Top nav Berkeley Child Art Studio Gallery Communal Learning Alternative Learning Environments Deep Development Across Cultures Play Based Learning
Age 1 to 3 Years

Infants begin making motions that give the impression of arcs, lines and twists around the age of one. They seem to be interested in the motion and what it implies much earlier than they can actually begin to manipulate drawing tools. Sitting in a high chair they will make motions with their hands that their eyes follow. Their comprehension of metaphor, of one thing standing for another, develops at a very early age as well. A parent may notice her child twisting a spoon in the air while at breakfast, making sounds to accompany the motion. The child may explain that this is a “birdie” or an “airplane” all the while chirping, waving the spoon above his head. The child is imagining that the spoon is something other than what it is, but will continue to eat, applying its correct usage when the playful moment passes.

child drawingOnce pen and paper actually meet, however, the child’s attention is on the tracings left by the ink, as he discovers that hand and arm movement have meaning in a different way. By using his muscular control he can direct the movements of his arm and hand to control the movements of his pen. The tracings, or marks, have meaning independent of his fleeting gesture. It is a record of his movement. The marks outlast the gestures, and in that way are interesting to the child. Indeed, this is the first meaningful historical narrative. The line begins and ends. For the duration in between, inferences of gesture conjure imaginative associations that the two or three year old child will relate enthusiastically. “This is a big dog running!” The mark has a life and meaning of its own, that it will retain, to which the child may relate different associations.

In the prepictorial act of drawing, before children draw the human form, any line can stand for any personal meaning the child might imagine it to be. And in the mind of the child the association to the line may change from moment to moment because the line is abstract and not pictorial. The understanding of how a line communicates has not been reached, but the notion that it does communicate is grasped by the child as soon as an adult asks, “What is it?” At that moment the child realizes that the line is interesting to others as well as himself. Although puzzled by this question, the discovery that the line not only has an existence outside of his gesture, but that somehow it also has meaning that can be understood or interpreted by others is exciting. The line communicates, he must discover how.

Although the child does not yet understand how it has meaning, this mysterious mark, adults definitely seem to think it does. Curiosity is sparked. The child wants to discover the hidden meaning in the line. For the next few months and years he will continue to make gestures that produce wiggly, vertical, loopy, horizontal and tangled up scribbly lines. This stage of innate learning precedes the stage of symbolic understanding when the concepts of how visual images communicate — how one image can mean a singular object — are suddenly, dramatically grasped with the emergence of the first spontaneous drawing of a human, usually between the ages of 2 1/2 and 3 1/2.

3 year old Trevor feels the surface of the paper that he has covered with chalk.