You are here

Guest blog: Feeling Fascinating - supporting a sense of self through drawing and talking by Barnet Early Years Alliance

Image (multiple): 
Monday, 1 July, 2019

by Kelly Brooker (Deputy Head) and Carrie Brown (Early Years Teacher) from Barnet Early Years Alliance, July 2019

Busy lives, bustling environments and dwindling budgets can make it difficult to give children the individual time and attention they need.  

For this reason, we decided to use our pupil premium funding to buy back time for our children – time to be listened to, time to talk, time to draw, time to be in the company of an adult who has no agenda other than to be interested and available. As a federation of three Nursery Schools, Barnet Early Years Alliance (BEYA) we combined our pupil premium funding to employ a skilled Early Years Teacher to work two days a week, across the three schools to carry out a ‘drawing and talking’ project.

The Drawing and Talking Project

The project is based on two main pedagogical principles:

  • Drawing is one of the most effective methods of communication for young children. 

Drawing can be an extremely powerful vehicle for children to communicate their ideas, re-visit, re-live and re-present significant events, feelings or memories. There is nothing more open-ended than a blank piece of paper, which means that when a child draws, the adult gains a valuable insight into their thinking. As is argued by Wright (2007) "Artistic communication is the literacy par excellence of the early years of child development."  (p38)

  • Children develop their sense of self from social interactions with other people

Sue Gerhardt (2004) reflects that ”It is positive looks that which are the most vital stimulus to the growth of the social, emotionally intelligent brain.” (p41). Similarly, O’Brien (2011) argues that “In much the same way as we each learn to define the meaning of things in our environment, we learn about who we are through observing the responses of others to us as objects." (p111).

Project aims

The aim of the project is to provide children with regular drawing and talking sessions where the emphasis is on facilitating a genuinely positive experience between the adult and the child. These sessions may be 1:1 or in a very small group. Each child has their own bound portfolio of A3 paper and completes just one page each session. The portfolio is kept safe at Nursery and a blank page is waiting for the child at the beginning of the session. The session lasts until the child has decided they have finished – for some children this is 5 minutes, for others it is 40 minutes. The sessions take place in a quiet area and the role of the adult is simply to respond with interest to what the child communicates. Being above ratio and with no other responsibilities, the teacher has no time limitations and distractions and can offer children their whole attention.

36 children have been involved in the project and communicate with the teacher in a variety of ways: some are highly verbal, initiating conversation, asking questions, attaching meaning to their marks as they draw, describing their ideas and experiences in detail. Others draw quietly or silently, absorbing the silence, carefully considering each new mark, perhaps choosing not to explain them at all. The same child may respond differently each week. 

Tuning in: respectful relationships

The adult is sensitively respectful of the child’s style and mood and mirrors their behaviour. If the child is quiet, so is the adult, if the child is animated, the adult responds with matched enthusiasm. This helps to create a safe space in which no expectations or pressure is placed on the child.

For Julie, drawing is a joyful and sensory experience. Each week she has approached the blank page with a broad smile and eagerness to begin. She has a range of drawing styles: sometimes she is silent, adding careful detail, her nose almost touching the paper; often she is wildly expressive, laughing loudly, using huge rotations and arcs, filling her page (sometimes going beyond its boundaries) and banging the pen down hard, looking for a reaction from others.  Julie is often experimental – e.g. attempting to draw without looking at her page. Julie has drawn for up to forty minutes in one session and is reluctant to finish her drawing.  Julie has shown particular interest in drawing "scary" creatures – skeletons, zombies, monsters, crocodiles, as well as re-living aspects of her favourite TV programme "PJ Masks" (Cat Boy is her favourite!).

Developing resilience and problem solving

There have been many unexpected and valuable benefits from the project. For example, a special feature of the sessions is that the child is asked to do one drawing only. Children are encouraged to accept their mistakes or amend them, rather than begin a new drawing. Some children have found this frustrating initially, but have become used to this different and positive approach. The sessions also develop children’s literacy skills, as they begin to realise the joy of drawing, turning to it more readily in their self-chosen play. It is also an ideal opportunity to model new language as part of natural conversations.

Feeling fascinating and promoting a positive self image

Charles Cooley’s looking glass theory highlights the impact our social interactions have on our self-image, "When we encounter others, we look to see how they are responding to us, similar to looking into a mirror to see how we look.” Using pupil premium funding to support a child’s self-image, alongside their communication and literacy skills has been one of our most successful and insightful projects.

We feel privileged here at BEYA to be able to support children’s positive sense of self, by reflecting back our interest, fascination and enjoyment of their company and communication. 

Further reading and references

Gerhardt, S (2004) Why Love Matters, How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. London: Routledge

O’Brien, J. (2011) The Production of Reality. Essays and Readings on Social Interaction. London: Sage

Wright, S. (2007) Young Children’s Meaning Making through Drawing and ‘Telling’. Australian Journal of Early Childhood Vol 32 no 4 pp37-49

Thank you BEYA

Many thanks to the leaders, Kelly and Carrie at BEYA for writing this blog and sharing great practice. You can find out more about their pedagogy and practice on their website, including photographic blogs from each nursery school:

Brookhill Nursery School

Hampden Way Nursery School

St Margaret's Nursery School

Content edited and uploaded by Cathy Gunning on 1.7.19.