Making Sense of Children's Drawings

Making Sense of Children's Drawings

Making Sense of Children's Drawings

Making Sense of Children's Drawings


"If you know and love young children, find a way to read this book. Here you will discover the hidden talents of young children for complexity, design, and tenacity for learning... a wonderful addition to the too-small library of quality books on young children's learning through art."
Shirley Brice Heath, Professor Emerita, Stanford University and Professor at Large, Brown University, USA

"This book is unique in giving an in-depth account of the way young children approach drawing at home and at school. It shows the cognitive value of drawing in children's intellectual and emotional development and sets out the truly extraordinary range of drawing types that are used and understood by three to six year olds. It is an invaluable experience."
Professor Ken Baynes, Department of Design and Technology, Loughborough University, UK

This book explores how young children learn to draw and draw to learn, at home and school. It provides support for practitioners in developing a pedagogy of drawing in Art and Design and across the curriculum and provide advice for parents about how to make sense of their children's drawings.

Making Sense of Children's Drawings is enlivened with the real drawings of seven young children, collected over three years. These drawings stimulated dialogues with the children, parents and practitioners whose voices are reported in the book. The book makes a powerful argument for us to radically re-think the role of drawing in young children's construction of meaning, communication and sense of identity. It provides insights into the influence of media and consumerism, as reflected in popular visual imagery, and on gender identity formation in young children. It also offers strong messages about the overemphasis on the three Rs in early childhood education.

Key reading for students, practitioners and parents who want to encourage young children's drawing development without 'interfering' with their creativity, and who need a novel approach to tuning into young children's passions and pre-occupations.


When a young child draws they are offering us a window into their own developing understanding of the world and their relationships to significant people, things and places around them. Drawings provide rich insights into young children’s thinking and developing sense of self, including their gender roles. Drawing also provides children with a tool for telling themselves and us elaborate stories. However, what they draw and how they draw reflect the complexity of communication systems and visual images, signs and symbol systems in the domestic and leisure activities around them. They are encultured into using a wide range of graphicacy through their everyday experiences.

Many adults in both home and school contexts are unsure about how to respond to young children’s drawings. Children’s early attempts at making meaning in line may be dismissed as scribbling; and children soon hear the message that scribbling is associated with messiness and deviance – the defacing of pristine books and walls. Yet a parallel early meaning making in speech, babbling, is greeted with great enthusiasm by adults. When babbling, children gain positive feedback and reinforcement to babble on. Scribbling though is something not quite nice.

The adults and siblings in closest contact with young children shape babbling into speech sounds. A ‘Ma Ma’ becomes ‘Mummy’. In a similar way, scribbling is shaped by well meaning adults and siblings into representations of people and objects. A circle with dots becomes a face with eyes. From then on, the message for children and those who respond to their drawings and draw with or for them is to make their representations of things look like things. As children enter an educational context, practitioners guide them towards the dual conventions of representational drawing and emergent writing. Children learn quickly that their own personal styles of drawing and their passions and preoccupations from home are not valued by their teachers. They enter the lettered world of school literacy where drawing assumes a secondary role to writing within the value systems of schooling.

The focus of this book is a powerful argument for the reappraisal of the role of drawing in young children’s learning and in their attempts to make sense of and represent the worlds in which they are nurtured and educated. It draws on seven detailed case studies of children learning to draw and drawing to learn between the ages of 3 and 7 in the contexts of home and pre-school/ school.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.