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.

Emotional geographic

The connection between children’s drawings and education, art education or developmental psychology may appear to be a given. At the Collection, we like to argue that tighter connections to anthropology, history and ethnography would benefit the advancement of knowledge.

The interest in children’s drawings occasionally emerge from unexpected places. Alina Gabriela Tamas, who teaches in a kindergarten, made a surprising and stimulating connection between children’s drawings and the study of geography. Published in the Romanian Review of Geographical Education (Vol. III no. Feb. 2014), her article presents an analysis of 42 drawings of trees, by 21 pre-school children aged 4 to 7. It is concise and illustrated with all the related reproductions. Who would have thought that we should throw geography in the mix too?

Hello Tree, by Sahana, 2020. Source: CDIC-CIDE, 2021.

Post-pandemic schools

For safety reasons, we are using schools very differently during the pandemic. Air circulation, room capacity and group transitions all had to be reconsidered. Teachers use more electronics than ever, namely for virtual teaching and so do students. The need for breaks from screen time is felt by everyone. Each time the school goes to lockdown and reopens is an opportunity to reconsider whether we prefer to attend school from home mask-free, or at the school masked all day.

Will our school buildings feel increasingly obsolete as the post-pandemic era will set in and we gradually wake up from this collective nightmare? That is a question school trustees, policy makers and unions will certainly be addressing and debating. It is important that parents and their children also take part in this discussion.

Architects as much as anyone else should make their voice heard and encourage new ways to envision future learning spaces that are more adaptable to transitions from regular use to crisis situation. We came across the interesting website on architecture and education, edited by Adam Wood and Emma Dyer. They present over twenty interviews with fellow architects, teachers and other education professional on the subject. They also have a page on school museums around the world, like the Museum of Schools and Children’s Book, in Turin (in Italian). Revisiting what schools were like in the distant past, is one way to reconsider what they should look and feel like in the future.

Header banner, website. Museum of School and Children’s Book, Turin. Source: Fondazione Tancredi di Barolo, 28 February 2021.

Twigs with a twist

Just last month on this very blog, we paid homage to the stickman figure. Many told us it was a good move. So, for the fun of it, let’s keep it moving with renowned British artist Chris Kenny. See his dancing twigs and other uplifting works. Next time you go for a nature walk, let us see what you find. We also liked his other works, particularly where he mixes text and images.

Twelve Twigs 2019, by Chris Kenny. Collection of Kalmthout Arboretum, Belgium. Source: ChrisKenny.co.uk, 23 February 2021.

Paper cut

In a large urban setting on Earth, 2060. Sophia, 10, is watching her grand father clean up and sort things from a dusty closet. “Papi, what’s this?” she asks. “This my dear, is a crayon” he answers absentminded. She continues, “And that?” He realizes that he must pay attention. “Oh that is a sheet of paper with a drawing” and he sees that she waits to know more, but he is not sure if he could find a blank sheet of paper so that he could demonstrate further.

Is it too far-fetched to muse that in 30 years from now, we could find a ten year old child who will have never seen a pen and paper combo ? It is not hard to imagine if you consider the increasingly paperless world many of us live in, be it at work or at home. Computers and mobile devices proliferate and allow us to produce, authenticate, share and store documents without any paper or ink. Even office and home printer sales are decreasing steadily. We now make each single printing device print less than before. That is if we bother to own one at all.

Is there still “trash paper” in the homes, on which children can draw? Do blank sheets of paper now only come from the school? In their play, children often mimic what they see adults do. If grown ups at home or at school no longer use pencils and paper, what will inspire kids to do so?

In 2015, the Washington Post published an article by Michal S. Rosenwald. It describes how the paper industry was developing a campaign and public relations in order to keep the “brand” paper relevant against the odds, and to protect production levels or at least slow down its decline. The article explains how harmful digital culture has been to this product, and how the industry intends to fight back, namely by incrasing paper visibility online, of all places. Now a few years, plus a year of pandemic down the road, and the decline of print and writing paper accelerates. At least that’s what we see in industry reports such as one at Fisher International. As for office and home printers, all bets are off. In the past year, journalist Roberto Torres wondered in CIO Dive Will the pandemic spell the end of the printer? Shortly before that “predictionists” Duncan Stewart and Nobuo Okubo foresaw a rosy future for home printers in the new work from home era: Printer Charming: COVID-19 TMT Predictions. As our relation to the pen and paper combo changes, so it does for children. Print “single sided” and let them draw, for art Sophia sake.

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.

All hail the stickman figure!

Quite frankly, it deserves its own world class museum. The stick man figure has been among us for probably thousands of years. This enduring symbol of both human simplicity and our communication skills is still ubiquitous today, in signage and publicity around the world.

Lately, its name was passed onto the heroic character of a popular children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The book’s success propelled animated films and even a musical (Freckle Productions). The stick man figure has never been ignored, but it is about time we celebrate its rightful place in History.

Seriously, isn’t the stick man figure the living proof that regression, mindful or unconscious, is not only a great defense mechanism readily available to all, but also part of our daily cognitive hygiene? That the stick man figure is and has always been part of children as well as adults’ lives is definitely good food for thoughts.

How to draw a stick figure, screen shot. Source: Wikihow.com, 26 January 2021.

A step at a time

A full year into the pandemic. Lockdown, social distancing, work and study from home, even maybe a curfew. Our discipline and patience are definitely being tested. What to do? Let the recent record snowfall (50 cm) in Madrid inspire us to go outside and draw with our feet in the snow or in the sand, one step at a time. It is good exercise and no art supply is required (a camera to preserve and share ephemeral art is optional).

You can even follow the foot steps of famous engineer-artist Simon Beck and do mathematics at the same time. Start with a small simple geometrical form and challenge yourself to go big and find proper location for you. Reflect on how you feel about your image fading away and how long it lasts. The pandemic will not last. How we will remember it is on us.

Screen capture, Instagram. Source: Instagram.com/simonbeck_snowart 10 December 2021.

Our website in 2020

Our website hit the 100K hits just in time for the new year. With close to 14 000 visits by people from every continents, we have much gratitude for our social media volunteers. They helped us getting the word out and fed discussions about the importance of our collection.

We would like to hear from you about topics that would interest you in the coming year. If you have an article or a blog post that you would like us to publish, by all means share.

CDIC-CIDE website in 2020. Source: CDIC-CIDE.org

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.