A while ago I spent a morning with a group of preschoolers and had the opportunity to photograph some of their paintings. It was such a joy to watch them explore different kinds of brush strokes, select colours, decide what to paint and discover interesting surfaces to paint on. This is what I was able to capture of their creations.
Some very useful resources with information on children’s paintings include Art and Creative Development for Young Children by Robert Schirrmacher, Art for the Fun of It by Peggy Davison Jenkins and Children and Painting by Cathy Weisman Topal. Each author provides insights into how to understand what the experience of painting brings to children, and what painting tells us about children’s abilities. For example, Schirrmacher and Jenkins suggest that painting is pleasurable for children, and allows them to be messy, to work independently, to plan and make decisions, to express their individuality, to relax, communicate and enjoy emotional release. Topal speaks more specifically about brush strokes and making markings and how these change as children gain more muscle control and discover different ways to hold and manipulate a paint brush. She speaks of the brush as being an extension of the hand and arm and explains that teachers can help children notice their own actions as they paint, and how their arm movements influence the marks they make.
As I look at the pictures above, I find myself thinking of comments I might have made to enrich and extend the children’s painting experience (e.g., “Look at what happens when you press hard on the brush!” or “You’re moving the brush back and forth. Can you think of another way to move the brush?”). While children are exploring paint, paper and brushes in their own way, there is an opportunity for teachers to make comments and ask questions – to find out what children are thinking about their paintings as they create them, raise children’s self awareness and open them up to other possibilities as they paint. I realize that I may have missed an opportunity to do this the day I was watching children in action and taking those pictures. Perhaps this is because I am not a painter myself? But learning about art, and learning to teach art, is an ever-new, on-going process. I am reminded that even a missed opportunity can be a learning opportunity, and next time I am watching children painting, I’ll do better!
And maybe I’ll even join in.