PsychologiCALL

On children's creative ideas, with Sarah Rose

April 09, 2021 SalvesenResearch Season 2 Episode 10
PsychologiCALL
On children's creative ideas, with Sarah Rose
Show Notes Transcript

Dr Sarah Rose is a developmental psychologist and Course Leader for the Psychology and Child Development Undergraduate degree course at Staffordshire University. She specialises in children's creative development, and external influences on this such as screen time. In this podcasts she chats to Sue about a piece of research looking at where children get their ideas of what to draw.

You can find out more about Sarah's work by following her on twitter.

The paper discussed in this episode is:
Rose, S. E. & Jolley, R. P. (2020). Children’s creative intentions: where do the ideas for their drawings come from. Journal of Creative Behaviour, 54,  712-724 

Many thanks to Naomi Meiksin for editing the transcript for this episode. 

Intro:

Oh, it is recording. I see the little figure. Okay, great . I will do my little spiel and then I'll introduce you. Nice, okay. Here I go.

Sue:

Hi everyone. I'm Sue from the Salvesen Mindroom Research Center at the University of Edinburgh and I'm recording an episode of PsychologiCALL, which is our little podcast where I phone various developmental psychologists to have a chat with them about their recent work. We're just trying to , um, provide some , um, engagement opportunities for students who are maybe working from home at the moment during the COVID-19 lockdown and make a little contribution to the sort of broader conversations about children's wellbeing and development and learning through research evidence. Today's PsychologiCALL is with Sarah Rose, from the University of Staffordshire, and she's going to be talking to me about a paper , um , called "Children's creative intentions: where do the ideas for their drawings come from?", which is a really interesting question. So hello, Sarah . Thank you so much for joining me.

Sarah:

Good afternoon there, Sue.

Sue:

Um , uh , so Sarah , tell me, what did you discover about where children's idea for their drawings come from?

Sarah:

Oh, well, what we found is that children's ideas for their drawings come from lots of different things and lots of different places. And , um, we found that lots of children obviously talk about things that they've seen or places that they've been as being sources of ideas for their drawings. Um, but children do also talk about their feelings and their emotions and imaginative ideas that they have. And it's really interesting actually, because quite often in their drawings, they talk about the way how these things combine, and they might've started drawing something that they'd experienced, but then they added an imaginary element into it. I remember one little girl who was telling me about drawing her pet rabbit, but then she added in that he was a wild rabbit now and in a forest full of carrots. Sounded wonderful.

Sue:

Lovely. So you've been studying kind of children's creative development for a while, right? So why don't you tell me a bit about , um, what led you to this kind of specific question of , of where children get their creative ideas from?

Sarah:

Well, I sort of started my career really looking at the development of children's drawing abilities and things that influence and impact the development of children's drawings. And I mean, there's been kind of over a hundred years of research now into the development of children's drawings. And, you know, we, we know that many children draw tadpole-like figures to represent humans when they're toddlers - um, those characteristic kind of Mr. Men, uh , Little Miss pictures where the body and the head are one shape. And, you know, there's been lots of interesting kind of that developmental sequence, how children develop their drawing skills and abilities. There's also been lots of interest of course, into what children's drawings might mean, you know, are they potentially a window into the child's mind? That type of thing. And I , I was really interested in this area and I did some research looking at particular children who had different schooling experiences and , um , the impact that those schooling experiences might have on, on their drawing ability. So , um, you know, there's already been research done looking at drawings of children from China compared to drawings of children from Western countries, for example. Um, but it was difficult in those studies to really kind of unpick whether it was cultural differences that we were seeing in the drawings, or was it with, you know , the way that they'd been taught that was maybe , um, influencing the drawings. And one of the things that sort of frustrated me about this area of research, I suppose, is that people didn't seem to talk to the children very much. And a drawing is just part of the process; they're marks on the page, they're just a part of the process. And I suppose, you know, collecting data for some of those studies that I'd been involved with previously, I'd been really captivated by, you know , the four year old child who would tell me this marvellous thing that they were drawing. And then I take the drawing away with me to analyse and the drawing was just squiggles. Um , and you know , it wasn't very representational or it was very, a very poor representation of this amazing story , um , they told me. So, yes , um, rather roundabout way of explaining why I was really interested to look at, you know, well, what, what comes almost before the drawing, before the pen touches the paper, what, where do their ideas come from? And , um, as part of this research, I was also collecting data from children who attended two different types of schools. So they were all children , um , in Britain. Um, but some of them attended our mainstream schools, teaching national curriculum, and some of them , um , attended Steiner Waldorf schools, which teach a curriculum that's much more sort of focused on expressive arts and creativity. And so the sort of subsidiary research questions in this paper was not just, you know, where do they get their ideas from, but what kind of is the educational influence, is there an education influence , you know, these children that are growing up in these similar cultures, do they have the same or different ideas of what to draw really.

Sue:

This is so fascinating. And I love that that observation about, you know, the children telling you that they're drawing this absolutely wonderful thing, but not really being apparent on the page. I remember that, many times as a parent, my children bringing me this thing and that struggle as a parent just wanting to say, "Oh, what a wonderful picture of something", but you're sort of forced to say "what is it, darling?". You've got no idea.

Sarah:

Absolutely, absolutely. I became a parent after doing that research. But yeah, when I think of my experiences now with a parent of two young children, I do just think that I don't know - developmental researchers who've been interested in children's drawings we' forgot about the child sometimes and just looked at the drawing .

Sue:

Yeah, absolutely. So tell me more about how you collected those data, then. How did you capture the kind of child creative process?

Sarah:

So it was lots of fun, really. I got to visit lots of different schools , um , all over the country, actually, because we were looking at children from these two different school types and it required a little bit of eh traipsing around the great British Isles . Um , and I've visited schools and children have volunteered and parents have given consent and all that sort of thing for their child to take part in the research. And , um, I collected data with each child individually and the children were between the ages of 6 and 16, so a really broad age range.

Sue:

Um, and basically I sat there and I asked the child to draw a picture. Um , I told them obviously a little bit about the research, etc, but I, you know, really emphasized that they could draw a picture of whatever they wanted. Um, I'd like it to be, you know , one of their good drawings , um, but I'd like it to be a picture of whatever they wanted it to be. And as the child sort of, you know, got ready to, to begin to draw, we gave them a selection of pencils, etc. I'd say , "ooh, y'know, what, what are you thinking about drawing?" and we'd have a little bit of a chat about what they were thinking about drawing as they started to draw. And then while they were actually drawing, I just got to really sit there and observe and record anything they did say. Um , but I didn't really want to interfere with the drawing because it's very easy to, you know, influence a child even just by the sort of nonverbal feedback that you might give them about what they're drawing, etc. So I let the child draw and then once the child has completed their drawing , um , we basically had another nice little conversation about, you know, what , what they'd drawn , um , what was in the picture , um, etc. So the , the data that was collected, I did have the children's drawings, but they weren't actually analysed as part of this particular project. Um , it was the interview transcripts that were analysed. And it was a very relaxed or semi-structured , um, informal interview, which was really just focused around , um, them telling me about their ideas of what they were going to draw. And then them telling me about what, what they had drawn. And it was interesting how, you know, they have ideas had often developed and changed through the process of creating the drawing. Anyway, children would say to me, "well, I was going to draw this, but then it kind of looked a bit more like this", or "I was going to draw this and then it turned , turned into this". Um, so it was really nice to have been able to kind of capture that before and that after version of , uh , of events of what had inspired them for their drawings. And so I imagine that was a very kind of rich and quite large dataset, right? Um, you know, all those kind of transcripts presumably. So how did you go about, you know, sort of , um, processing and analysing that information?

Sarah:

You know, you're right, it was a wonderfully rich data set and, being children, some of them went off on, on wonderful tangents, that weren't always quite so relevant to our research question, but yeah , we had a lot of written transcripts to go through. And we analysed them in, in two different ways actually. Our initial approach , um , was we carried out qualitative thematic analysis and we didn't really want to take too much of an interpretive approach when we were doing that, we were really just looking at, you know, what the child had said about what, what they'd drawn and where that idea had come from. Um, and after lots of scribbling in the margins and highlighting and underlining what we were trying to look for were common themes, things that, you know, lots of children kind of , um, talked about. And with that goal, really, of trying to summarize this very large body of , of words that had been collected in the transcripts into something that we could kind of just share with others in a short, succinct , um , fashion about, you know, where children had , had got their ideas for their drawings from. Um , so that was one approach that we used: thematic analysis. Um, but we also had this sort of subsidiary research question , um , of wanting to compare the ideas of , of children from two different schools. And the thematic analysis was great and let us really , um, address the data with a very open mind so that those themes that we identified really came from the data rather than any kind of preexisting idea we might have. Um, but, but what those themes then enabled us to do is we actually then , um , narrowed those down further to create some kind of categories so we could basically do a quantitative content analysis. So then we could just go through each transcript and ignore some of the lovely richness of the dialogue and just say, okay, within this transcript, is there evidence that the child drew , uh , things that , that were representational, that they'd seen , or things that were in their memory? Is there evidence that they drew things from imagination and , and is there evidence whether they drew things based on expression of feeling and emotion? And so we could then , um, you know , not , I don't really want to use the word "score", it's not quite the appropriate word to use, but you know, assigned numbers basically on terms of how many children had mentioned these different things. And then we could then look at, you know, which school they went to and do that comparison.

Sue:

So, so this is a big question then, did you find a difference between those, those two types of schools? Were those children , um, generating their creative ideas from different sources or in different ways?

Sarah:

We, most didn't find as much difference as we'd initially anticipated. So we found that there was no difference in the frequency and how often , um , they got ideas from things that they'd seen or things that they'd remembered - those were realistic drawings. Um, there was also no difference in terms of the number of drawings where they'd had imaginative ideas. The, the area where we did find a difference though, was about expression of feeling and emotion. That the pupils attended, the Steiner schools, so Steiner Waldorf schools, were significantly more likely to talk about those things in their interviews. Um, and we found that quite interesting. Y'know, it was kind of a finding that we had anticipated. Um, but, I don't know , there's part of me that's curious about whether they just were more comfortable or confident talking about feelings and emotions. Whether they were more used to their teachers asking them about feelings and emotions. And therefore, you know , got to bear in mind that this data was collected in that school setting, that school context. So although I wasn't a teacher, they might've been speaking to me in a way that they thought they should speak to a teacher or something. And, you know, when you have that little niggle in your mind about the interpretations you're making from your data. So I'm always a little careful when I talk about this research to say that those children talked about those ideas significantly more. Um, you know, I didn't have a direct question. I didn't say "if there, is there anything in your drawing that represents a feeling or emotion..." and there's part of me that wonders whether maybe, maybe the difference is about the way they talk about it rather than actually where the ideas came from, that maybe some of the national curriculum school pupils did have other ideas, but just didn't mention that they'd coloured that bit in blue because that's how they were feeling or whatever, whereas those comments definitely were there more frequently. Um, so yeah, there's some evidence that it certainly makes a difference to what children say about their drawings and their ideas for the drawing.

Sue:

Yeah, that's so interesting, isn't it? So, so I suppose you might hypothesize from that that if you'd seen those same children at home, perhaps there wouldn't have been that difference. You know, in a setting where perhaps, you know, all children are encouraged to talk about feelings, you know, that might've kind of eliminated the, the difference.

Sarah:

I mean, maybe, Sue. Or maybe, you know, because it's always got like a kind of confounding variable as well, that , um , parents choose to send their child to a Steiner school or to a national curriculum school. So there is that maybe possibility that the parents might also talk to their children differently. Um, I , I don't know. I suppose [inaudible] maybe the, the only way round it could be to ask a more direct question about, you know, almost to ask the child: "in your drawing, is there ideas that you've got from your imagination? Is there ideas?" but then you struggle with that issue of, you're almost asking them very leading questions, aren't you? So I think, you know , it's one of those areas that it's probably gonna be quite difficult , um , to really know what the cause of that finding is. Um, but that just makes it all the more interesting, doesn't it ?

Sue:

Absolutely. Um, so I'm thinking about what we can sort of learn from this research and , and one of the things I'm wondering about based on that sort of observation about the sort of explicit reference to kind of feelings and emotions, when, when creating drawings. You know, what, what are your thoughts about the sort of therapeutic value of drawing or other forms of creative expression? You know, I mean, setting aside, you know, sort of randomised control trials as music therapy or whatever, you know, do you, do you feel that more informal creativity has a kind of important role for emotional growth or something?

Sarah:

This is a really good question, isn't it? And it's so timely at the moment, especially with children, having recently, y'know, with COVID, returned to classrooms, et cetera. And I think that that opportunity to express themselves through creativity is really important. And I think what we have to recognise is that different children will want to express their feelings and emotions in different ways. And that I think , um , the creative outlets for doing that are absolutely vital, they should be part of what we're offering. But they shouldn't be the only thing that, that we're offering. But, you know, there's something very easy to offer. And there's , um , talking to , to people who who've working in psychology practitioners in roles , or people just working in direct contact with children - you know, using drawings as kind of an informal relaxation opening to a conversation task. Um, there's lots of evidence that children enjoy drawing. Children generally find drawing relaxing. Um, I've carried out some sort of survey research with children and children talk about enjoying art at school, finding art at school relaxing, that it's a lesson where they can be themselves. Um, so there are lots of positives about it. And I think, you know, obviously we need a rich and balanced curriculum for children and within that, we need to make sure that the arts aren't getting squeezed out and that the arts do include that opportunity for expression and imagination and creativity. That it isn't , um, you know, the national curriculum, for example, y'know, tries to do all those things, but there is quite a lot of focus - and when you talk to the teachers delivering the national curriculum, particularly in primary schools , um, traditionally there has been quite a bit focus on drawing things, representation, getting drawings looking accurate. And that's only part of drawing, you know, clearly when we talk to children about their drawings, they really are drawing on imagination and expression as well.

Sue:

Yeah, I think that's such a good observation. I'm so glad you , you said that because , um, it's my, I mean, going back to my anecdotal mum stories, but there's a , there's an afterschool art club that has started up near us though it's currently on hold because of the lockdown, of course. But um , I was asking my daughter if she would like to go and she said, "well, only if they're not going to tell me what to draw."

Sarah:

Aw, lovely. Yeah. Yeah.

Sue:

And I thought , yes, it's so true. You know, it's really important that we have space for that kind of , um , self-expression, isn't it? And it's not always, you know , questing towards a sort of skill, you know. Which is, you know, just a bit of it but not the whole thing.

Sarah:

No, that's it . And it was interesting actually collecting this data because I was asking children in a school setting to draw me a picture of anything they wanted. And one of the themes that actually came out of our analysis was to do with uncertainty and not being sure because they , they, they weren't really sure what they wanted to draw. They didn't know, or they they'd say things like, well, "I'll start with some doodling" because almost that , I suppose this was particularly among the older children. You know, we had children taking part up to the age of 16. And I think that they, many of them were so used in that school environment of being told what to draw. Actually it was a little bit, "Ooh, Oh, this is a bit unusual, I'm not quite sure how to respond to this person that told me I can draw anything." And yet, you know, we know that young children absolutely - you know, you give them a pen and a paper and you can't stop them drawing! They just start and they want to continue. So it's interesting, isn't it? Um , you know, as somebody interested in, you know, the development of children's drawings as well. You know, there's that period in childhood where children draw prolifically and then something happens and they , and they don't draw as much. And is it that they don't, they don't need drawing ? Is it that maybe they've developed other ways of communicating, other pastimes, other activities or is it that actually, maybe drawing would still be beneficial to them, but it's just been squeezed out by other [inaudible]? Um, I don't, I definitely can't answer that question, but I , it's one that I mull on sometimes.

Sue:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That is fascinating. Um , well, Sarah , before we draw to a close , um, I think there are probably some psychology students and PhD students and early career researchers who might be listening. So I wanted to ask if you had any , um, thoughts or life experience to impart to them based on , um, based on your career so far?

Sarah:

Oh, that's such an interesting question, Sue. I never imagined that I would be an academic. I can remember growing up and the only thing I was very clear about was I didn't want to be a teacher. Um, I don't know whether being an academic, whether I fulfilled that or not quite . [laughs] Um , but I never, I didn't really plan to do a PhD. And I got here really by a series of coincidences and by not having to fix a plan. You know, I had an idea about things I didn't want to do, but I really, I suppose I sort of tried to make the most of opportunities and I found myself in a job that I absolutely love, but I'd never, you know, it was never part of the plan. Um , and I think, you know, I think having tutorials with my undergraduate students and I'm asking them, y'know, "what are your plans for when you graduate?" And sometimes it's okay to not have a plan or to have a very open plan where we look for opportunities and we, we see where paths lead us. Um, and you know, my, my PhD took me just over seven years. I was working alongside, sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time, sometimes both full-time and part-time , um, a child found my way into my life at that point as well. I had a baby, I got married. Um , you know, and I think it's also that feeling that, you know, when, when you're doing a PhD, sometimes it's very easy to compare yourself to others and the progress that they might be making. And you maybe that you feel you are or aren't making, and try not to do that, try and think about it as a journey that, hopefully, you know, you enjoy. Courses, you know , those bits when you might be up doing data analysis late at night, and you're thinking, "oh, I don't really want to be here now" or you're folding lots and lots and lots of letters to send to people, mind you, maybe COVID, we're relying more on email, aren't we now? But I can remember, you know, collecting data in schools and you need to prepare the consent information and letters to go out and the school tells you there's seven hundred and something children and your heart sinks slightly. [laughs] You know, those are all part of it, but yeah. Yeah . Keep, keep going, keep, keep your options open and , and don't worry if you haven't got a fixed plan.

Sue:

Well, that's an absolutely lovely and very reassuring thing for people to hear, especially right now, I'm sure, when it's pretty impossible to plan for the future because we're not quite sure what it's going to look like.

Sarah:

Yeah. I hadn't thought about that connection there, Sue, but absolutely at the moment, it's the most unpredictable time, isn't it. So, yeah, be kind to yourself and, you know , keep , keep options open and don't worry. I, you know , I think plans are just there to be changed really.

Sue:

Well, thank you so much, Sarah, for your time and for your wisdom, and for talking to me about that really fascinating piece of research, just love it. Anyone who is listening, you will be able to find out more about Sarah's work by following the links in the podcast description in your podcast app or on our Buzzsprout feed. And it just remains for me to say, thank you so much and goodbye to Sarah!

Sarah:

Oh, thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Sue:

Thank you. Bye!

Sarah:

Thanks, Sue, bye!

OutroSpeaker 1:

Okay. We did it! I thought that went quite smoothly.