Chalk, Crayons, Felt Pens

Many nursery groups use these and some children enjoy them. Unfortunately it is tempting to over-use them, because it is a nice quiet occupation which requires little preparation and makes no mess. Provided there are plenty of other activities to choose from, so that we can be sure that a child really wants to use these drawing implements, and there is no persuasion to finish it or ‘ Why not use all the colours ?’ or even You haven’t finished yet because it isn’t time to stop’, then this is acceptable.

Short fat chalks are best for young children and may be used on a blackboard or on black or dark-coloured sugar paper. If the chalks are damped in a milk and water mixture for a minute or two before use much more colour can be applied and it is possible to mix colours. The milk tends to ‘fix’ the chalk so that it is not powdery as the drawing dries. Inevitably the chalk breaks and the children start to use the length rather than the point of the pieces and this gives broad sweeps of colour.

Wax crayons on the whole are not popular with young children. They seem to have difficulty pressing hard enough to get as much colour on the paper as they would like. If the crayon is soft and therefore easier to press on it is also more likely to break or bend. The rougher the paper provided the better. A large sheet can be too much to fill for some children but others, of course, like a large sheet so that they can use big movements and make large strokes.

Felt pens and felt markers are easier to use. The good-quality, wide-tipped ones are a more economical buy as they last much longer than the cheap ones. Commonsense is needed here when deciding what size of paper to offer. Perhaps children could be given a choice of three different sizes. Many of these covers have a pocket to take price lists or other information and a piece of plain white or off-white paper slipped inside it makes a good background for coloured felt pens. The marks come off the plastic surface quickly with a damp cloth and the wipe off-start again aspect often encourages children to do more drawing than they would otherwise do.

There are very good reasons for providing activities in which it may appear that the materials limit the child, as opposed to the apparent freedom offered by brush, paint and paper. In any group of people, men, women, older children or young children there seems to be a similar amount of enthusiasm shown for ‘pure’ painting. About 20 per cent of any true cross-sectional group will happily use painting materials with enjoyment and show satisfaction in what they achieve. The middle 60 per cent will be slower to start, are less sure of themselves, will need to look at what other people are doing, respond to encouragement and interest shown by others and, in varying degrees, admit to some pleasure in the ‘doing’ rather than the result. The remainder need a great deal of persuasion to start at all, would really rather stop than carry on and appear to gain no pleasure from the activity or the end result. Adults in this last category will tell you they have never been any good at painting, never will be and would prefer to do something else please. Their lack of ability, interest and confidence with this medium has no doubt been reinforced over a number of years, particularly at school. In an adult situation it does not matter in the slightest. There are plenty of other ways in which they can express themselves, find relaxation or achieve some satisfying, creative objective. All this is equally true of the under-five non-painters, although it is too sweeping to blame early ‘failure’ as the only reason for their lack of interest.

In the case of young children, however, we do wish them to notice and experiment with shape, colour, texture and with different tools, and they need as many means of expression for their ideas and emotions as possible especially if they are not very articulate. This group need foolproof, fail-safe activities which give them some framework within which to work so that they can enjoy using paint or other colour sources without their lack of original ideas being a bar to some degree of success. This leads to the need for creative activities involving pattern or materials which are intrinsically interesting or beautiful and do at least half the work for the child, so that he can produce something that looks nice and can enjoy doing it. Many of the ‘ I’d really rather not do art’ adults respond to these activities too. Apart from their value for less confident individuals, activities such as collage, junk play, pattern making of various kinds and rubbings are a good source of learning opportunities for every child.