Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Through a Child's Eyes

~drawing by my youngest daughter at age 5

I've been reading a book about infant brain development and I discovered a little fact that I'd never heard before: vision develops differently in boys and girls.

There are several different types of cells that send visual information from the retina to the brain. One is called parvocellular (or P cells) which link to the cones--they transmit information about color and shape of stationary objects. Another type is called magnocellular (or M cells) which link to the rods--they carry information about depth and motion.

Researchers have found that girls have more P cells and boys have more M cells. So, girls are born with a better skill in seeing shape and color (or "what something is"), whereas boys have an advantage in seeing motion, depth, and shades of gray (or "where something is"). I can easily see the evolutionary link here-- female gatherers need to recognize plants by shape and color, male hunters need to process the motion of prey to make a successful kill. But I digress…

The impact of this anatomy on preschool function is what I found so interesting. Girls tend to use many bright colors to draw things (like houses, flowers, people, or animals). While boys tend to use a few crayons, often black, gray, silver, and blue, to draw actions (car crashes, airplanes, etc.)

Just imagine the psychological impact on little Sam when his teacher (mostly females in preschool settings) inadvertently criticizes him for not using more color, or asks him to draw more "happy people." He'll get the message that he's not doing something right or somehow lacking.

And, his feeling of failure is more important than we realize. Other studies have demonstrated that children decide whether they like school by the end of their first year and that their decision remains stable throughout their lifetime!

Ack!-- I hope preschool and kindergarten teachers have heard about this! I don’t have any sons, so I haven't seen this play out. Have any of you?


Unknown said...

My younger son once drew an entire stick figure medieval battle a la Where's Waldo when he was about 7 or 8. Blood, gore, sophisticated weaponry, all there on the paper with not a whip of color. In fact, he did not start using color by choice until he was in 11th grade. Still, pen and ink is his favorite mode for artwork with occasional uses of subtle color.

My older son on the other hand, and I cant believe the synchronicity with your making this post because; I just pulled out of a box yesterday the sweetest painting from when he was about five. A very colorful woman shape complete with a bright red heart and bright red lips. I need to try to photograph it... Anyway, suffice it to say, velly intellesting...I wonder if James was forced to use all that color or if he chose it naturally.

Sarah Hina said...

Your daughter is a budding Matisse! I love that drawing. :) She seems to be using some action, too--look at those butterflies and birds dart and flutter!

I hadn't heard about this before, but it makes sense. My 4-year-old son does use a minimal amount of color, and his drawings are much more dynamic (read, scribbling). Whereas my daughter uses a rainbow palette, mostly to draw stationary things and people.

From what I've seen, most of my daughter's kindergarten classmates who are really involved in painting and drawing are girls. I wonder if it's due to the very admonishments you've written about here. That could be interpreted as a harsh rebuke on such tender sensitivities. Experimenting, and finding your own path, is so important at this age.

Wonderfully informative post again, Aine! I learn something new every time. :)

Karen said...

Aine - Your daughter draws beautifully!

I haven't read about the P and M cells, but I have noticed the color choice and subject disparities in young children's art. My five year old grandson draws quite complex knight & battlefield scenes, mostly in black and grey.

In our school system, pre-K and kindergarten children are encouraged to demonstrate artistic freedom. One area on which we focus is the fostering of creative, independent thinking. Fortunately, teachers these days have a good deal of exposure to quality research and professional development. Hopefully, their schools and systems will ensure that such artistic thought is fostered.

Sorry if I seem to be preaching (to the choir), but I'm passionate about early childhood education -- it's what I do!

Charles Gramlich said...

You know, I did not know this. That's very interesting. I'm going to have to do some research on this.

Linda S. Socha said...

I love this drawing. I hope you will save and frame it...It is really lovely and developmentally advanced. ( I have been a preschool consultant for many years and a counseling psychologist.)I can agree with what you say about the gender use of color in drawing....

SzélsőFa said...

What a great piece of art your daughter produced!
I have not heard of these types of cells, either, but I experienced with my kids that boys and girls draw differently.
My son lacked picturizing any human being. He simply did not need any people to be around in his drawings. Now he's past 12 and I am very happy to see (not the apperanace of humans, mind you...) that he's still drawing!
I welcome drawing and painting as a part of self-exploration and expression and stress reliefe...so I'm happy to see tham actually drawing...but I digress.
(You did not, actually.)

Now my son draws human if he needs soldiers.

My daughter on the other hand uses lots of people around in her drawings. Most of them are fairies and her own self, dressed as one or another imaginary character.

I did some studying into kids' drawing and it is amazing what a drawing can express.ű
Need I tell you this topic is one of my favourites?

SzélsőFa said...

(sorry for the typos)

Aine said...

Catvibe~ Synchronicity, indeed! That is an interesting picture for a 5 year old boy. I wonder if he has any memory of the circumstances when he drew it.

Sorry I've been scarce lately-- I've been cocooning on and off for the past 3 weeks (typical INFJ :P). I will get over to your place this week and catch up! I promise!

Sarah~ Us moms need to stick together to keep up on such information. I'm very happy to find and share anything that may be useful! :)

Something tells me there will be a QA review from the "Sarah patrol" the next time you visit kindergarten.... Make drawing safe for all boys again!

Karen~ Thank you! And, I didn't hear any preaching! I was hoping you'd chime in (along with the other educator-bloggers!) I do believe that most teachers (especially these days) are excellent at fostering creative freedom.

Charles~ Well now! I'm stoked that I've brought something new to you! The book I read cites Leonard Sax (2005) Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. Also, studies at Cambridge by Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD.

Linda~ Thank you! And welcome! I'll bet you've seen your share of kids with esteem issues. I would hate to think that something so hard-wired such as neuroanatomy has caused difficulties for young boys. This is why I love research scientists!

Szelsofa~ :) I love hearing your thoughts! (And no need to apologize for typos...I only speak one language and I make typos! :P )

I hear you about the importance of artistic expression. I get so angry when art gets pushed aside in school to make more time for reading and math. All functions of the brain need to be developed.

And yes, drawings reveal much more than we realize at first glance. I've used this in therapy with people who have suffered brain damage (from strokes or head trauma, etc). It is a useful way to evaluate what functions of the brain are damaged. For example, people who have hemiagnosia or neglect following a stroke will only draw half of a person (usually the right half).

I'd like to learn more about the meanings in children's art.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Very interesting, Aine. I have noticed that boys and girls choose different colors when creating art. The boys when choosing paper to work with usually choose dark blue, black, or brown, gray... where the girls all want purple, pink, or red..- When they draw with pencil, the girls go ahead and color in the pictures, while the boys have to be told to color the pictures. They also ask if they must color their drawings...."Can I just leave it in pencil?"

I am a big believer in letting the "artist" create their own project. So, if that is how they like it...I let them keep it that way. Not all boys do this, but enough of them do, to bare this analysis out.

Unknown said...

Aine, I meant to tell you how amazing the picture is that your daughter drew. Also just to comment that I think it must be cocooning season for NFs!

Aine said...

Kaye~ Thanks for sharing! I think it's fascinating to learn which gender differences are "true" because they are based on anatomical/physiological differences and which result from socialization.

Catvibe~ Thank you! Jason and I are so often amazed by what the girls do. And then they do something that proves why they need parents! :D

Thanks for the comfort. It helps to know I'm not alone! I'm still pushing away some of those sticky silk threads. They can be persistent. :P

JaneyV said...

Working with 4-5 year olds I see this all the time. I have one little boy who will only use the colour blue. At this stage the only directing tends to be about using the right grip to hold a pen or brush and perhaps a reminder about anatomy like "But where are Mummy's arms?"
The difficulty is that there is sometimes a conflict between curriculum objectives and artistic freedom. In an ideal world there should be plenty of opportunities for both but it is astonishing how creativity can be sidelined for box-ticking. That said it's more about observation of what the child is doing rather than interference. My main worry in the class I'm in is that there simply isn't the time for them to just paint or draw - literacy and numeracy have taken over the schedule leaving both art and music in the dust. How is a child supposed to develop is such an unbalanced environment?

I have two boys and one girl and there is no doubt that the boys are very depth and motion conscious in their drawing compared with my daughter's love of colour. My youngest son didn't even like books initially preferring the moving image of a movie. As he is learning to read he's developing a love of books but it used to break my heart that he'd be bored rigid with me reading to him but would concentrate and become totally involved in a Disney movie. With my eldest son - he could draw perspective and the same object from many angles without changing his own position from about the age of 4. Again he tended to draw armies of robots whereas my daughter drew butterflies and girls in flowery dresses.

I will be ever more conscious of how I speak to the children about their drawing in future. I don't think I've ever been critical but it's always good to be aware of the damage that can be cone by a careless comment.

BTW Dr Simon Baron-Cohen is Sascha Baron-Cohen's cousin and he's one of the leading psychologists in the country on autistic spectrum disorder. (Just a bit of trivia for ya!)

I hope that you emerge from your cocoon soon. I'm sticking a toe out now.

Aine said...

Janey~ :) Thanks for sharing! I figured that you might see this in action.

I saw that Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen is Sascha's cousin on Wikipedia! That's cool! Pretty impressive genes in that family (there was a list of other family members' achievements also.) I didn't realize that he seems to be such a household name, though. Yay for autism researchers-- I hope some breakthroughs are discovered soon!

JaneyV said...

I became of Dr Baron-Cohen when I did a Child Development module with the Open University a few years back. I just had a look at the Wiki entry for him. Honestly there's good genes and then there's showing off!!!!

I had to nip off to work this morning before I could read your most recent post. I'm off to do so now.

JaneyV said...

I became of ????
I really should read my comments before publishing. It should have read "I became aware of.....

Geraldine said...

Your daughter's painting shows real imagination and talent. I love to ponder children's artistic works. There is much to be learned by listening to children and seeing the world through their eyes and hands.

Hugs, G

PS: Headbonks to Meow Meow from the kids.

Vesper said...

How very interesting. I had no idea about this (although I seem to recall the name of those cells from my high school anatomy class) and I don't know any little boys to check their drawings.

Your daughter's drawing is very nice! :-)