in the book young at art, the author, susan striker, outlines the artistic development of children in the stages through which they all progress as little creative beings. first they scribble. the opportunity to scribble--and to scribble a lot from a young age--is super important to a child's mental development. it is a stepping stone to their ability to read and write. there are several different kinds of scribbles, and children will naturally progress through all the types. (there are visual examples of these in the book.) eventually, around the age of three, a child will begin to make circle shapes, connecting one end of a line to the other. then follows the mandala. a mandala is technically two or more shapes with a common center. in the case of a child's mandala, however, it is a bit more loosely defined. it can be a circle with lines intersecting or lines sticking out of it (like a "sun"). but it can also take a "ladder" shape. at any rate, it is quite amazing because the mandala is the precursor to the human figure. the circle/outer shape will soon be made into the common head/body and features drawn within, limbs without. it is not til later that a child will make separate shapes for the head and body. the incredible and interesting thing is that all children progress this way and make these shapes--culminating in the human form--on their own, without being taught or shown.
it is thus important to a child's artistic development that she not only be given opportunity, but also be left alone to explore and progress through these stages at her own pace. it can be crippling to the creativity of the young artist to have adults draw cute pictures for her or show her "how" to draw, or to even suggest that anything the child creates looks "like" something in the real world. the early work of a young artist is more about the kinetic exercise of it all rather than the visual outcome. to encourage a toddler to create things that somehow fit into the parent's concept of artistic "product" can be detrimental to the freedom of their own learning process, expression, and emotional release. children want to please their parents more than anything, and when they end up doing art that is tailored to please mom or dad, it is a sad loss. this is why it is key to hold off on even making value judgments such as "i like that!" it is ok to encourage the child by telling them they are a good artist, but in general, the child will know they are being encouraged if the parent simply provides them with plenty of opportunity for creating, and engages them with descriptions that help them learn about what they are doing: "that is a thick, black line," "i see you made a round line and a straight line," etc.
see exhibit A for the gorgeous mandala that sparrow made today. to break all the rules, i will describe it as looking like a little amoeba or roly-poly bug. it is an oval-shape with a scribble inside of it as well as several short lines sticking out. on the same page she also made another one that is more like a big outline with a smaller shape enclosed within it. they are absolutely incredible; i snatched the paper away as soon as she was done with it and placed it on my desk where it could not be ruined. every time i walked by my desk today i simply got a bursting glow from the accomplishment of my offspring.
the first time i noticed that sparrow was even connecting her lines was at the beginning of this month when she produced several gorgeous examples one day of bold pink and purple circles. i saved those, too. susan striker managed to save every single drawing her son ever produced, which was a wonderful affirmation for him, i'm sure. i am not quite so realistically able to do the same, as we live in an apartment, not a house, and don't have space for a whole extra trunk for each kid's artwork at the moment. i save what i can. the highlights. and try not to ever let sparrow see me throwing anything away. i think it is more important that she be allowed the experience and that she has me engaging her about her art in a positive way. too bad she has already figured out by some outside influence that people draw "things." she asks me most every day--to my chagrin--if i can draw her something or other; a bird, a cat, a snail... but i tell her that she should draw, and sometimes i scribble with her. i hope that the sunday school coloring-book-style art is not ruining her too much either. i have sighed much about her sunday school art. it is the antithesis of everything that should be given to a toddler artistically. seriously! christians may eventually get wise to the fact that giving 2-yr-olds cute drawings of bartimaeus to scribble on has nothing--nothing! to do with scripture or helping embed a love for the Word in their hearts. it is kitschy distraction, really. in the meantime, well-meaning parents must appreciate the benefits of sunday school while undoing the creative damage as much as possible from home! but i digress. sparrow has come to her mandala despite it all. and i could not be more proud.
exhibit B--what sparrow was doing just before the appearance of the mandala