Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought worth discussing.

What can we learn from children’s drawings?

Children’s drawings aren’t just scribbles: they can be acts of meaning-making for us to learn from, according to Misty Adoniou’s recent article.

Gradually the scribbles shift from simply being an internal visceral pleasure for young children as the adults in their lives search for messages in their marks.

Circular shapes become heads, or the sun, or flowers. Mums, dads, grandparents and carers assign meaning to their scribbles, “Is that mummy?” “What a beautiful flower!”

Through the encouraging conversations and modelling from adults, their scribbles have now become recognisable as “things” to others. This is also an introduction to the complex and abstract notion that written words are also symbols of meaning.

Amy Maguire talked about the drawings her children created and how they dropped off as her daughter entered school:

Thanks for the fascinating article! My 7 year old daughter loves to draw and I miss her prolific days now that she is so busy at school - in kindergarten there was still some time for drawing but it’s fairly rare now that things come home in anything but written or computer-produced form. I agree that displaying children’s work in the home gives them a great sense of confidence and an enthusiasm to continue. My four year old son points every day to the one piece of craft he has so far produced - happy to rest on those laurels for a while…

To which Misty responded:

Hi Amy - yes I am afraid school is hugely complicit in the ‘disappearance’ of children’s drawings. The focus on the printed word should not mean the disappearance of the visual in schools. The two are not mutually exclusive - indeed they are very complementary. My research has found that the quality of children’s writing improves when they are allowed to draw before they write.

The broader your repertoire of meaning-making skills, the greater your ability to build robust understandings of new concepts and tackle new problems from different perspectives.

If schools aren’t building that broad repertoire then I guess it is up to home to provide the opportunities! Butcher’s paper, crayons and textas for everyone!

Amy Maguire followed up with a reply emphasising the value of visual skills:

Couldn’t agree more - I have never been a confident ‘drawer’ and now wish I had better skills at visually representing concepts for students and other audiences. I love to see my daughter getting lost in her drawings and over the years it’s fun to find an old pad full of earlier efforts and see what used to be emphasised and what has changed (her peoples’ arms used to be very long and now they are in proportion - she has also learnt to draw them crossed behind peoples’ backs so that she doesn’t need to do ‘good hands’). I’ll look up that youtube channel you mention - she enjoys watching drawing tutorials on youtube and there are also some great books around eg ‘how to draw Australian animals’.

Kids are more susceptible to brain injury, and concussion has implications beyond what we thought

Concussions are a problem—one that can easily be overlooked. Pankaj Sah’s article explored the risks and problems they cause:

Research shows even a seemingly innocuous knock that wouldn’t qualify as a concussion can trigger changes in brain physiology and affect the functioning of neurons. There is some evidence that repeated concussions could be associated with the development in later life of a neurodegenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. More long-term research is needed to determine how permanent or reversible brain changes following a single concussion are.

The new study found an association between the age at first head injury and subsequent health and social outcomes. Children who were older, and particularly those who were older than 15, were substantially more likely to have problems in adulthood.

Bradley Partridge expanded on the ways we can improve outcomes for people with concussions:

Pankaj, you say: “The lack of awareness about the symptoms, treatment and management of concussion is an unrecognised public health problem….by investing in research and improving awareness at the grassroots level, we can improve the diagnosis and management of concussive episodes in kids.”

Addressing “lack of awareness” is only one part of improving concussion diagnosis and management. You can tell people all the symptoms of concussion and what you’re supposed to do when you see them, but non-compliance with concussion guidelines still occurs even when sports doctors are doing the assessment (and you would expect them to know how to diagnose and manage concussion properly).

One of the reasons for this is the continued failure to address ethical issues in the development and implementation of concussion management guidelines. Autonomy in decision making, informed consent to participate in risky activities, coercion, and competing interests all present difficulties when diagnosing and managing concussion – particularly when dealing with junior athletes. And yet, there is little guidance on how stakeholders should navigate these ethical issues.

It’s great that we are understanding more about the neurological effects of concussion, but failure to manage ethical issues that impact concussion diagnosis and management undermines the protection of participants from the short and long term effects of concussion.

Friday essay: on listening to new national storytellers

Anna Clark’s essay discussed the importance of introducing new storytellers into our views on history and sense of identity:

Should Australia Day be observed as a moment of celebration or survival? Should the Australian War Memorial include commemoration of the frontier wars? Should “invasion” be used to describe British colonisation? Taken together, these so-called “history wars” confirm the contested politics of collective memory.

Such disputes also hint at powerful historiographical shifts across generations. Debates over Australian history aren’t simply ideological, but also disciplinary, and reflect the historical challenges wrought by changing approaches to the past.

Roy Hay left a comment exploring the difficulties in interpreting artifacts as stories:

Of course we need to listen a variety of story tellers but if we want to understand the histories of this country then we need to approach them very carefully in case we mislead ourselves. A belief does not make it so, even though it may be influencing the lives of far more people than the work of some academic historians. Novels, documentaries and television series may have far greater popular appeal and they may lead viewers and readers to query whether the stories they are telling have a secure basis. For that they need to turn to trained historians, just as people who want to understand how planes fly or how to cure illness need to read the works of scientists and medical researchers. As with the other branches of science, historical research is always provisional, always subject to criticism and modification, always argued about, but there are ways of distinguishing between history and popular stories about the past.

The cave painting which features at the head of the article and in the body is a fascinating artefact. But is it representing a long gun or a didgeridoo? Is it a post or pre contact work? Has it been dated? Why is it so different from the detailed representation of a fish on the left? These are just some of the obvious questions that require expert knowledge before we begin to reinterpret history through this piece of art. Is it a piece of art or of religious or cultural symbolism? How should we understand such work? What did it tell the people who lived at the time it was produced? All of these questions require something more than story-telling, though if the results of the inquiry can be incorporated in a readable and engaging story with some of the imponderables and uncertainties retained then we will all benefit.

Anna left the following reply:

Yes, thanks Ray. You raise some critical points here about the need to maintain historical integrity, which requires a level of expertise and training, and which I thoroughly agree with. But I also think that asking questions of the history discipline might lead us to some new understandings about Australia’s past.

You say tomato… why some fruits are forever doomed to be called veggies

Finally, Gregory Moore made dinner time a lot more complicated by explaining what fruit and vegetables really are and are not:

But while there is no doubt that tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins are fruits in the botanical sense, any linguist will tell you that language changes and words take on the meaning that people broadly agree upon and use. We live in a linguistic democracy where the majority rules.

Hence a tomato is still usually called a vegetable – although many people take pride in calling it a fruit, while overlooking other “vegetables” with similar claims to fruit status. If this makes your inner pedant bristle, that’s just tough – trying telling the nearest five-year-old that a pumpkin’s a fruit and see how far you get.

In the comments, Andy Saunders made a quiet plea:

Please, please, for my sanity don’t let my kids read this article….

(In the interests of pedantry, I would have hoped for a mention of figs as well)

One of our editors, James Whitmore, was on hand to offer some more information on figs:

On that note, this article on figs and mulberries is quite fascinating!

Andy Saunders was pleased:

Delightful! Thanks.