Friday, August 10, 2012

how to...teach a toddler to draw

For many parents, important milestones in their children's lives include walking, talking, sitting, or going to Kindergarten. For me, I couldn't wait until the day came when I would be able to draw with my children. My oldest been interested in Art his entire life, thanks to the wonderful pre-school he attends. He regularly brings home artwork that we swoon over and hang on the fridge or send to Grandmas.

My one year old gets in on the action. Apparently chalk is tasty AND fun!
His artwork for so long has much been process-based artwork...exploring with paints, chalk, foam, glitter, and natural elements...which has been great, and for a child this young (he's three) I don't think he "understood" that he could make art to represent something else.

Cue the moment I completely underestimated my child.

I'd become so comfortable with him just exploring with art materials...being care free and expressive. Scribbling on a paper and telling me it was a "policeman giving a ticket to a monster truck" with me smiling and encouraging on the sidelines.

We were in the Dollar Spot at this fancy boutique called TarJay and I saw some dry-erase marker boards for letter-writing. I picked one up fully intending to start in with some letter-writing this summer. When we got home, he excitedly opened it and bust out with a "dot, dot, SMILEY, arm, arm, leg, leg"! I was completely floored. I had muttered those words hundreds of times as we've sat in the driveway with chalk secretly praying he was paying attention and something would peek his interest.

So his first "recognizable" drawing is a little...well...rogue. My enthusiasm for his new-found skill propelled him to sit at our kitchen table and make a bazillion more of these people. After he "perfected" one, he drew two. After he drew two, he'd tell me a story about the people in the picture.
"This is me with my little brother Chase and we are playing ball".

As much as I wanted my son to draw (or color, or explore, or just BE artistic), he was...well...being a toddler. I saw something change in him as he became aware of this cause-and-effect of putting marker to paper to create a human "symbol". He started to visualize a picture in his mind before he created it. He wanted to make sure the feet were attached to the legs, and his brother was smaller than he was. He'd completely leaped into a new realm of thinking and creating at that moment, and somehow it clicked that lines on paper could symbolize something in "real life". I swear I actually saw wheels spinning in his head.

Okay, maybe not.

Being a creative person myself, this is one thing I really want to nurture with my children. Creative activities help children learn how to solve problems and come up with their own answers. This summer we've used this white board to draw...and erase...and experiment... and erase again. There have been purple people, snakes, unrecognizable fire houses, flowers...all these things that make my heart swoon. We've sat on the driveway and drawn for HOURS in the sun, often times my one year old joining in. Sketchbooks have been filled and our fridge is full of colorful, happy pictures. I'm in colorful mama heaven, I tell ya.

Ever wonder about your child's drawing development? This chart is very informative and you can see where your child(ren) fit in!

Oh yes we did! And no, I'm not crazy...and yes, it was edible and SO MUCH FUN!
Creative expression helps children tap into the magic of their own imaginations, which is what being a child is all about.
Well, that and making messes.

Joanna Davis-Lanum is a National Board Certified Teacher and K-5 Art Teacher at Garden Elementary School in Venice, Florida. She is also the mom to two creative souls who keep her on her toes daily. For more great inspiration for using art in your classrooms, please head on over to We Heart Art for lesson plans and photos!


  1. Oh thank you! Clicked through from Pinterest and I am in the exact same mommy garden of Eden! I LOVE that my 3 year old is drawing robots and insects and all kinds of quircky objects. It truly is (so far) my favorite developmental stage maybe aside from first wobbly steps and finally learning to jump.

    I also swoon over his drawings and take many pictures to send to out-of-town grandparents. Thanks for linking to the chart. As much as I want one of my kids to be really artistic, I know that normal is totally okay too!

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment. It is my favorite stage of development, too! There is something so honest and untainted about early childhood art!

  2. I LOVE your photos, Joanna! How great that you're encouraging creativity from an early age ... and lucky kids to have such an artistic mom! I pinned your post to my Toddlers Activities and Ideas Pinterest Board at


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