Self-portraiture at ESH: understanding identity and building community
Each year in nursery through second grade, children create some form of self-portrait. In this way, they can start to build self awareness and understand identity, which in turns help build strong classroom communities. Moreover, children are able to truly reflect on the many ways they are growing and changing.
Michael Eldridge's team asked their three-year-old nursery students to observe themselves in a small mirror and to discuss what they see. Once the outline is complete, children explore the details of their face—eyes, eyebrows, hair, and skin color—and use watercolor pencils to color and shade many of these details.
Kiran Younus's class referred to Chuck Close's Face Book, to see how faces are divided into thirds. Mary Jones's students mixed self-portraiture and work with natural materials (birch bark and rocks.) Children in Amy Landry's class began to explore the difference between how we look and who we are. Their "Inside Me" project involved creating boxes that on the outside showed self portraits but on the inside held clues to the artist's personality and interests and family connections.
When observing the three-year-olds' portraits, Mr. Eldridge asks the viewer to consider the following:
- The fine motor control that underpins the ability to make specific shapes, such as an oval face, and what details the child has observed.
- What words that are included. Do you see the excitement? Do you feel the joy?
- The risks the child takes in representing these new observations on paper. "It is as if the nursery school artist is unfettered, soaring with ideas, determined to share them all."