We all treasure that first picture of Mummy or Daddy, the one with eyelashes carefully drawn in but no legs! You can see exactly what your little one wanted to draw and it is a picture to be proud of, but how do they get to this stage and what are they learning along the way?
When a little one first starts to enjoy creative play they simply love the sensory experience. A nine month old might enjoy the feel of the paint against her skin, the joy of movement or the pretty colours. You can encourage her to explore by focusing on the experience and not on an end product, she is learning all about how the world works and having a wonderful time!
Let your little one enjoy smearing paint over an old table, watching how the colours mix and spread. Then press some paper onto the table to make a picture you can keep.
Spread a plastic table cloth outside on a warm day, strip your little one down to his nappy and put some paint on the mat. He might cover himself in it or delicately dab little dots, either way he will be having great fun. Take a photo to remind yourself of how your little artist started out - I have even seen an 11 month old body surf in paint so have the paddling pool ready for clean up!
For a less messy option, get some freezer bags and put a couple of good dollops of paint in each, keeping the two colours separate. Lay the bags flat, press out all the air and seal. Reinforce the seal with some tape and play with these in old clothes just incase you do get a leak. Show your baby how the bags can be squashed and squeezed and watch the colours mix.
Making their mark
As children grow they start to realise that they can make deliberate marks and enjoy drawing for it's own sake. If you ask a child what he has drawn he may well say "a picture," at this age it is all about seeing what they can do, not representing anything specific.
When drawing with crayons or pens ask your toddler which colour she would like to use and talk about what she has done is those terms. Say things like "I love all the green bits" not "is that the grass?"
You can give your little one stickers, rubber stamps and other ways to make a mark on paper. On a sunny day using water to paint the patio or garden wall is great fun too.
You might well notice that your toddler begins by making broad sweeps, enjoying the movement as he swings his arm, but as he gets older he makes smaller, more controlled marks. At this point you can start to talk about drawing dots, lines, circles and so on. Revel in the different types of marks they can make!
Having learnt to make small, controlled, marks your little one is well on the way to that portrait. At this point she has probably realised that pictures are usually of something and may start to name her own creations. At first she will simply draw for the fun of it, only naming the picture afterwards when asked what it is. Later on she will decide what to draw before she begins and this is when pictures become recognisable. It is always best to avoid pointing out "mistakes" in a child's drawing. Let them colour the sky green or put too many eyes if they want to, it is their picture and creativity is not about getting it "right." However, there are ways you can encourage artistic ability, or perhaps understand what is going on!
Early drawing can be quite abstract, perhaps a windmill is represented by lots of circles as the child moves his crayon round and round. He is drawing what interests him - the movement of the windmill rather than it's shape.
A child might also draw a story, covering up a picture in black paint because it is night for example. Don't worry that they have ruined their painting - instead you can celebrate their active imagination!
When little ones first start to draw recognisable objects you can encourage them by doing your own drawing alongside. Sit with your own paper and talk about what you are drawing, using phrases like "now, what have I missed? Oh! I know! I need to draw Daddy's feet!" Children love to copy and before long they will be thinking about their own pictures in a similar way.
To encourage an older child to really look at what they want to draw, you can put an interesting object on the table and draw it yourself. For example you might look closely at a snail shell and talk about the spiral pattern then draw a spiral on your paper before looking again to see what colour it is. Talk about what you are doing and your child will enjoy helping you to spot things to include.