Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Young Children's Meaning-Making through Drawing and "Telling": Analogies to Filmic Textual Features

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Young Children's Meaning-Making through Drawing and "Telling": Analogies to Filmic Textual Features

Article excerpt


We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings: above all, we are surely homo significans-meaning-makers. (Chandler, 2002, p. 17)

YOUNG CHILDREN ARE meaning-makers par excellence. They use many signs to create meaning and to represent reality within the medium of drawing-telling. Their artistic communication involves a combination of both verbal and non-verbal texts, such as artworks which incorporate narration, music that has lyrics, or dance which includes expressive vocalisation. So, in a broad sense, such texts are an 'assemblage of signs' (Chandler, 2002, p. 3).

In children's drawing, for example, the assembled signs can include graphically produced images (e.g. people, objects), which might also include written letters or words, numbers, symbols (e.g. flags) and graphic devices (e.g. 'whoosh' lines behind a car). In addition, this graphic content may be accompanied by children's sounds (e.g. expressive vocalisation) and imitative gestures to enhance the meaning. Hence, when children draw, they construct and interpret a range of verbal and non-verbal signs with reference to the conventions associated with this medium of communication.

Yet children appear to unconsciously and quite naturally violate the conventions of the medium of drawing-telling, and the results are frequently delightful. Perhaps this is related to children's proclivity to cross channels of communication. They rely on communication which is bodily based, iconic, basic and expressive. In this sense, artistic communication is the literacy par excellence of the early years of child development. It often occurs prior to the acquisition of the skills of reading and writing and, indeed, it underpins, assists and enhances these later-attained forms of literacy. This is evidenced by the sophisticated and abstract levels of understanding and expression that occur through young children's drawings and other- forms of artistic expression.

The affordances of the medium of drawing, combined with the medium of telling, allow each of these symbolic domains to enrich and inform the other (Kendrick & McKay, 2004; Thompson, 1995; Wright, 2003a, 2005). Yet the laws that govern the articulation of meaning in the arts are different from the laws of syntax that govern language. Meaning-making in art can be either verbal or non-verbal, or both, because it involves a wide range of representational texts that can be communicated in diverse ways. These artistic texts are depicted and interpreted specially, involving complex and abstract connections between 'signs'. As a result, children are liberated through art to invent worlds in other-worldly ways, in a similar way to that of adult artists.

Drawing-telling gives children the opportunity to create and share meaning using two modes, which embrace distinctive features in the following ways:

(a) non-verbal: graphic depiction (stemming from imagery and visual-spatial memory); bodily-kinaesthetic communication through enaction and expressive gesture (stemming from motor memory)

(b) verbal: telling the drawing (talking about the drawing's characters, objects, events, sequencings, graphic details or other relevant characteristics, which often includes onomatopoeia [i.e. the use of a word or vocal imitation of the thing or action designated]).

Such crossover of modes increases children's capacity to use many forms of representational thinking and to mentally manipulate and organise images, ideas and feelings. As Cox (2005) describes it:

   talk and drawing interact with each other as parallel and mutually
   transformative processes. Sometimes the talk feeds into the drawing
   with the verbalized intention being transformed into drawing.
   Sometimes the drawing feeds into talk; the drawing intention is
   transformed into talk. Sometimes these processes are apparently
   concurrent. (p. 123)

The children's creative processes and representational practices are actualised through the open-ended resources offered through drawing. …

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