The Journey into Children’s Drawing

The Language of Drawing

510xR6NA+7LI have always been both before and since the research of my MA days an avid interested party in the strategies and content of children’s drawing.  I am currently reading the new book from the Contesting Early Childhood series published by Routledge entitled “Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia” edited by Calgari, Castagnetti, Giudici, Rinaldi, Vecchi and Moss and was delighted to come across some writings on the subject by Loris Malaguzzi himself (pp.308-312)

Malaguzzi describes drawing as a language (one of many), as a natural and biological language belonging to children that is constantly in conversation with many other languages available to children.  (See Malaguzzi’s The One Hundred Languages of Children poem).  From the outset of his description of drawing, Malaguzzi reminds us of the great responsibility of adults to read and interpret these visual communications.  It is with great sadness that I see many a child’s drawing simply placed in a going home box or drawer without any form of real reading or interpretation of it. They are valued, but as pieces of children’s ‘mark-making’ or as a precursory stage to writing and have become more about participating in a process of drawing than valued as a communicative language in their own right.  I wrote about Drawing as a Communicative Language here.

Malaguzzi, reminds us that drawing is “refined and diversified through children’s life experiences.”  Drawing when viewed in this way is something to be re-elaborated over time (not necessarily the same drawing but the same subject) and offers the educator a way of seeing drawing as an attribute of children’s capacity for critical thinking.  With each new drawing made, there is a refinement of process and form and of the ideas that sit behind it.  The drawings are never fixed with one singular meaning but are rather, as Malaguzzi tells us, multi-factored, dynamic, evolving, ambitious, and unfolding with meaning(s).

“Children’s journey in drawing (through the drawing, through this evolving language because it constantly accompanies children’s evolution) produces different and sometimes discordant attitudes towards the relations between themselves and the world, between themselves and things, between themselves and situations, themselves and feelings and so on.” p309

The drawings therefore act as sites of relational exchange, they are a visual becoming rather than a recall or remembering of something past.

IMG_6560I work with a network of schools for whom drawing is central to their pedagogy as a method amongst many methods of visualising children’s thinking, their ideas, their communications, their theories.  One such example is this drawing from Madeley Nursery School in Telford, UK.  What appears as a simple charcoal line on a strip of paper is in fact a ‘seed’s song’.  It was created whilst singing a song made up by the 3 year old drawer to help seeds grow.  What might seem at first as a sweet but naive idea is connected to current explorations into plant to plant communication strategies, which makes his idea seem not so naive after all.   Also, within this genesis of an idea is it possible that he is creating a musical score of some sort, a visualisation of one language (singing/music) into another (drawing/musical notation)?

The Pleasure of Drawing


Malaguzzi also speaks of the pleasure of drawing.  Pleasure as defined as a form of energy.  He names the ‘pleasures’ that characterise the act of drawing as:

  • A motor pleasure – a feeling in the body and of nervous activity that gives pleasure when in the act of drawing
  • A visual pleasure
  • A rhythmic-temporal pleasure – the rhythm and flow of a pencil or marker upon a surface that breaks up space in many directions
  • A spatial pleasure – the organisation of space through drawing
  • A self-identifying pleasure – the seeking and giving of meaning and identity to marks made
  • A pleasure of repetition
  • A pleasure of knowing and learning – of making permanent or ‘fixing the event’, the what has happened or the object in terms of what is known about it
  • A pleasure of the aesthetic – to know when a drawing is just right, balanced in harmony with your ideas

So, Malaguzzi reminds us that:

 “…reading children’s drawings is something very serious, very committed, very difficult, very responsible.  To interpret a drawing we meed to have competency, passion, and a capacity for getting inside the children’s situation and the operation they are carrying out…

The risk we run is of classifying too quickly and putting things in order too soon, without thinking sufficiently, without waiting sufficiently long, of not knowing how to wait, and not knowing how to interpret children’s acts.”  p311

He ends with this important statement:

“In other words we have started on a journey to the source of children’s thinking.”

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