During the first weeks of school many preschool and kindergarten teachers have their students draw self-portraits as a way of getting to know children’s fine motor skills and developmental age in drawing, as well as teach vocabulary for parts of the body and sense structures. (See the lovely gallery of self portraits from Clipston Primary School in the UK.) Copies of the beginning-of-the-year self-portraits are kept in a portfolio of student work. When students make final self-portraits for the year, they can be used to see the child’s growth in abilities in fine motor skills and in using symbols to convey meaning, such as hearts drawn around a family group.
Drawing a self-portrait is just one of many activities that can be part of an investigation into the human body. Children may have stories to tell about visits to the doctor, the birth of siblings, learning to use the toilet, losing a tooth, and developing physical abilities such as jumping or riding a bicycle. The Illinois Projects in Practice article, “Helping Children Sketch and Draw from Observation,” lists the many ways drawing and telling stories relate to Illinois Early Learning benchmarks throughout the curriculum.
As children get to know the parts of their body, they can make comparisons with the body structure of other animals. They begin to understand that animals can be grouped—worms have no legs and a soft body, insects have six legs and a hard exoskeleton as contrasted with our four limbs, soft exterior and hard skeleton. Using playdough to make models is one way to document observations. If the children find an earthworm or a cricket, contain it for an hour so children can observe it and record their observations by drawing, modeling with playdough, clay, or pipe cleaners (aka “fuzzy sticks”).