How to talk to a scribbler!

Did you ever wonder what is the best way to comment on your child’s artwork?  Did you ever ask: “What is it?” when shown a drawing, only to receive a blank stare in return?  Do you often say a work of art is “Beautifu!” or “Great!” when your child shows it to you?

This week at our staff meeting we discussed a wonderful article on how to talk with children about their art, and especially how to talk with young children who may be “just” scribbling.  In early drawing it may be the process of making marks or drawing that is important to the child, and not the picture itself.

Joseph and Marilyn Sparling state:  “In talking about the very first scribbles, an adult can mention:

  1. the child’s movements
  2. the way the scribble looks
  3. the way the child probably felt as he made the drawing.” 

When comments are specific and non-judgmental, they encourage intrinsic motivation on the part of young children.  It is enough to notice what they are doing, for example, saying:  “You made a long straight green line and a wiggly red one,” without making a judgment like “It’s great!”  

Specific encouragement  contributes to our children becoming life-long learners. Non-specific praise can do the opposite, as the Sparlings write:  “Smiling at a child’s drawing, a teacher said, ‘That’s nice.’  With painful honesty the little girl replied ‘Oh, Mrs. Merrill, you say that to everybody!'”

(If you want to read the entire article, please let me know and I will give you a copy. Sparling, Joseph, and Marilyn C. Sparling, “How to Talk to a Scribbler,” Young Children, August 1973.)