Preschool Self-Portraits

In the Copper Room, children have been working on self-portraits. After completing our family portraits from last week, we felt the next step was to focus the children’s attention on what makes them, THEM. Self portraiture is an important and typical practice in a Reggio-inspired school. Having the children focus on themselves, what makes them unique physically, allows them to eventually identify what makes them unique in their interests, traditions and ways of life. Honoring and celebrating each other’s uniqueness opens the door for so many learning opportunities and rich relationships.

When creating our portraits, our focus is not on how realistic or how “good” the drawings look. We are focused on the process of observation, drawing what they see in the mirror versus what they “see in their brain” or their ideas of a face. Our intention is for the children to take a detailed look at themselves and notice the features of the face, separating the parts from a whole. This type of observational drawing serves not only as a fine-motor building skill, but also as a precursor to pre-literacy skill development.

Before giving the children any mark  utensils, we spent a good amount of time just observing our faces. We asked the children, what do you notice?

  • Student: I see my eyes, and my nose and my openings. [nostrils]
  • Student: I see my skin!
  • Student: I have the very little freckles, right here. [points to freckles on his cheek]
  • Student: I can’t see my mouth, but I know it’s there under my mask.
  • Student: You notice YOU!

Then came the time to give the children the mark making tool. For this portrait, we decided to start simple with sharpies and white paper. The sharpie allows children to make bold, saturated lines which is often very satisfying to children no matter what their hand grip strength. We explain that the sharpie is just for lines though, no coloring-as we will be adding color later. Additionally, what we have noticed before is that if we ask children to focus on only the lines, they are able to stay focused on the details of their faces, versus coloring it in all black. 

Again, the objective of the self portrait is not to have a picture of the child’s face in the end but to gain insight into the child’s self image and find some understanding of their “me-ness” (coined by Loris Malaguzzi). 

With children’s permission, we shared some of the portraits during our afternoon meeting. The children described their process to the class as they pointed to the different parts of their drawing.

One student points out that she drew her eyebrows and a surprised face.

We decided to revisit the self portraits with the children on a different day so we could practice the idea of “critiquing” our work. We believe it is important to allow children to feel proud of their work and ideas, but also to be okay with identifying areas they want to improve or do differently. 

We passed back the children’s portraits and asked: What is your favorite part of your drawing?

  • Student: I like how I did my eyes.
  • Student: I like how I did my noise. I drew this long line because I saw it here [points to the bridge of her nose].
  • Student: I really like how I made my curls go down on this side and this side.

Then we asked them to trade with a partner and tell their partners what their favorite part was of their partners drawings. We noticed the pride immediately building in the children as they heard what their peers liked in their drawings. Often, it was different than what they themselves liked about their portrait. Eventually, we will ask partners what they think we should change about our work, but it is important to build trust with one before this step. 

After complementing, we asked the children: What is something you would do differently to your drawing when you draw it again. We noticed it was quite easy for the children to answer this and often it was to add parts of their features that perhaps they forgot the first time around or maybe didn’t notice. 

Our next step in the process may be to add color to our drawings, but for now we will keep our simple line drawings. They will be displayed above the children’s cubbies so they are able to revisit them daily.

Reflection by Copper Room Co-Teachers,Mickey Willis, Soham Wilkerson and Eliza Tyksinski

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