Is the Scribbling of Young Children, Art?
If you have a young child in proximity to paper and crayons or your child attends nursery school, you have had the experience of small hands giving you a piece of paper full of scribbles. What is it? What should I say about it? These are the most commonly asked questions I hear about young children’s art. And yes, it is their art.
Rhoda Kellogg, the premiere authority on children’s art, studied the art of millions of children from every culture on every continent. Her research proved that all children move through recognizable stages of art, beginning with that very important scribbling stage.
What children themselves refer to as “scribble-scrabble” is an important first step toward self-expression and graphic representation. It is also the practice of hand-eye coordination, visual discrimination, and fine motor control; all, important skills necessary for future academic learning.
So simply, it is a natural and necessary step for all children. Let’s tackle what we say to children about these efforts. First and foremost, I will suggest what not to say… though the most natural response is to ask, “What is it?” that’s the remark I would discourage. For children in this pre-representational stage, they are involved in the process of interacting with the materials, not drawing “something.” When adults ask that question, they are communicating that scribbling doesn’t have value in its own right and that can be discouraging to young children. Instead, questions like, “tell me about your picture”, or “I like your lines or the colors you chose” are much better choices. There is something, however, that some young children do that I will refer to as “art talk”, where they will associate meaning with their scribbled drawings.
I have observed many children describe their seemingly random lines as a boat or their dog etc. Some children will even construct an elaborate narrative to go along with the non-representational graphic. Three-year-old Weaver had just gone through some allergy testing when he described his scribble as a machine that looked at your lungs. His machine could help your lungs work better and help you to breathe. What is fascinating about this anecdote, is that when he found his drawing several days later, he repeated the same story about his scribble.
Whether a child’s scribble is just the process of using a crayon or marker to put a line on paper, or a graphic representation of an object or experience, it is important work for them. Children are imitators, and all around them they see others writing, albeit there is less of that as we do most of our communicating electronically these days. Even that does not lessen their natural tendency to make their mark, using whatever materials are available. Their Art should be encouraged and celebrated.