Tag Archives: Sugata Mitra

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?”



Standing on the shoulders of giants

2 May

Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and teacher, started her first preschool in the early 1920’s. She was the first person to make the furniture and learning environment child friendly. She was also the first person to say that children learn through playing with each other. One of the things that Maria Montessori did was to observe children in their play without interfering in their play.

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist that became interested in how children learn by observing his own children.  He was the first one to say that children learn in a completely different way from adults. His advice to teachers was to create an environment where young children can play and where the role of the teacher was to observe and not to interfere.

This is exactly what modern brain researchers and learning specialists say. The only difference is that Montessori and Piaget’s position was based on thorough observation and modern researchers like Alison Gopnik, Stuart Brown and Sugata Mitra base their position on irrefutable evidence of brain research.

The question we must ask is then why do people in light of almost 100 years of evidence still insist that playing is a waste of time and worksheets are a valid way to introduce children to the rigors of primary school?

One of the things we know from brain research and from evidence in schools, is that the lack of vigorous, physical play has precipitated an avalanche of learning difficulties. A more hidden result is that a lack of play leads to a diminishing ability to think symbolically. That in turn influences creative thinking and the ability to read, write and do well in Math. Stress and the effect of stress on learning have been researched very thoroughly in recent times. When learners are subjected to situations where they experience stress, or when teachers (and parents) use stress to “motivate” learners to do better, the stress level increases so much that no learning can take place.

Why do teachers and parents persist in ignoring research? Maybe it is because education is so caught up in a conservative mode of thinking, or alternatively that teachers and parents do not read and take notice of the abundance of evidence. 

In our preschool and primary school we apply the results of brain development research. We have reached the stage where we label our program a brain-based learning programme. The results are spectacular. The best reward for us as teachers is that our learners are really hooked on school!

I often wonder what Dr Montessori and Piaget would say if I could meet them over a cup of coffee?

Playing to succeed

8 Oct

When you are a teacher you often think about the longterm outcome of your teaching. I agonise over questions like: Am I teaching children longterm values and skills that will still be applicable 20 years on? Am I really preparing children for an uncertain, demanding, ever-changing future? I do not know. With millions of teachers and parents all over the world I realise that educating and preparing children for the future is at best a guessing game.

It is, however, easier nowadays to determine what children want from their teachers and parents. Contrary to popular belief, children do not want to do nothing. They want to play, yes that is true, but playing is officially recognised as absolutely necessary for learning so that does not count as wanting to do nothing. The problem is though, that many teachers and parents still do not realise that playing is the only way of learning. The problem with play is that we cannot test what the children learned from playing. There is often not an immediate input  – output process like in a factory. Children also play in atypical ways. Boys run around and make growling noises when they are four years old. Girls play tea parties and very civilised dress-up games. Do they learn the same thing? Do they learn anything?

If we look at brain development and the information about how brains work and how young children learn, we know today that children learn in the first place by exploring their lifeworld with their taste, touch,smell and kinesthetic senses. Yesterday I passed a car 06:20 in the morning and I saw a small little face pearing out of the window at the world rushing past. The driver was a father, taking his young child to a care facility. Many care facilities provide young children with real lifeworld experiences but it also unfortunately true that many places provide them with care but very little real lifeworld environments where they can explore with all their senses and learn about the world around them.

These children might get to know the world as a strange and distant place. The characters on TV are probably more real to them than the real world. Speculating about the longterm effect of this distance between the real world and the knowledge of young children can create a quite scary scenario in our minds. In one of the “Visions of the Future” series of the BBC, the presenter is talking to people for whom the virtual digital world is infinitely preferable to the real world.

When children are playing they take responsibility for their own learning. Professor Sugata Mitra (Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, UK) says that children have this amazing ability to learn what they need to learn. He also says that learning is something that takes place without the intervention of adults. A very sobering thought  for caring, dedicated parents!

The pinnacle of play is imagination play or fantasy play. Playing and planning imaginative play with someone else is certainly one of the best ways to learn that other people also have needs and rights. Learning to judge a situation by realising when to take the lead and when to be a follower is also important. Even more important is the aspect of knowing when to make your needs subservient to the needs of the group.

Many of the skills children explore in playing are skills that stay with them for the rest of their life. These are the skills that greatly influence success in life. Through play children learn how to communicate and negotiate; they learn how to solve social and emotional conflicts by talking about differences;  they learn that compromising is an important way to ensure a win-win situation.

I conclude with this quote from Vygotsky (in Berk & Winsler, 1995:52): … Play creates a zone of proximal development in the child. In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development …

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/233228813/