Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA1

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Evaluation with a New Twist


Emmalou Van Tilburg
Leader, Evaluation and Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education
Cooperative Extension Service
The Ohio State University-Columbus

The real challenge...matching evaluation procedures to the program and population. As a teacher and practicing professional evaluator, I'm always looking for new and creative approaches to designing evaluations and collecting information.

When presented with the opportunity to design an evaluation for an educational program to be used by families with self-care children ("Keys for Kids" Home Study Packet), this evaluation was the perfect opportunity to use a data collection technique, children's drawings, that I hadn't used before, but imagined would work quite well.

Although very little research has been conducted on this particular method of data collection, children's drawings have been used successfully in several instances.

Children's Drawings in Research

"Anything created by someone - a drawing, a painting, a piece of sculpture - is a nonverbal message from the creator about the inner self and that artist's world."1

This statement from Mommy, Daddy, Look What I'm Saying, a book on children's drawings and their meanings, suggests that using drawings as a method of data collection is quite a valid approach to measurement. Drawings have been used extensively for many years in psychological testing and diagnosis of emotionally disturbed children, as well as in a variety of other psychological testing situations.

In 1926, Florence Goodenough introduced the Draw-a-Person Test (DAP) that was used as a psychological test of intelligence.2 Many tests have been used as diagnostic and projective techniques including the House-Tree-Person Test first developed in 1948 and the Kinetic-Family-Drawings test developed in 1970.3

In his book on group values and drawings, Dennis also suggests children's drawings are an appropriate method to use to determine values, stating that "it is our hypothesis that drawings do not merely mirror the environment. They reflect values or preferences, not the frequencies of experiences."4 This would suggest that given the task of drawing something specific, children will include in their drawings preferred situations or valued situations to represent the actual situation.

Koppitz cautions that drawings tend to reflect the child's attitudes of the moment and that attitudes and drawings will change over time.5 However, this should be taken as a caution and not a true limitation because evaluators know that any measurement of attitude only captures the immediate state of the individual.

A limitation that should be taken into account is the limited skill of the artist. Dennis says many children won't try to draw a difficult scene, but will substitute less difficult objects in the picture. This occurs with the use of language as well.

Dennis concludes that "no tool can perform all functions and neither can any test." Thus, evaluators should analyze restrictions and appropriateness when considering this method.


Koppitz offers this comment:

    Drawing is a natural mode of expression for boys and girls. It is a nonverbal language and form of communication; like any other language, it can be analyzed for structure, quality and content.6

With this in mind, a section of the family mail questionnaire asked children responding to draw a picture of themselves doing their favorite after-school activity. There was no intent or attempt to analyze the content of the drawings in terms of the child's psychological state, but only to collect information on activities.

The drawings were scored on three elements: number of people in the picture (none, one, more than one), location of the scene in the picture (inside, outside, undetermined), and principal activity in the picture (eight categories were determined).

The children were also asked to report their feelings while home alone as measured by the following question:

How do you usually feel when you are home alone? (Circle all that describe your feelings.)

a. Happy that I can take care of myself.
b. Afraid that something might happen to me.
c. Lonely.
d. Bored.
e. Okay.
f. Other _____________________.

Relationships were investigated between the content of the drawings and children's reported feelings. Any relationships found were reported, but there was no attempt to explain them in terms of psychological state.


Children's feelings when home alone were fairly evenly distributed among the 42 responses. Thirty-three percent indicated they were "happy that they could take care of themselves." Thirty percent were "afraid," 23% were "lonely," 29% were "bored," and 40% marked "okay." Twelve percent indicated other feelings, mostly concern over safety.

Forty-two children drew pictures of themselves doing their favorite after-school activity. Of that number, 29 (66%) drew themselves alone, eight (18%) drew others in the picture, and five had no people at all in the picture. Eighteen pictures were inside scenes (42%), 14 were outside (33%), and 10 were undeterminable.

Eight categories of activities were established. These and their frequencies were:

1. Active sports               17        40%
2. Watching television         10        23%
3. Doing homework               4        10%
4. Doing quiet activity         4        10%
5. Visiting others              2         5%
6. Listening to music           2         5%
7. School bus riding            1         2%
8. Undeterminable               2         5%

Initially, it appeared to the evaluators that children who drew particular pictures appeared to be reporting the same emotional feelings. For example, it seemed that children who drew themselves in front of the TV tended to report that they were "bored."

However, using the chi-square test, it was found that only one trend was statistically significant: children who tended to draw themselves with others in their pictures also tended to mark lonely as one of their feelings of being home alone.

Dennis' hypothesis suggesting that children tend to draw what's valued and preferred, seems to be supported by this relationship. However, caution must be taken when interpreting the drawings in the study. Simple frequencies of occurrences must be recorded, but with the notation that the children were asked to draw themselves doing their favorite after-school activity, not the most frequent one.


Research using children's drawings has provided valid, useful information. This method for data collection can provide yet another vehicle for evaluators to use in their quest to capture the "real picture" of the program.

Using drawings with special populations can give evaluators the opportunity to obtain data that otherwise wouldn't be collected. The method also provides an alternative look at an individual's world of attitudes, values, and perceptions of reality.

However, care must be taken when interpreting results. As with any creative activity, drawings include much more than just a simple look at the world. Attitudes, emotions, perceptions, and psychological state can all be represented in an individual's drawings. Descriptive data collected by drawings can be reported as such, but interpretation and explanation must be either omitted or done by an expert. There's a temptation for evaluators to make interpretations that they're neither prepared nor qualified to make.

From ancient drawings in the cave to childrens' drawings on "Keys for Kids" evaluation instruments, pictures express what people see on the outside and feel on the inside. They include observation and imagination, fiction and reality, how people feel, and what people think. What a rich source of information we have at our fingertips as investigators in the use of drawings and other creative methods of expression. Aristotle admitted that "the soul never thinks without an image."7 The recommendation would be to tap that reservoir, but with great care in approach, process, and interpretation of results.


1. Myra Levick and Diana Wheeler, Mommy, Daddy, Look What I'm Saying: What Children Are Telling You Through Their Art (New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1986).

2. Florence L. Goodenough, Measurement of Intelligence by Drawings (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1926).

3. Robert C. Burns and S. Harvard Kaufman, Actions, Styles and Symbols in Kinetic Family Drawings: An Interpretative Manual (New York: Brunner/Mazel, Publishers, 1972).

4. Wayne Dennis, Group Values Through Children's Drawings (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966).

5. Elizabeth M. Koppitz, "Projective Drawings with Children and Adolescents," School Psychology Review, XII (No. 4, 1983), 421-27.

6. Ibid., p. 426.

7. Kenneth Gergen, The Concept of Self (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971).