Whee-oh! Whee-oh! Whee-oh!
Action drawing and pretend play

‘Fire’s coming! Fire’s coming! Call the fire engine and the hostibal (hospital) ‘cause there’s a person in the house fired! Whee-oh! Whee-oh! Whee-oh!

With vocal siren noises blaring, Tom just four, cheerily and forcefully drives a black pencil across a darkening mass of lines on a sheet of paper. The louder the siren, the harder he presses. His friend Luke, barely three, looks on admiringly, shyly adding siren noises of his own, but softly in a singsong ‘Nee-noh! Nee-noh! Nee-noh!

Seated beside each other outdoors, the two draw on propped-up drawing boards. Tom’s dark mass of lines (obliterating other shapes underneath) seems to stand for some of the elements in his words: the house in flames, the speeding fire engine, the sound of the sirenor all simultaneously? It could be difficult for Tom to sayafter all, how do you explain a drawing that’s about everything happening at once?

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Tom’s drawinglike that by many young childrenis about action and events in time. It’s not about making a picture of how things look. For Tom and Luke, drawing serves as a starting point for the delights of playing together, a pretext for imagining and improvising a shared scenario. And the subtext to their exchange seems to e about affirming their bond as friends: we know how to play at being sirens.

Imaginative Play
What is the value of this playful mix of vigorous mark-making and vocal dramatisation? In his wonderful book, The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Stories, writer and educator, Gianni Rodari offered the view that imaginative play is ‘not a simple remembrance of impressions but a creative re-elaboration of them, a process through which children combine the data of experience with other data to construct a new reality corresponding to their curiosity and their needs.’ If we accept this view, it becomes easier to accept playful ‘action drawing’ for what it isfree-flowing representations of possible actions and events in time and space, a mix of the imagined and remembered, the beginnings of a story.

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