“Draw me a lion,” I said to a group of young people during a workshop a couple of years ago. The variety of lions that emerged was dazzling – there were happy lions, angry lions, peaceful lions, and napping lions. It made me realize that everyone observes, processes, and expresses differently, and that’s what makes each of us unique.
I read many comic books and comic strips as a kid, which I’d like to believe helped me become a good storyteller.
Encouraging children to develop a strong visual language and vocabulary early on helps improve their creative thinking abilities. For most of us, pictures stick in our heads in a way that text doesn’t. Comic characters, in particular, have always had a strong influence on kids. They break the boundaries of human limitations that reality brings. We have absolutely no trouble in accepting that Superman can fly or that Spider-Man can cling to vertical walls. We know that anything can happen in a cartoon.
Cartoons/comics can also be used to educate as much as they are used to entertain (exemplified by characters such as Dora the Explorer). Within a school environment, cartoons can be used:
- as icebreakers to introduce tough topics to students
- to add some element of humour to otherwise dry subjects
- to break down complex information into simple visuals
- to grab the attention of children
- to trigger discussion and stimulate debates
- to improve observation and grasping power
- to help children overcome the fear of self-expression by encouraging them to draw
Here are some simple ways cartoons and comics can be used for learning as well as teaching.
Get the kids to draw
In the popular book The Little Prince, the protagonist draws the picture of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant and shows it to the ‘grown-ups’ excitedly. The adults take one look and dismiss the drawing as a hat. These are exactly the kind of adults we don’t want to be. We want to be able to allow children to come up with their own interpretations, stories, and answers.
The very first step to using art in education is to encourage children to draw. There is a certain freedom a blank piece of paper gives a child that standing in front of a class doesn’t.
For younger grades, give the class a broad theme – for example, the jungle. Kids love drawing animals, and when they draw, they stop and think about what they’re drawing – its size, shape, and colour. Once they’re done, discuss each animal in detail – its habitat, the way it has adapted and evolved, the threats it faces, and ways in which we can protect it.
Another drawing exercise is to take the kids to an open place where they can sit and draw what they see around them. Give them an hour to observe and translate what they see, smell, and hear onto paper. This improves the child’s observation powers and also arouses her/his curiosity. After the exercise, ask each one of them to talk about what they’ve drawn. Be prepared, you’re in for surprises!