Picture This: The Extraordinary Learning Benefits of Drawing
There is something magical that happens when you give a child some crayons and a blank piece of paper. They become readers.
Well, not right away.
But children’s first explorations in creating lines and squiggles that become drawings of boats and kitty cats are also a good approximation of what happens when they start learning how to read.
Both drawing pictures and reading words involve interpreting objects (in one case, pictures; in the other, text) as representations of a greater reality. This (a drawing of a tiger, the word “tiger”) represents this (an actual tiger).
And of course, just learning to write letters is a kind of drawing – and creating stories. As the great cartoonist and storyteller Lynda Barry writes to her adult readers in the introduction to her latest book, “Making Comics”: “There was a time when drawing and writing were not separated for you. In fact, our ability to write could only come from our willingness and inclination to draw. In the beginning of our writing and reading lives, we DREW the letters of our name. The motions each requires hadn’t become automatic yet. There was a lot of variability of shape, order, and orientation. The letters were characters, and when certain characters got together in a certain order, they spelled your name.”
The natural joy and interest most small children have in drawing is easy to encourage – through fingerpaints, crayons, chalk, markers.
It’s when children get older (Lynda Barry says around the age of 8 or 9, “when drawing noses or hands become an issue”) that they begin to abandon drawing – and often, their literacy suffers.
The library to the rescue!
Tucked in the extraordinary Dewey number of 740s are literally hundreds and thousands of books on drawing: sports figures, dinosaurs, Disney princesses, superheroes and supervillains, fashion, cats and kittens, clouds – whatever you can imagine!
While YouTube videos can also offer excellent drawing lessons (and I will never dissuade you from a good YouTube video), these books slow the process down a little bit and help children see all of the possibilities.
Here are a few of my favorite drawing instruction books for kids:
How To Draw Cute Animals by Angela Nguyen
“Enter planet CUTE! This follow-up to How to Draw Cute Stuff teaches kids how to draw a menagerie of adorable creatures, from cats, dogs, hedgehogs, and hamsters to dolphins, bunnies, swans, and unicorns. An introduction explains the popular kawaii style of art, step-by-step how-to sequences make the process simple enough for beginners, and interactive pages get budding artists practicing right away.”
First Drawings: Cars and Trucks by Katie Lajiness
Easy instructions for making simple drawings and then coloring in of vehicles like monster trucks, race cars, and dump trucks.
How to Draw Awesome Wild Animals
How To Doodle series by Carolyn Franklin – Color Patterns, Optical Illusions, Portraits and Animals
Exploring different aspects of “doodling,” this series will help unleash your child’s imagination while giving step-by-step instructions for making some really extraordinary artwork.
Finally, don’t forget perhaps the greatest drawing instruction books in the library – picture books! Getting lost in the illustrations by these amazing artists is a great way to fortify your child’s visual imagination and perhaps even inspire them to pick up a marker or a crayon and draw on their own.
Here are just some of my personal favorite illustrators and their best books: