The way we educate children is a powerful tool for social change. For the past twenty years the Drawing Network has been highlighting a significant area of neglect in our education system, the absence of well-informed drawing instruction. This lack prevents optimum language development in children from age two through preschool, kindergarten, primary and beyond.
Children are born with a natural language in spontaneous drawing. It begins with scribbling and progresses through stages of complexity until it reaches an apex in drawings that tell complex stories. Alas, few children get to use this language frequently, still fewer are encouraged to use it daily, as one would hope and expect of a language. And yet, it is the natural medium for children who, without realizing it, find the language of drawing indispensable for dealing with life’s experiences, its emotional challenges and joys.
Drawing is without code. When young children are encouraged to draw by a caring adult, they will use this uncoded language with ease to articulate an ever-expanding subject matter. Literacy, on the other hand, is heavily coded. When the uncoded language of drawing is left to chance, the coded language of literacy has to prematurely take on the job of processing the steady flow of perceptions, thoughts and feelings which characterizes childhood. Of course, as children gain maturity, literacy will be of supreme importance, but until the codes are efficiently learned, words alone are not up to the task of responding to the child’s language needs. It is also important to note that drawing aids in the acquisition of literacy, creating a classic win-win situation.
One advantage that drawing has over words is that when they draw, children experience empathy. In all forms of literacy except oral communication, the language experience is largely analytical and self-conscious, and thus does not involve empathy in young children. Drawing, on the other hand, is holistic. That is, it has the power to integrate intellectual and affective subject matter. Both experiences, analytical and holistic, are required for optimum mental development and drawing provides both. The holistic experience of drawing promotes intellectual growth and mental health. It is a major factor in children gaining ‘individuation’. Empathy, that is, the integration of perceptions, thoughts and feelings, should be a key concept in the shaping of a schooling for the future.
To experience the full value of drawing as a language medium, children need help. Not much will happen if we simply turn them loose with pen and paper. In The Drawing Path for Children, I describe a role for caring adults, that is, to motivate children with significant themes. We call it The Daily Draw.
In an education system in which reading, writing and The Daily Draw work together, more children would be able to realize their full potential. As we discuss the reform of our education system to better serve the needs of our young people, drawing must be allowed to play its part.
Bob Steele for the Drawing Network, January, 2012