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Dots, squiggles lead to reading, writing

Art shows tots can think, act for selves, author says

SHARE Dots, squiggles lead to reading, writing

NEW YORK — A toddler draws his first horizontal line. Then a dot. Then a squiggle.

He's practically reading and writing.

OK, it may take a few more years to put that line, dot and squiggle together to form letters and words, but that toddler is well on his way, says Susan Striker, author of "Young at Art" (Owl Books/Henry Holt & Co.).

"The significant things about lines and shapes is like a foundation of a good building. It's the foundation for all schoolwork."

She continues: "For adults, 'art' is a different thing. It's decorative. But 'art' is a very different thing for kids."

It's one of the few times babies or toddlers can think and act for themselves.

Striker also discourages coloring books and the like because they emphasize thinking in the box instead of letting creativity flow all over the "canvas." Her own book, intended as a resource for parents, includes suggested activities and projects for babies as young as 6 months old, songs about art and recommended materials — some of which might surprise you.

When babies make designs with their applesauce on the tray of the high chair, it's "art," says Striker, an elementary-school art teacher in Greenwich, Conn., just like it is art when toddlers "draw" in the sand. "Art is not just crayons, paper, paints and easels."

And once a toddler has made a picture, it should be more than pretty in the eyes of an adult. The grown-up should see it as a road map to the child's development, notes Striker, who says she knows when a child is ready to read based on drawings.

Striker urges parents to describe to children exactly what they have created, pointing out lines and curves so they will feel a sense of accomplishment.

"You should cheer and encourage a child's first drawing just like a child's first steps." And, she adds, it's not a coincidence that the two occur at about the same time — and that no parent can control when they will happen.

But, Striker says, parents can give their children all the tools needed for creative, artistic (and relatively neat) expression.

The right supplies for the right child add to the safety and enjoyment of an activity.

According to a chart in "Young at Art" that describes art activity development norms, a child between 6 and 12 months old should be holding, looking at and mouthing crayons, tasting clay and smearing paint with his hands. (Don't worry if he tastes the paint, says Striker; it's nontoxic, remember?)

Other stages listed in the book include:

Drawing. A 12-to-18-month-old often does tentative scribbles; a 18- to-24-month-old draws vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines, experiments with scribbles and is interested in textures; a 24-to-30-month-old child does freer, circular scribbles and experiments with many shapes; a 30-to- 36-month-old connects lines to enclose shapes and names shapes after drawing them; and a 36-to-42-month-old child tells stories about pictures, may draw human shapes and mandala forms, usually circles or ovals with crossed lines over them.

Clay or dough work. A 12-to-18-month-old pinches, squeezes and pounds on clay; an 18-to-24-month-old rolls snakelike coils; a 24-to-30-month-old child makes clay balls, gives names to objects made and plays with them; a 30-to-36-month-old incises decoration on clay and sticks things into it; and a 36-to-42-month-old child produces flat designs with clay, and "builds" and adds on to creations.

Painting. A 12-to-18-month-old does body decorations and makes dabbing movements; an 18-to-24-month-old paints lines with a brush similar to scribbles; a 24-to-30-month-old child continues scribbling development; a 30-to-36-month-old paints whole areas; and a 36-to-42-month-old child covers an entire paper with areas of paint.