creativity sparks the possibility of seeing options. Obviously, to see a variety of options and to choose one, assume the courage to take a leap into the unknown. Creative thought does not automatically lead to success. In fact, failure is more often the result.

Research on creativity in young children states that art plays a very important role in the development of creativity. By the term “children’s art”, I refer to the personal, first-hand experience (seeing, feeling, doing, hearing) of the creative process. Sadly, as adults we often emphasize the end result which inevitably entails the copying of another person’s experience. Obviously, this practice nips creativity in the bud.

What then are the requisites for the development of creativity? We could start by looking at the universal development of children’s art. It is a well documented process; and just as crawling is important for walking and running, scribbles are important for drawing, painting and creating. The scribble is not just random marks on paper. Children as young as 18 months will make circular “pictures” on paper, using one colour. The next step is a circular scribble in more than one colour. After this phase, children start to scribble several smaller circles, which in turn leads to the beloved “head-foot man” of which there are several variations.

Children as young as 24 months can indicate that they can observe a difference between drawing and text. This, of course, is no indication of being ready to write. It only shows the keen observation skill of a two- year-old. Smaller circles arranged in a more or less straight line is the beginning of writing. After this phase, the typical head-foot figure emerges. Normally the early image of a head-foot man is a round circle with two eyes. Many times the eyes are outside the head circle. This all is developmentally normal and indicates the young child’s growing awareness of space and position in space. Is this art? Strictly speaking, yes. The child is depicting his or her experience of the self in the surrounding world. This exploration of space, media and emerging writing skills are absolutely necessary to be able to be creative in the true sense of the word.

Creativity is a process. We can be creative if we have knowledge, skills and an opportunity where we can apply this knowledge and skills in a new situation. The toddler and young child are gathering knowledge about the use of space (paper), crayons, paint or collage. Repeated experience will lead to a more effective use of the space and the media. The important thing to remember is that as the young child’s “art” develops, her observation and perception of herself and the surrounding world are also improving. Voila! One day, out of the blue, a picture like this one of the chameleon catching the fly appears. This is basically a head-foot man adapted with four legs and a long tongue sketched after the child observed a chameleon in the garden.

The child’s sense of self and the ability to have a positive image of him- or herself depend very much on the adults’ ability to not interfere with the child’s pictures.  The well-known educational scientist, Sugata Mitra, said we must be like loving grandmothers, stand behind the child and say: “This is wonderful, did you do it? Show me, can you do some more.” In other words, do not interfere with the process of development. The tiny, budding seed of creativity depends on the child’s feeling of “I am unique and fantastic and I can”.  (By the way, colouring books are creativity killers. Keep them far away from young children. Rather give them clean paper, soft pastels and lots of opportunities to explore their own creative process.)

I will share some more aspects of this intriguing process in next week’s blog post.

Photo credit: Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/laffy4k/404321726/in/photostream/