Coloring with my daughter had begun to take on a familiar and annoying pattern: she would scribble for a second and then start barking orders at me.
“Mommy, draw a baby.”
“Mommy, PLEEEEEASE draw me a baby.”
Nothing seemed to improve her interest in drawing independently. I purchased a sweet little coloring table that was just her size; selected a variety of appealing crayons, colored pencils and chalk; and offered both coloring books and blank pages. Months later, I was the one who’d mastered drawing swaddled babies and scuba divers in a variety of media.
So you can imagine my surprise when, at her first preschool parent-teacher conference, I was presented with — what the what? — a stack of my child’s original artwork. The teacher said my daughter’s “mark making” was, in fact, excellent for her age. None of her pictures looked like babies or divers, but they appeared intentional, confident, and entirely her own.
Children behaving differently at school vs. home is a classic scenario, but I still had to know what kind of magic these teachers were working. Had I not purchased the proper Reggio-approved art supplies? Was “coloring” a loaded word? Were my stick figures so kick-ass that they intimidated my kid from even trying?
Not quite. Her teacher advised that, instead of immediately drawing the scuba diver my child asked for, asking, “What do you think that would look like?” So simple. So brilliant. It’s basically toddler Socratic method and it works. By asking this question, the process becomes collaborative, engaging your child in the drawing process without jamming a crayon into her chubby little hand.
Just a few months later, it’s rare that my daughter asks me to draw anything for her. (THANK GOD.) I’ve also successfully incorporated this method of questioning into other kinds of play. When scanning National Geographic and she asks the name of an unfamiliar animal, I respond with “What do you think it is?” When she wants to build with her Magformers or create shapes with her Kinetic Sand, my first line of defense is always, “How do you think we should do this?”
Astonishingly, she is often right, which tells me that her requests for help have more to do with confidence than a deficiency of skills. Resisting my natural inclination to just do things for her already is REALLY hard (especially when that means shoes end up on the wrong feet or tigers get colored purple). But witnessing her emerging sense of mastery and the pride that comes along with it keeps me asking questions, even if I occasionally sound crazy, because, well, don’t you want to know what a diver ballerina baby looks like?