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DIY: Why Observational Drawing Is a Fun and Educational Activity for Children of All Ages

teacher with child drawing

Article by Kerry Mills, Director of Beyond the Classroom, Sabot at Stony Point 

The writer Margaret Atwood once said that "There's nothing like drawing a thing to make you really see it."  And that's exactly why observational drawing is a fun and educational activity to try with children of all ages.  Observational drawing requires your child to really look closely at an object and to really "see" the object they have chosen to draw.   By encouraging your child to draw from what they see, instead of drawing from what they know, you are helping them to explore the details of the world around them.  You are engaging their problem solving and creative thinking skills as well as helping them to develop fine-motor skills. When you encourage your child to slow down and take the time to really look at and think about an object and then draw, you are helping them learn how to express their ideas in visual form. Getting Started. Here are some tips on how to do this activity at home.

Selecting What to Draw:

To do observational drawing or drawing from life at home, pick any object that might interest your child. You don't need fancy or exotic objects.  Just select things from around your home or in your backyard. You will need to make sure it isn't too complicated and that it's something they find fun to view.  It's best to pick something simple with clear lines and details.  Make sure it captures their imagination and that they want to know more about it. The more questions they ask about the object the better! Help them think about - What is this?  Where do you think it comes from?  What do you think it's made out of?  What shapes do you see?  What color is it?  Is it small or large?   Is it smooth or bumpy? Etc.

Selecting Your Drawing Materials:

This drawing activity doesn't require a trip to the art store or fancy materials.  Simply use what you already have, such as paper in various sizes or a sketchbook, and regular or colored pencils, pens or markers. 

Looking, Seeing and Drawing:

Once you and your child have gathered up your materials and identified what you want to draw, it's time to encourage your child to take a moment and really look at the object.  It's important to help your child position themselves and the object so that they can see it really well. It takes a few focused moments of looking to actually "see" the object and all of the details.   As your child gets older, their drawings will look more like the object, but that is not to say that a two-year old's observational drawing is not what they see.  You will be pretty amazed by what your child, no matter their age, creates through this activity.

Who Would Enjoy this Activity?

Observational drawing is really fun for the whole family. In my family, we all had sketchbooks and we took them to museums, on walks, to the park, anywhere you might find something you want to draw. You never know when a good observational drawing moment will present itself.  So take a moment, sit, look and then draw with your child while you focus on what you see.


Want More Information? Check out these links:

The Arful Parent: Observational Drawing for Kids 

The Artful Parent: How to Encourage Drawing Skills, Confidence and Creativity in Young Children

Why Drawing is Important for Your Child's Development

Preschool Children Explore the Forest: The Power of Wild Spaces in Childhood, Chapter 7 by Anna Golden

Atelierista Blogspot- Drawing

Drawing on Science/Observational Drawing as a Science Tool in the Early Childhood Classroom

Parents.com: Shadow Drawing