Write down to write it up

Children draw, paint, assemble and build, but they also write a great deal. Primary school children are often given the opportunity to describe their drawings in writing. This can be the beginning of a long string of personal writings involving homemade comic strips, diary entries and poetry creation.

There are plenty of personal journal products on the market and it is a most significant and enduring present a young person can receive from parents. In fact, diary or personal writing is an activity proven to be beneficial for anyone. So, why not start early in life? Have a look at Dr Melissa Madeson‘s advices for Self-esteem journals, prompts, PDFs and ideas published by Positive Psychology. Her “8 Self-Love Journal Prompts” are sure to help anyone get through what feels like a bad day. If you want to dig a little deeper into the subject, see Dr. Christian Jarrett‘s well-referenced article To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life, published by the British Psychological Society.

Writing about or for oneself, however, might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So be it. Writing about anything that one cares about is always a good idea. Writing it on paper rather than on screen could make it more memorable and fun to go back to in latter life. We recently discovered the fantastic Canadian Science Fair Journal. A great place for kids to realize that they too can write about their science projects and discoveries!

A rabbit dreams of an eagle, by Mathieu, c2000. Source: CDIC-CIDE.org.

The eye of the beholder

Thanks to their own perseverance and that of dedicated educators, therapists and policy makers, visually impaired and blind people have been increasingly able to appreciate the visual arts. Not only as spectators but also as creators. It will be a surprise to many that visually impaired and blind people can also draw. They do and it can even be quite interesting for everyone in a classroom to discover some of their techniques and materials. It can be a real eye opener for everyone and foster empathy and inclusion in the community.

A good place to start for educators is the well established Art Beyond Sight organization which has been bringing “arts and culture to all” for well over 30 years. They published a Handbook for Museums and Educators full of inspiring sample programming descriptions, though it is undated.

Teacher turned consultant/publisher Carmen Willings also has much to offer on her website Teaching Students With Visual Impairments. Registration is required but free. Jump straight to the Creating Tactile Graphics page and see for yourself.

Australia: Annual rainfall, sample tactile drawing. Source: The Braille Authority of North America. Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics, 8 February 2021.

Discover the Wordbank

CDIC is better known for its interest in images from children, be it drawings, collages, paintings or mix media. Keep in mind that we also have a passion for photographs and digital expressions by children. They can be digital drawings, video and audio files. The more items we collect and preserve, the more useful our collection can be to scholars and authors who wish to access it in the future.

We recently found out about a fantastic research project on language acquisition in infants and toddlers. Initiated by cognitive scientist and developmental psychologist Michael C. Frank, the Wordbank is an impressive database of audio files from over 75 000 children and 30 languages. Frank and his research team from Stanford and Chicago universities, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published the latest of their findings in a book available at Random House and MIT Press: Variability and Consistancy in Early Language Acquisition, the Wordbank Projet. The Language and Cognition Lab at Standford University made the document available on GitHub. This is valuable material for all early childhood specialists interested in language acquisition.

Stanford Magazine published a nice review by Deni Ellis Béchard, in its March 2020 online edition, What Kids Are Saying These Days. It gives an account of how Michael C. Frank came to developing his research and provides highlights from the book.

Wordbank website header. Source: Wordbank: An open database of children’s vocabulary development (stanford.edu) , 22 December 2020.

Chill out, a doodle at a time

Numerous articles have been written about the benefits of the arts, be it visual or musical, for mental fitness and good learning dispositions. We came across a surprising article in which researchers ask (and answer) a question that goes a little deeper: Which of coloring, doodling or free drawing is more rewarding? Don’t we all want to know which one, if any, brings more satisfaction?

The research team is extensive: Girija Kaimal, Hasan Ayaz, Joanna Herres, Rebekka Dietrich-Harwell, Bindal Makwana, Donna H. Kaiser and Jennifer A. Naaser. They seriously and carefully looked at this issue and presented their results in an article with the funkiest title: Functional near-infrared spectroscopy assessment of reward perception based on visual self-expression: Coloring, doodling, and free drawing. A non-initiated could not come up with this.

The article was published by Elsevier in 2017 in The Art and Psychotherapy (Vol. 55), and can be accessed online on Science Direct. An interesting read for anyone, and a must for art-therapists looking for new insights. To paraphrase author Diane Alber, I’m not just a… doodle, and we add to her voice that “doodles are here to stay”. Have some fun, draw a neuron of your liking, doodle around it and color it beautifully. Feel free to share it with us.

Neuron – annotated. Source: Commons.wikimedia.org, 1 December 2020.

In the arms of Morpheus

Halloween is coming up and so is the time to set back the clock. It is certainly a time to make the celebrations as normal, fun and COVID-proof as possible for the kids and the loved ones. Add something more 2020 related this week and invite people around you to reflect on sleep hygiene.

Round up the household in the evening for a meaningful discussion about bedtime “rituals” and habits. Share likes and dislikes about noise, screens, temperature, snacks, the beds, the pillows and bedtime itself. Do the same in the morning. this time to share if sleep was good, long enough and how wake up strategies work, or not. See if someone had dreams overnight and can remember them. See if everyone knows the difference between a bad dream and a nightmare. Have kids draw their dreams, good or bad. Don’t over analyze, simply appreciate how inspiring sleep is.

There is plenty of literature about sleep. An excellent source is the Sleep on it public health campaign and web site. It is led by four prominent Canadian health organizations. For more medical insights about Nightmares and Night Terrors in Children, see a short article on the American Association of Family Physicians‘ web site.

Me dreaming, by Valerie, c1982. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Drawing siblings

Whether you are a parent or an educator, it is a good idea from time to time, to ask a child for a family drawing, and to pay attention to the depiction of siblings. The image may reveal aspects of the child’s emotional and social life that you would like to discuss with the child, or with another adult involved in the child’s education.

Siblings may have constant and intense interactions (think twins, but also school mates) or have only family time together with parents, like during meals, and only sporadic joint activities by themselves. Age difference, interests and affinities have of course an impact on sibling interactions, but circumstances, parenting, neighborhood, extended family and even interior design may impact on how siblings grow together.

The family drawing will be particularly useful while mommy is pregnant, when a sibling begins or changes school, or after major changes such as moving, separation or marriage. On the family drawing, look for specific activities siblings do, how they dress, size and place on the page, in relation to parents and self. For further reading on this subject, see the research article by Özge Metin and Elif Üstün of the Department of Early Education, Hacettepe University, Ankara. This analysis of seven drawings was published in 2010 in Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 2, Issue 2.

Figure 5, Reflection of sibling relationships into the kinetic family drawings during the preschool period. By Özge Metin and Elif Üstün. Source: Sciencedirect.com, 4 October 2020.

A good blog is good

We have much respect for child psychologists. We love them when they collect and share children drawings. That is exactly what Dr. Emily Edlynn, does on her must-follow blog, The Art and Science of Mom. So, we invite you to check it out, and to share your thoughts about mental health during the pandemic. A good blog is good, a good blog with children drawings, even better.

Logo, Emily Edlynn PhD. Source: emilyedlynnphd.com, 3 August 2020.

A scholar’s fan base

If a scholar can have a fan base, count us among his: Professor Jonathan D. Fineberg, Director of the Ph.D. in Creativity at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Why are we fans? When a scholar has such a polished website, and generously introduces the readers to his published research, how can one not be drawn into it?

Passionate about children’s creativity? Run to your favorite book provider and ask for When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child, first published by University of California Press, in 2006.

When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child, cover image, jonathanfineberg.com. 23 September, 2019.

If you didn’t do it yet, check out ROE

If you do not know the program Roots of Empathy yet, make sure to check it out and to follow them online. The program brings parent-baby bounding time into the classroom, where students learn about emotions and gain insights about themselves and the world we live in. From these encounters spring awesome drawings and quotes too. See for yourself on ROE’s YouTube channel. Let’s hope, for all of us, that the original drawings and quotes made over the years will be preserved.

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I felt proud when… A children’s Art Show. Roots of Empathy, YouTube, 31 August 2019.