Picturing OurselvesAug 22, 2022
How does the way we portray ourselves on the outside reflect who we are on the inside? Why do we so often ‘judge a book by its cover’? When do we take the time to open the pages and look inside - to get to know people? What shapes our identity? And how can drawing or painting a self portrait help?
It seems that kids are becoming more conscious of who they are and how they look, at a much younger age. Concepts of body image and mental health have become vitally important aspects in the development of our young people. Once taboo subjects, they are now at the forefront of education. The Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education has a component that focuses on being healthy, safe and active.
In whatever environment you find yourself engaging with children, every moment of interaction with them will have some degree of influence in shaping who they are - how they picture themselves. Guidelines in the Australian Curriculum can help structure activities where there can be a specific focus on the development of their well-being and self-image.
For children in about Years 1 and 2, sharing stories with characters who show strength when faced with a challenge provide opportunities for developing deeper understandings of ourselves. How did the character feel at first; then, how did they feel when they had faced the challenge? Can your children think of a time they themselves felt strong like one of these characters?
Students in Years 3 and 4 are learning to use their strengths and build strategies to cope with new challenges. Practising self-talk, optimistic thinking and seeking help are important skills to develop. Captions in cartoon strips are a fun way to try to encapsulate this. I have three P words I have used with students for many, many years: patience, perseverance and problem-solving. A mantra to draw on in any type of challenging situation. When asked what these words meant and might look like, one little girl said patience was ‘waiting happily’. Love it!
In the upper grades, with children in Years 5 and 6, developing identity is much more about reflecting on cultural settings, connections and the influencers in our lives. The country, the society, the religion, the culture, the family, the school, the friends and the peers surrounding us, impact on how we see ourselves, how our personalities develop, the choices we make and the way we behave. Increasing awareness and building techniques to cope and be the best versions of ourselves at any given time, becomes our challenge as parents and educators of the citizens of the future. Artistic endeavours can allow us time to look at ourselves and appreciate our uniqueness. With developing artistic abilities, portraiture can be a powerful representation of a person capturing the physical features while also trying to see the person inside.
Looking in the Mirror
I wonder, sometimes, of the benefits of this! I do like to put my best foot forward and I know I feel better if I put some thought into how I present myself, without going overboard. I am comfortable with the me I see in the mirror and hope I demonstrate this relaxed, positive acceptance to my children. They watch us like hawks and can be blunt in their comments! They can also be their own worst critics as they start to develop an awareness of how they look. How we see their physical appearance, our comments (sometimes just a throw-away) and reactions build on their sense of self and worth. This can be tricky territory especially with the pressures of social media.
I recently became aware of The Embrace Hub - ‘a central portal of engaging, evidence-based resources that help kids fuel, move, appreciate and be kind to their bodies’. This is a ‘young’ and new resource trying to make a difference, helping us to empower our kids to embrace their bodies. I like the wording in their Pledge - ‘My commitment to Myself’. The benefits, then, when we look in the mirror are to be able to say “What I look like is not as important as what I do and who I am being in this world”.
We can be proud to draw what we see of ourselves, with a smile on our face and a twinkle in our eyes!
How do we show what we feel?
One approach is to encourage children to look at pictures, noticing facial expressions and body language - frightened, brave; sad, happy; worried, confident. Then discussions can follow about how various emotions look (skim through some other picture books), and how the characters might feel. There may be some recent experiences where they observed strong emotions. Can they identify how they or others might have been feeling? Why do they think that? What could they see on their faces and in their body language?
Disguising our identity
Many children’s stories use fantasy and imagination depicting emotions and strategies that we all might like to grasp for at times. So we see fairies, witches, monsters and magic. Make-believe can be a way to escape reality and for many, these imaginary worlds provide great joy. Being able to fly, to disappear, to change identity… As adults we still find ways to transcend our daily lives using painting, theatre, songs, music, novels… How we imagine ourselves can be fun.
Painting pictures of ourselves
- With a focus on just our face, Artventure has specific lessons for kids on how to draw ‘Faces and Hair’, ‘Eyes’ and ‘Noses'. There’s also a lesson on ‘Sketching a Face’, ‘Face Profile’, ‘Self Portrait - continuous line’, 'Female Stylised Portrait' and another, ‘Watercolour Portrait’. When it is just the shoulders and head, we tend to refer to the artwork as portraiture. There are many different lessons involving drawing people’s faces - all can be adapted: ‘Curly Hair’ or ‘Girl with Glasses’. For older students who’d like to try a different approach, there’s ‘Picasso - Portrait’ and ‘Picasso - seated’.
- ‘Feelings Show’ and ‘Facial Expressions’ are Artventure lessons to help children add a ‘story’ to their drawings. Consider a recent situation that would engage their interest and encourage them to draw the participants, showing emotions on the faces. The ‘Characters’ lesson can help them create more diverse body images. Caricature involves exaggerating body parts. Talking about the pros and cons of this drawing technique could focus on how the artwork might make people feel.
There’s a lesson just called ‘Body’ demonstrating how to draw more than just a stick figure, and then the sporting series of lessons like ‘Runner’, ‘Cricket’ and ‘Skateboarder’.
- Imaginary characters can be a way to cope with larger-than-life experiences. Dressing-up is also a way to experiment with different personalities. These Artventure lessons could be a point for discussion and fun. Who wants to be a ‘Cowboy’, a ‘Fairy’, a ‘Princess’, a ‘Pirate’? Kids love to identify with ‘Superhero Me!’ or ‘Captain Starlight Girl’ and ‘Captain Starlight Boy’.
There are so many facets to our well-being and how we picture ourselves. Drawing and painting can be cathartic. Whether done as a release of emotions or to try to connect and share experiences, this form of expression can be a window on our souls allowing light to shine in. As parents and educators it may also give us valuable insights into the person perhaps hiding inside. Drawings can tell stories that words may not and observing signs that a child needs help with challenges in their lives can be difficult. Their artworks can also reveal pure, simple joy, fun and love that abound in their lives - and makes us all smile.
As a toddler, drawing a person - maybe mum or dad, ourselves or a sister - can be the beginning of our artistic journey. It’s part of learning to observe closely and name things around us. In those early days, these drawings are of the people closest to us and comprise our world. Developing skills in drawing faces and people provides an outlet for expression and sharing. Children struggling with some aspect of their world may not want or be able to talk about how they feel. But give them some crayons and ask them to draw. Ensuring children have the skills to communicate in this medium provides a strategy to help them connect.
When your children have a go with some of these Artventure lessons, always encourage them to make modifications so the artworks reflect them and who they are - their unique and special qualities. Some of my favourite kids’ drawings have been those that depict my grandkids with me - sometimes holding my hand. As they get older and more skilled they add more details to themselves and me reflecting what they see but also what they feel. Wonderful memories to treasure.
Teacher and Artventure Blogger