Why Do Kindergarten Children Stop Scribbling?

By Nona Orbach

In many kindergartens in Israel, there is a common worrying behavior. The children stop drawing and scribbling, and many become frustrated and say that their drawings are ugly. 

In these kindergartens, coloring pages are often given by the adults, and sometimes they draw an image requested by the child so they can fill it with colours.

The outcome is that the child compares their drawings to their parent or teacher. Thus, the natural flow of childhood scribbling and drawing is disturbed at a very young age, and they stop drawing.

A kindergarten teacher asked me to help her with this issue.

The question was: Can we remedy this?

Will children scribble joyfully again  and naturally, even after being exposed to coloring books and/or copying?

Can we turn the wheel back?

I came to the kindergarten that morning and prepared a suggestion/activity for four children. 

The Line/dot-table. 

The table was set up with four kinds of papers and a few black drawing tools such as different sizes of markers, pens and pencils, etc.

“What is this?” Asked the first child.

“This is a scribble-doodle table. Would you like to try it?” 

Very quickly, many wanted to scribble and create different lines. I hung the work immediately.

“Why do you hang this? It is only a scribble,” they asked“I love scribbles, and there are so many kinds of them! Can you discover a few? It might also be interesting for other children to look at and perhaps have ideas about what they want to do.”

The meaning of this intervention:

Using black lines only encourages the brain to investigate shapes, lines, and dots. This brought the children immediately to their natural developmental phase to create from. The natural flow was revived. If there were colored pens it would most likely go into schemas as rainbows, hearts, flowers, etc. 

The weeks followed, almost all children began doodling once again, and their frustration around “ugly” drawings disappeared.

In that kindergarten, coloring books were no longer available, and the parents were notified, and many of them made some changes at home. 

I think that part of this expression of low self-esteem amongst very young children is connected to how the western world understands education.

In many kindergartens in Israel, and maybe around the world, almost all suggestions and interventions are aimed at learning cognitively. Literacy and maths are the top priority of our society.

Play and art are manipulated and directed for that purpose. Suggesting to a child of four to copy an image is doing just that. Teaching a child how to draw a human figure, correcting them is a serious problematic impingement.

The western world measures quantitative elements!

We love numbers and tables, as they seem scientific, meaning it is good, right?

But, how can one measure curiosity, playfulness, joy, imagination, kindness, and sharing?

They are all qualitative! These qualities are the ones that make us human and not our ability to read at the age of five.

So in school, drawings that are representative receive praise, but praise for play, imagination and joy for their own sake is rare.

Have we forgotten that we are much more than cognitive creatures?

Liat Shmerling tried it with her child.

This post is part of the Grammar of Drawing project about the expressive language of drawing, in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

It is translated in five languages:

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