Try responding with, “Tell me about your picture.” My mom, a former first grade teacher, passed along this very useful phrase as I started teaching and would have students proudly present their latest masterpieces that were often hard to identify. I’d learned the hard way that exclaiming “oh, what a wonderful elephant” when the child had, in fact, drawn his grandmother’s new kitten, could result in downcast eyes or words of understandable indignation. Simply saying “tell me about your picture” not only avoids such blunders, but it often does something powerful in terms of literacy development as well. It invites children to clarify—and often expand upon—the messages they intended to convey with their drawings. For children who are not yet writing, or who struggle to get words on paper, using drawings or other forms of graphic representation is an essential springboard for communicating thoughts and ideas that may be more complex than what they are currently able to capture in sentences and paragraphs. So rather than guessing what a picture is meant convey, you can turn these occasions into language development opportunities.
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