Drawing Boxes Around Kids

A typical Bear picture

The Bear has a signature style when it comes to her artwork. She generally divides the page into even segments and works within each one. Her art is usually made up of boxes, dots, and coloured lines. We rarely see stick figures. There are no pictures of home or animals. We’ve never questioned what she has painted or drawn.

So, I was a little surprised when she came home the other day from playschool with a painting. It was typical of the Bear with its lines and boxes and symmetrical style. However, when she showed it to me she described it as an ‘apartment building.’ As soon as she said this, I knew she had been prompted.

As adults, I think it is interesting that we often expect a child’s piece of art to be something. We look for obvious figurative representation and ignore the possibility of sheer experimentation of colour, lines, tools, medium, etc. We tend to err on the side of realism rather than abstract. We erroneously believe that a four-year-old couldn’t possibly have an abstract design as a planned outcome.

Creativity happens when we push through limits, when we think outside the box. As adults, we can identify creativity because we can also identify limits. But I believe that children don’t yet fully understand these boundaries. Creativity oozes out of them because they are still learning where limits exist. They just want to paint a picture; they don’t care or understand the expectation that it should be something.

I don’t want the bear to practice painting the perfect apartment building. I want her to simply enjoy the lines and dots and the surprise at the shapes she can create.

I’d like to think that our parenting approach is devoid of boxes. But I know that’s not true. Maybe this is just the beginning of her growing up, when she begins to really notice the world’s expectations. And I find myself feeling a bit of resentment, a little disappointment, and some Peter Pan sentiments. I hope that we can give her the tools to accept some limits, but challenge others. And always, always know that it is okay to question any boxes around her.

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2 Responses to “Drawing Boxes Around Kids”


  1. 1 Mama Tortoise May 12, 2010 at 5:38 am

    You’re so right, Michelle! “Tell me about it…” is a much better way to initiate discussion.

  2. 2 Michelle May 10, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve always been a fan of the “tell me about your picture” approach, rather than “what is it?” Oh, the stories they tell!


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