The use of templates, tracing, and filling in with crayon or pencil outlines prepared by adults are the types of activities most despised and deplored by experts on ‘Children’s Art’. From the point of view of creativity the experts are quite right. The fact that so many of the bought templates and pre-drawn shapes are of such poor quality both in design, material and presentation adds yet more strength to their argument. In addition these materials are often abused rather than used – they are presented too often for too long and children are pressured into doing them for no other reason than that they are a cheap, clean, convenient way of keeping children ‘occupied’.
Having accepted all that there still remains the point that many children learn a great deal through their fingers – some learn more about shape and size through hand movements than their eyes can tell them – and some positively need the mechanical aid of a prepared outline to help them use drawing materials. Viewed in this light it becomes clear that there is a useful place for these activities. The truly creative child will probably eschew them altogether in the free-choice situation which should exist either in the nursery group or at home. The less confidently creative child may use them for a while. If children come to depend on them in spite of varied opportunities and a rich stimulating environment then either the adult is at fault or perhaps these particular children are never going to be freely creative. The filling in of outline shapes appeals to virtually all children at some stage. Even mothers who have positive views against this find their children pressurizing them to buy cheap ‘drawing books’ from the local paper shop. In the middle years children seem to enjoy the undemanding yet disciplined situation where pure mechanical movement is no effort. For younger children with less control it may be quite hard work.
Whatever the pros and cons of using these materials, if they areused they should be of good quality and it should be the child’s decision whether or not he uses them and how long he stays. A good start for a collection of templates, outlines to trace or shapes to fill in would be the simple geometric shapes, followed by patterns which encourage controlled regular movements in every direction. If the next stage is limited to shapes a child has found for himself, then at least the element of personal choice and taste is preserved. Even good representational shapes are better left to the over-sevens who are often at the stage of not being quite satisfied with what they can produce for themselves.