'Reading' pictures - developing visual literacy

 

Have you ever introduced a new picture book to a young child and watched how, in silence, he concentrates as he scrutinises the picture, his eyes gliding from top to bottom, side to side? Suddenly, when he has made sense of it and absorbed all he wants, he looks up at you to show he is ready for you to turn the page. If you don't rush him, he will focus on the picture far longer than you would. Unlike most adults, he hasn't yet developed scanning skills by which his eyes scan a picture to pick-up relevant detail disregarding what is so far irrelevant. Scanning skills in 'reading' pictures, as in reading text, develop through experience and at a child's own speed. However, through picture book experiences, we can contribute to the development of both these skills.

 

Providing information through pictures is an important and fast developing method of communication in the global world. Not only do adults need to be text literate - capable of decoding different print forms of letters and reading to getting meaning from the various styles or genre of their own language, they also need to be visually literate. The better adults or children are in decoding and reading text or pictures, the more successful their gathering of information is likely to be.

 

Through picture book experiences, we can help children develop their personal skills in 'reading' pictures and getting meaning from them. Gradually, as we expose children to different types of illustrated books - pictures and photographs - we can guide and encourage them to develop their skills in looking (observing) and decoding the various types of art work we introduce to them.  

 

In the same way as a child's drawing usually carries more detail than his verbal explanation, so picture books with simple texts (like the REALBOOK NEWS selection), often carry more sophisticated narrative in the details of the illustration or photographs, than in the accompanying text.

 

Teachers sometimes worry that some illustrations are too sophisticated for their children, who may have a diet of only cartoons or very soft fairy-tale illustrations. It is up to us to act as mediators helping children to enjoy the richness in:

            styles of illustration -

         types of media including collage, embroidery, oil, watercolours, crayon or photograph, which can be discussed and even tried as art forms in the classroom. Many picture books include details about the artist and his other published books.

        colour. Many children have never played with paints seeing how the addition of a new colour can change the original colour. Some only know one shade of purple - the one in their box of 24 crayons!

 

Some classrooms make their own small ART GALLERY of 4 or 5 picture books, opening each book at a special picture. Children enjoy looking at picture books over and over again and, if given an opportunity, like to discuss pictures amongst themselves or even copy pictures from books.

 

In the same way as you talk about a story, talk about the pictures in the book. Ask children which is their favourite picture and tell them yours, and why. Enthusiasm is infectious and contributes to influencing life-long attitudes to enjoying art. These experiences with real picture books contribute to developing character and creativity. However, don't forget that each child sees pictures through his own eyes involving his own emotions and feelings. 'Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.'  Yeats


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