Some children loved doing self portraits. Others did not. In fact, some of those children would rush through the activity altogether. I realized this happened for a variety of reasons. Some children did not particularly enjoy coloring in general or struggled with representational drawing or fine motor skills, making the activity challenging. Some children didn't feel connected to the activity of drawing themselves and most did not feel particularly encouraged by the idea of a keepsake they would not take home until the end of the school year. For young children who live very much in the moment, the idea of "looking back on your work and how you've grown" in seven months just isn't that compelling! Nonetheless, I never abandoned the project. Creating self portraits in the early years targets and tracks a variety of developmental skills. Fine motor strength comes into play along with spacial awareness as children develop from the scribble stage to drawing lines, squiggles, simple shapes, representational shapes and eventually body parts and bodies. Early on, the activity may be just some scribbles on a page. Children develop into their ability to recognize that a body has parts and later, to where to those parts are placed proportionally and how they can utilize art to represent their own bodies on paper. So rather than abandon ship with the activity, I got creative. I continue to toy and tinker with self portrait art as I incorporate it into our home routine. If you're looking to integrate a long term self portrait study into your own classroom or home, here are a few of my own tried and true tips of the trade:
- Format Matters: When doing a long term project or study, I prefer to use a medium that lends itself to long term use. Using paper or printouts on their own is fine and this can be bound down the line. Nonetheless, using a notebook, blank book, journal or even a homemade journal can be a great way to provide a permanent format for your long term project.
- I introduce journals to my own children as soon as they are able to use a crayon or marker, glue, stickers, etc. This is certainly a young stage in journaling and using journals with a toddler will look different than using them with a preschooler/pre-writer and even different than an early writer/independent writer. Journals in my home and classrooms are always accessible and available to children to use as they like and at certain times, I provide a prompt or guided activity.
- Display completed portraits done on individual paper in a frame if you do happen to go with a loose-leaf version. You can even set it alongside a current photo and swap them both out when you add your next installment.
- Provide Mirrors: Drawing from memory is not only challenging, it is a very abstract concept for young artists. For my students who did not connect to the idea of drawing a self-portrait, some particularly struggled with the concept of drawing themselves as they currently appear. I would provide verbal prompts to encourage them to think about what they are wearing, what colors they have on their clothes and body parts, what shapes and where things are spatially. Nonetheless, a real game changer happened on the morning I first set out a class set of mirrors with our activity. All of a sudden, my most reluctant artists were enthralled! What child doesn't love to look at himself in a mirror and make silly faces? And I even allowed for silly face self portraits! Individual mirrors can be purchased quite inexpensively even at the Dollar Tree. As with anything fragile, be careful to support children in safe handling.
- Make it Special: For children who do not feel connected to long term projects (and most do not--it's hard to wait!), adding some unique elements to your setting can give it more meaning. Perhaps you reserve a special set of crayons or markers just for self portraits. Perhaps you coincide the activity with the new month or an upcoming holiday/milestone. You can even add a holiday/birthday theme to your self portraits if you wish.
- Templates are a great option for children who may be overwhelmed by a blank page. A simple Pinterest or clip art search will provide you a variety of printable options for head or full body templates.
- Size, Dimension and Medium can also change up your game a bit. Consider working in a smaller format (think blank index card or paper doll cut from card stock). Or perhaps think BIG and trace a full body onto butcher or craft paper. For children who are not as drawn to drawing in two dimensional form, consider abandoning paper and crayon altogether. Use cardboard, fabric, clay, or sew a mini-me doll. Work in collage, with paint, tape, stickers, foam, felt, etc. Draw or paint self portraits onto wood blocks or wooden peg people to use in your block area or with a dollhouse. One of our favorite methods so far has been using dry erase markers directly on mirrors to draw temporary self portraits.
- Join 'em! Why not join your students or children in the activity as well and create your own self portrait? You can even partner up and take a turn drawing each other!
Whether they are smitten with the idea of self portraits or slower to warm up to the activity, children love to look back at their artwork from "way back when..." We will certainly be continuing our creative self portraits at home and until then...