Teachable Moments: Learning to express thoughts by drawing is important

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

In a blog post titled “How Geniuses Think” (April 28, 2012), Michael Michalski provides thumbnail descriptions of strategies that are common thinking styles of creative individuals. One of these strategies is their ability to make their thinking visible. I recently read a book, The Ghost Map, that proves this point. There was an outbreak of Cholera in London in the mid-1800’s. Dr. John Snow decided to plot deaths on a map of London and found the majority of deaths surrounded a specific water pump. The use of the map as a visual aid proved his theory that the disease was spread by water. The pump was shut down and that particular epidemic ended.              

Parents can help develop their child’s ability to sketch beginning at an early age. About age three, children should be given pencil and paper. Beginning pictures are often very crude not discernable, but that is expected. By fifth grade you should be able to understand what the child has drawn. Most schools offer some form of art lessons, but parents should supplement at home by providing “How to Draw” books, or “How to Draw” pages found on the Internet. Check out “How to Draw” videos on You Tube.

Children need to spend time practicing drawing every day to improve their drawing abilities. Often children are reluctant to draw if they think they are not good drawers, but if you date their work, the improvement in the drawings will demonstrated after several weeks and the young artists should become less reluctant.

Drawing supplies can range from simple to complex. Regular number two pencils, color pencils and, eventually, markers and paint are starters. Blank printer paper will do for beginners. Beyond these you can move to electronic drawing tablets.

The skill of actually manipulating the drawing tool is not the only skill needed to draw. Observation skills are important too.  You can help your child “notice” details by asking questions that get them looking and thinking. For example, if your child is drawing cats, you can ask questions like:  “What color are cat eyes?” “Do cats all have the same color eyes?” “Does your cat have a long tail?” “Do all cats have fat tails?” Images on Google will help answer these questions. Observation skills are important in many careers, so your child will not only improve drawings, but build a skill for future careers.   While reading the biography, Jean Creighead George by Alice Cary, this quote about Jean sure proved to me the connection between observation and drawing. “Jean stared at the moss spores as though studying a painting in a museum, trying to memorize every detail so she could draw them later.”   

By fifth grade, your child should begin taking notes on subjects that are being studied in school. The ability to add drawings to the notes will improve your child’s ability to retain the information. You Tube has many videos on the subject of  “visual note taking” that will inspire children to put their drawing skills to work to aid learning in school.

Educational research indicates that integrating the arts, and drawing art in particular does have a positive impact on math test scores. One elementary school moved from 17 percent of third graders proficient in math to 66 percent proficient in math. While 66 percent proficient is still low, it indicates that the arts and art in particular made a significant difference. It is also important to note that the discipline referrals in that school dropped to zero during classes where art was integrated into the curriculum.

Since our world is becoming more dependent on graphic media, you should encourage your child to develop drawing skills so he/she can express ideas graphically.  As a minimum you, should set time aside every day for your child to draw and to provide the necessary drawing supplies. Better, you could spend time drawing with your child like Norman Rockwell’s father did when Norman was a young child. It could even lead to a hobby for you.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.