We love our kids’ first drawings. They draw before they write, so their drawings seem somehow miraculous in those early years – their first communication that is permanent and there for all to see.
Preschool is all about drawing and painting. Large canvasses of abstract finger paintings give way to recognisable broad stroke figures, houses, and sunny skies. We celebrate every image and give them pride of place on the fridge door.
Adoniou argues that once kids hit kindergarten, everything changes. Learning to write becomes the more important medium for communication, with drawings and paintings merely decorations:
But we seriously misunderstand the function of drawings, and their contribution to learning, if we think they are just what children do when they can’t yet write.
Drawing is not the evolutionary inferior to writing – writing and drawing are two distinct communication systems, and each deserves their place in the communicative repertoire of our children.
Adoniou uses research to make her point:
Children who draw before they tackle writing tasks produce better writing – it’s longer, more syntactically sophisticated and has a greater variety of vocabulary. It is likely this is because the act of drawing concentrates the mind on the topic at hand, and provides an avenue for rehearsal before writing – rather like a first draft where they can sort things out before having to commit words to a page.
The bottom line:
The message to teachers is a simple one – instead of telling children they can draw a picture if they finish their writing, have them draw before writing.
Drawing, says Adoniou, can help children who learn efficiently as well as those who learn differently:
We understand things more deeply when we see them from multiple perspectives. Drawing what you have understood from a reading passage, drawing the science experiment you have just done or drawing the detail of an autumn leaf are all examples of engaging with the same learning from a different angle.
For most children, this helps consolidate the learning but for some children it can be the key they have been waiting for to open the door to the learning. The confidence and self belief this gives them can change their attitude and engagement with other aspects of schooling.