Sunday, April 29, 2012

Teaching Children to Draw

Hello Pk+K Sharing blogging friends! My name is April Larremore but in the blogging world you may know me better as “Chalk Talk”.  I’m thrilled to have been asked to stop by as a guest blogger today.
Wanting to stay in line with the “artsy” feel of Hello Pk+K Sharing, I decided to share my thoughts on the importance of teaching young children how to draw. 

So... with crayons, markers, and paints in hand, keep reading as I share about ways to get your kids talking, drawing, and writing in the early childhood classroom.
Typically drawing is not honored or valued in the same way that the written word is. This was true in my own kindergarten classroom up until several years ago when I began to see the connection between the details students included in their drawings and the amount of detail they included in their writing. As I began to invest small pockets of instructional time teaching my students how to draw, it was exciting to see how children who were adding more detail to their drawings were also adding more details and information in their writing. Believing that for young children drawing is writing I realized the importance of providing my students with the information they needed to draw well, just as I was doing with my writing instruction.

In their book, Talking, Drawing, and Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers, Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe write “Because drawing is writing for young children, providing opportunities and guidance in drawing helps children to learn to use one’s eyes to see more intensely. And in that intense looking they have the opportunity to come to know something better and thus to represent it on paper the best that they can, at first through their drawings and over time through their words.”

Believing that this is true, I started to spend more time teaching my students how to draw while also pointing out the illustrations and details in our class read-alouds.

Here are the steps I took to teach my kids how to draw with detail:

At the beginning of the school year, I guided students step-by-step through all of their drawings. In order to learn to do something well you have to do it a lot, so we didn’t just draw faces, we drew lots of faces. We didn’t just draw ourselves, we drew ourselves often, and we didn’t just draw other people we practiced it daily.

I provided my students with lots of time and opportunities for drawing throughout the day and across the curriculum. We drew in response to read-alouds, for graphs and thinking maps, and when making class books.

I started by having children draw about what they know well-themselves. We drew self-portraits at least one time every day in the first couple of months of the school year. I directed students through their drawings one-step-at-time and I taught them how to use basic 2-D shapes to draw themselves. 
At first, I gave students small sheets of white or manila paper. Early on I did not want students to focus on the background, setting, or other characters so I made the paper smaller. Over time, I increased the size of the paper and moved my students into adding background elements to their pictures.

When drawing, I started with the child’s head and worked my way down always modeling for students what to draw and where to place that body part on their paper. For example, I drew my head then had the kids draw their head.
I taught my students to draw body parts based on basic shapes. For example: head (circle), shirt and pants (rectangles), neck (rectangle), shoes and hands (ovals), skirts (triangles), arms (rectangles), etc.

Once I saw students could draw themselves well and with lots of detail, we started to draw other people, animals, and buildings. We practiced drawing characters in a variety of ways such as from the side, from the back, and in action. We also practiced drawing people with different facial expressions and displaying different emotions.

As my students’ drawing skills grew, I moved away from the step-by-step model and begin to provide them with quick pencil sketches for them to look at. I no longer had students all draw the same picture at the same time. They decided what they wanted in their picture and if they were unsure how to draw it, they asked for a sketch. My sketches were black and white line drawings made from shapes that I quickly drew on pieces of scratch paper.  

Once we moved to drawing backgrounds in our pictures, I taught my students that they needed to be specific in the information they included in their picture- that good drawings and good writing are built on accurate pieces of information. For example: rainbows, hearts, and flowers do not belong in drawings about a trip to the zoo, a birthday party, or a family holiday celebration.

As my students drew, I assessed their drawings to see what they needed to help make their drawings better. Then I created mini-drawing lessons around these findings. I used read-alouds to teach students about the craft of drawing.
My students started the year drawing basic people like the one on the left and ended the year drawing detailed people, characters, settings, and animals like the picture on the right.

I got students talking about their drawings through whole group discussion, partner talking, and share time. This is an important piece of the drawing process. Talking and sharing honors who they are, helps children learn from each other, acknowledges that talking plays and important role in drawing and writing, and helps children to learn the element of the craft before actually putting it on paper.

Basically, I used lots of repetition, step-by-step examples, and a gradual release model for teaching drawing in my classroom. Try it out in your own classroom and I think you will be amazed at how well it works. If you have more questions about how I taught drawing or how drawing with details carries over to writing, feel free to email me at

Happy Drawing!


  1. I am by no means an artist, but I love to illustrate concepts for my students. When I draw a picture, they are amazed and put twice as much effort into their own drawings. We illustrate vocabulary in all areas, science concepts, and story problems for math. I enjoy showing them that having a visual image can improve comprehension. It is a powerful tool!

  2. Love this makes almost every subject more fun and easier to understand!

  3. April, I love this post! I'm working with my son right now on adding detail in his drawings, so I'll definitely try some of your ideas. You're right, drawing is such an important step in writing development and it's often put on the back burner in favor of "real" writing. Thanks for the great ideas!

  4. I love your detailed description and great examples of how you teach children to draw, April! And I love drawing combined with writing! I pinned your post to my Kids' Art Projects Pinterest board at


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