When your child shows you a picture she has just drawn and you can’t tell what the heck it is supposed to be, don’t ask her “What is it?” Although that may be the question that is top of mind for you at that moment, there is good reason to hold back and ask her something else.
The obvious reason for not asking “What is it,” is that you may hurt her feelings because you can’t tell what it is. Kids usually just assume that grown-ups will be able to tell what they are drawing – duh. Beyond that though, a question like “What is it” prompts a child to give you a short, pretty black and white answer, like “It’s a tree.” If you ask her something like: “Tell me about your drawing,” she is more likely to go much more in depth like, “It is a big park, with lot of green grass and a tree and that’s where kids like to play because…..” You will learn so much more. On a very basic level, this will help her think about what she was thinking when she made the drawing and what she was trying to communicate. Art is such a great way for children to communication their thoughts and feelings. If we shove them into a box of it having to look like something in particular, we are stifling the child’s ability to use art as communication and encouraging her to become a copier.
Telling you about her art will also help her develop her verbal communication skills and will increase the detail that she puts into her subsequent artwork. This can be a great way to connect with your child and learn about the inner workings of her mind, what she thinks about, what her fears are etc.
Another good question to ask is, “What is your favorite part of this drawing and why?” This again will encourage her to go more in depth about the drawing and her thought process behind it. Although she probably isn’t aware that her brain went through a planning process, she made decisions about what to put in the drawing (subject matter), where to put everything (composition,) and how big to make the different elements of the drawing (scale & proportion,) when she planned it. A lot of times, kids will make grown-ups way bigger than themselves when they draw their families or their teachers. Size can just be about who actually is bigger. However, sometimes size can indicate importance or power. Ask her follow up questions about her decisions. “Why did you choose these colors?” or “It is interesting how you made your teacher so much bigger than your principal. Can you tell me about that?”
Resist the temptation to call her drawing pretty and rave about it. Focus instead on things like “I love how hard you worked on this,” or “I enjoy how you used these two colors together.” When children see that specific kinds of artwork are praised, they will try to duplicate them just to get the praise instead of doing art to express themselves.
When you and your child look at art done by professional artists, even illustrations in books, you can talk about what feelings the artist was trying to convey rather than just how pretty the picture is. This will also give your permission to be creative when she draws or paints.
In fact, many of us adults need to do the same for ourselves. We are our own worst critics. Do you remember a time when you were a child that an adult asked you “What is it?” and you felt bad or embarrassed?