Research interviews for Canadians

Calling all Canadian residents. Take part in an interview that will help uncover new knowledge about children’s art conservation. A research team at McMaster University Research Shop is looking for parents and grand parents who will give an hour of their time before April 1st, 2024. Scan the QR code below or use this link to request an interview. 

The interview will be conducted individually on Zoom, and will be about art and children’s art. Participants will receive a $25 gift card for their participation. Please note that interview spots are limited. Participants will be selected to interview such that various backgrounds and perspectives are represented. People not selected for a live interview will have the opportunity to fill out a questionnaire if they wish to share their input.

For further information, contact project lead Syed Mahamad (mahamads@mcmaster.ca, 905-525-9140 ext. 26804).

If you have a virtual or wall bulletin board, by all means post and share this PDF poster and spread the word for us.

Research Shop at McMaster University is a co-curricular program that works with public, non-profit, and community organizations in Hamilton. It supports students with research opportunities in the community.

We would like to thank the Office of Community Engagement at McMaster University for facilitating this partnership.

Anthropomorphism

It is a vast and complex subject, as old as storytelling itself in current and past civilizations. This ability we have to project human features and qualities to non-human animals, plants and things is so omnipresent, we just have to glance at gamer avatars, or our sport team mascots to measure its far reaching impact. It can be found in basically any art form.

A short blog post cannot dive into the intricate complexity and ramifications of anthropomorphism. This post is meant to highlight the fact that some researchers with various backgrounds are increasingly questioning how the, let’s call them traditional storytellers, are making use of anthropomorphism. So, parents, writers, illustrators, playwrights, and even clerics, pay attention because a diverse group of literary critiques, cognitive scientists, social theorists and ecologists want to talk about anthropomorphism as a double edged sword.

On one hand, there are the well-known benefits, as mentioned by Nigerian researcher Helen Adhuze, in an article titled The face and phases of anthropomorphism in children literature, “Anthropomorphized characters boost empathy in children.  This relational attitude is facilitated through the human imagination operational at the various stages of human development. Essentially,  anthropomorphism  is  a  human attitude  developed  as  a  child  and  maintained through adulthood.  It is a specific human attitude, not a childish mistake.” (Adhuze, Journal of Language, Literature and Culture, Vol. 1, no. 1, 2022)

Growing up, we become experts “anthropomorphers.” Parents and educators know too well how anthropomorphic characters can be efficient attention grabbers, and motivation boosters for children engagement. For example, take this school activity developed by Creative Exchange, a collaboration project of the England Arts Council and Durham University (United Kingdom). The activity shows “How to use anthropomorphism to release children’s creativity,” to develop their imagination and collaborative skills. The vast majority of contents in elementary school libraries include anthropomorphic images.

Not everyone agrees that anthropomorphism has only benefits, and some give it a thumb down, pointing to what may loom in its shadow. We find much of these warnings in an exhibition catalogue, of Animals Are Us: Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature; Celebrating  the Peter Solomon Collection. The exhibition was presented in 2021 at the Houghton Library, in Cambridge. The catalogue by Thomas Hyry and several others, offers a great reading experience, and includes awesome illustrations. Four contributors penned the chapter “The Pitfalls and Potential of Anthropomorphism in children Literature.” It shows clearly how the practice more than often perpetuates stereotypes and demonstrates blatant lack of representation and diversity. We cannot help, it seems, but project both our virtues and flaws into whatever we want to make more human. The authors raise important red flags, and see greater awareness as an important step for better storytelling.

They close with a glimpse of optimism, saying that as fields such as childhood studies, psychology, and literacy education developed their understanding of the child reader, children’s literature also evolved to position children as more purposeful, thoughtful, and agentive”(Animals Are Us exhibition catalogue, p.23)

In 2014, psychologists Patricia Ganea, Caitlin Canfield, and Kadria Simons-Ghafari investigated and concluded that anthropomorphism will actually inhibit children’s ability to learn actual facts about the animal world. It is, they argued, as if the fantastic nature of anthropomorphic characters “may not only lead to less learning but also influence children’s conceptual knowledge of animals.” In their article Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals (Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 5, 2014), they explain that there is a range of anthropomorphism that goes between a completely fantastic and a partially realistic characterization. They saw that when selecting books for their students, teachers tend to favor less realistic images, and rarely choose books where animal characters are shown in their natural environment. This, they say, may bring children to a lack of understanding of biological aspects of animals. In other words, children should be told when they are exposed to anthropomorphized creatures, told that it is not factual information, even when this might seems obvious to adults.

If you think educators, psychologists and literary critics are the only ones interested in the subject, think twice. Scholars in computer sciences, as well as religious studies are also showing interest in how children go about anthropomorphism. See what some of them have to say in this amazing book When Children Draw Gods A Multicultural and Interdisciplinary Approach to Children’s Representations of Supernatural Agents, published by Springer in 2023, as part of a book series New Approach to the Scientific Study of Religion. The chapter by Gregory Dessart and Pierre-Yves Brandt, Humanness and Non-Humanness in Children’s Drawings of God: A Case Study from French-Speaking Switzerland is of particular interest. It presents a case study with a focus on de-anthropomorphization as a progressive process. According to them, children undertaking religious education could be less inclined to portrait God with human traits.

As I reflect about the scientific articles cited above, isn’t it interesting that ecologically minded educator and religion educator might each hope that children be less impacted by anthropomorphism each for a different motive, the first for giving access to biological facts, and the other for less human-like representations of the divine? The socio-emotional power of anthropomorphism is immense. Is it too strong or misleading? It is an important question.

You want more anthropomorphic images? See this quickly read, well-illustrated article by Meagan Jones, on the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies’ website: Degrees of Humanity: Anthropomorphism and its development in children’s book illustration (2013).

portrait, landscape, religion, crayons, paper, 1960s
Great (detail) as in God is Great. By Leo, c1969. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

PUZZLES

There are simple and elaborate ways to make your own puzzles, from your own images or drawings.

The easiest way is just to cut up the image in random pieces of whatever shape or size you want. It is probably better to make the pieces the same size, but you can decide otherwise. However, this method will likely result in the pieces not nesting into each other, and the mosaic will not hold well.

Weather you use this technique or another, it is a good idea to use a reproduction of your original. By doing so, you have a model to guide you. This is particularly useful if you gift the puzzle, and the recipient has never seen the original.

If you have a printer and are patient enough to cut traditional puzzle shapes from a blank model, there are a couple of great tools we found online. Have a look at this puzzle tool on Telegnom.org. There are also several templates on Twinkl, but unlike the previous one, you will need to create an account.

There are also retail options for blank puzzle pieces, and they vary greatly in price and quality. CreateJigsawPuzzle has a good selection, including wooden and acrylic pieces, beside the regular cardboard.

Pikkii sells blank puzzles with a traditional style painting frame printed along the edges.

If you buy blank puzzles to draw or paint on, take a photo of your drawing after it is done, so you have a guide when you put it back together.

Images that fill the page, and show a variety of colors and contrasts, make great puzzles.

landscape, pencil, paper, 2020s
Landscape. Sri, 2021. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

World Children’s Day 2023

Children should mean the world to us all, but still so many are suffering, even dying, east and west, north and south. This November 20th, we join a large number or not-for-profit organizations worldwide in denouncing the neglect and aggression on children.

Let us all familiarize ourselves better with children’s rights, and take part in open dialogue and civic participation in support of children’s safety and growth. There are many good sources of information at our fingertips on Internet. Take for example the research and reports by KidsRights, based in Amsterdam. Their findings are up to date and their programs involve youth directly, in nearly forty countries.

Meanwhile, as reported from the United Nation’s meeting of the committee on Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Issues this past October, you could hear national representatives throw the blame at each other regarding children’s safety worldwide. It is certainly a positive thing that they have the conversation, but the tone and good will should definitely improve.

In Canada this November 25th, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children will host a webinar titled Youth Researchers’ Peer-to-Peer PAR Journey and Findings. For this occasion, youth researchers will discuss their work and findings. The webinar is open to children and youth who are interested. It is free and pre-registration is required.

Burning house. By Yvon, c1967. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

All ears

Anytime is a good time to celebrate music and drawing all at once. Let’s be thankful for music. It helps us going through the global pandemic and so many other dire experiences, or beautiful ones just the same. Put on your favorite or a completely unexplored playlist and draw lightheartedly while letting yourself transported by the sound of music.

For educators and homeschoolers, here are two nicely put together activity descriptions to explore with kids. The first one, Drawing to music, is from a quite interesting project called TeachRock, by the no less fascinating Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. Make sure to go read who the founders are on their web site. Like most of us, many visual artists are inspired by music. It is quite fitting that they suggest Kandinsky’s bursting Composition VII for this activity.

The second one, Musical Art, was shared on KinderArt by Geoff Simpson, a teacher from the Greater Toronto Area, where our Collection is based. Go on and revisit Piet Mondrian and Serge Tousignant’s works, only two of the many great painters who could not do without their musical inspiration.

Composition VII, 1913, by Kandinsky. Source: TeachRock.org, 10 November 2020.
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