This week we plan to give every child a chance to draw a self portrait. This has become an important tradition at Tulip Tree–a part of a larger study of identity and community. Many of the projects we work on in the classroom are directed by small groups of children who have shown an emerging interest in a topic or idea. However, occasionally we invite all of the children to partake in a particular piece of work because we believe it is valuable for the whole community to have a shared experience. So over the course of this week each child will work in a small group on drawing a picture of their face.
We got ready for this morning by putting together some new mirrors. I simply had to walk into the playroom with a couple tools in my hand and many children swarmed near by to ask if they could help. Once the mirrors were built, LDB and KC stuck around to play with mirrors’ light reflections.
Then at circle time we read a book titled, Two Eyes, A Nose and A Mouth. This book lovingly describes both the basic components of a face and all the differences in these features that make us special and distinguishable from each other.
Our first small group included HJ, CR, VH, OS, and AH. We spent some time exploring the mirrors and how our expressions change when we act out different feelings. We also slowly traced our faces with our finger tips noticing texture and shape. CR said his eyebrows “feel like candy.” And HJ noted that his eyelashes were both “soft and prickly.”
Then we got down to the business of drawing. Pen in hand, with a photo of themselves to reference and a mirror to look in, each child bent to the task of drawing their faces. There were several proud moments. “Look!” called OS pointing to her paper, in addition to drawing her own face she added a tiny portrait of her baby sister, “I have a baby. I draw my baby, this is tiny baby.” CR got up from the table and brought his drawing over to me so I could see it up close a couple different times, “Look at the mouth!” he said, he even drew three of his teeth in between the lips. AH described her process, “I looked at myself and I drew my ponytails . . . and I also drew my tongue. I made sharp teeth, see?” As VH continued to draw she told me, “This is my body, this is my head. My head’s getting bigger, see?”
This small group contained a wide developmental span in terms of fine motor skills and practice drawing from life (and on top of that, HJ was using his non-dominant hand to draw because his drawing hand is in a splint!). Despite this wide gap, each child was able to find meaning, challenge and joy is this investigation. It seems that young children are intrinsically motivated to make marks to represent themselves on paper and equally delighted to be given permission and time to stare into their own faces and photos.