Your Picture Makes Me Feel Happy: Talking with Young Children About Their Creations

1 February 2017


When your preschool child shows you his latest drawing, do you find yourself trying to figure out what exactly it’s “supposed to be?”  Well, you’re not alone.  I think just about every preschool parent I’ve ever worked with reacts in the same way to their child’s artwork.

As adults, we often see children’s work as something with an intended outcome-- a definite thing that can be identified. So, that’s why we usually ask questions like “What is it?”  “It’s a dog, isn’t it?”  But, it’s important to consider here the purpose of preschool children’s art, which is not to produce something that adults can identify. The process of the activity, the doing, is the focus of all creative activities for the preschool child and not the product.  And it’s important to remember this when you discuss artwork with your child.

There is actually a simple, developmentally appropriate way to talk with your preschooler about their creations.  I think a  brief overview of how children’s art develops can help you here.  When a young child starts to draw with a crayon, usually about 12 to 18 months, it is the sheer physical pleasure of the activity itself that interests the child. This is called the kinesthetic pleasure of doing something. Think running barefoot in wet, soft grass for the simple pleasure of how it feels---this is kinesthetic pleasure. For beginning scribblers, the activity in itself is the focus of crayoning for a young child. As the child develops, and is able to make recognizable shapes in drawing, it is the sheer joy of being able to control the crayon that fascinates the young child. And when the child can put these shapes together to make a first stick figure, it is a major step for the young child. Often at this stage, the child will sometimes name the figure, but it is not the primary purpose of the activity.  

So, for young children, the process of making drawings or any other form of creative activity is the main focus. We want our preschool children to enjoy messing around with crayons, paint, playdough, and all such materials without worrying about “making something.” You will find Skilly Sparks in many of our activities, which we designed to help you approach the activity in this developmentally appropriate way.

So, what do we say to these young children when we are working alongside them, or when they present us with their finished work?  Well, here are some preschool developmentally and child-friendly approaches.

  1. Concentrate on the elements of art such as color, line, shape, size, and such. For example, say, “”I see all the purple lines you are using in your drawing.”  Not, “What are all these purple lines?”  Or, “What a large red circle!” versus, “Why did you draw that?”
  2. Ask your child to tell you about the work.  “Tell me about this.”  Not, “What is this supposed to be?”
  3. Refrain from judgmental remarks, even if you think their artwork’s great.  Try not to say, “Great work” or “I like it.”  This gets you in the habit of being a judge of your child’s work.  And your child will get in the habit of trying to please you. We want young children to feel free to be able to express themselves in their work without worrying about judgement of it. In this way, the child grows in confidence and ability to judge their own work.
  4. Don’t get into the habit of saying “Good Job!” Every time you see your child’s work.  For young children, creating is a joy and not a job-- nor should it be goal oriented.
  5. Respond with your heart rather than your head-- Use descriptive rather than judgmental terms when talking about your children’s art.  Rather than, “You did a good job on your picture,” let them know how you feel, saying “Your picture makes me feel happy.”   

I encourage you to keep these ideas in mind when you are engaging with your child in our Skilly-do activities. Check out Readymade Styrofoam Sculpture and Mixed Media Batik to practice this new approach. Take some time and try one or more of these activities yourself.  Then, share with us what it was like for you.  

You can support your little one's creativity when using technology too! Find out how in my Young Children and Technology series. Remember process over product & have fun!