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Drawing with Kids – 3 Rules to Break

Drawing with Kids - 3 Rules to Break to Encourage Drawing

Drawing with Kids

When drawing with kids we are always trying to find the balance between having students feel successful yet challenged. In order to keep students motivated and excited about drawing, sometimes we need to let go of our personal goals and look at what is best for students in the long run. Not every student will grow up to be an artist, but we can create art-loving adults that have a creative outlet that bring more joy to their lives. And isn’t our goal as teachers to help make good humans?

What are the 3 Rules to Break?

1) Realism –

We are all impressed with a drawing that looks very realistic, right? But is that really the best measure of a good drawing? In this post, we’ll take a look at the pitfalls of setting your students up to value realistic drawing above all else and what you can do instead.

2) Originality –

To be creative is to come up with creative and original ideas, right? But is this really the best way to get started? In this post, we’ll explore how mimicking or copying can sometimes be the fastest way to become unique.

3) Perfection –

As teachers, we can fall into the trap of always looking for mistakes so we can help our students “fix” things and make them look perfect (or darn close). I’d like to talk about the downside of striving for perfection in this post. I’ll also talk about how embracing mistakes can help your students to be braver.

How to Encourage Drawing with Kids

Asking students to draw a realistic picture can set some of your students up for failure. They will compare their work to the person next to them and see that they are falling short. This sends the message that they aren’t good at drawing without the teacher saying a word. No matter what you say to encourage them, they will see that their drawing is falling short, and your words will fall on deaf ears. Your students will label themselves as not being able to draw before they’ve barely begun to learn.

My goal for you and your students is to prioritize the joy of drawing above drawing skills right now. There will be time to learn drawing skills later. But first, you need to give your students some positive experiences with drawing to gain some confidence and have some early successes that will keep them motivated later when they start tackling some skill-building.

How can you teach drawing without using realism?

Pick quirky drawings, such as doodles and my wacky drawing pages for students to use. When the goal is to create a drawing with personality and expression, students stop worrying that their drawings don’t look right. Give students lots of drawing choices so that each drawing is supposed to look different. Students can enjoy looking at all the variations in classmates’ drawings and appreciate each one differently.

Ask students to give feedback to each other and point out what they enjoy most about the other students’ drawings. As you give students feedback, let them know something you notice that is unique about their drawing.

Wacky Birds are quirky and fun for kids to draw. Get them on my site!

Is it really OK to copy?

There’s a difference between copying something and passing it off as an original and copying something so that you can learn how to draw it. For example, if your students have a favorite character or cartoon, use that to motivate them to learn to draw.

Sketchbooks are great for this type of activity. Of course, you might not want that copyrighted image to show up in a piece of art that gets displayed or put online. However, letting students draw that image in their sketchbooks is a great way to internalize it and use problem-solving skills to figure out how to draw it. They are using memory skills to memorize how to make the character and draw the character repeatedly.

Sometimes it’s not the subject but the drawing style that kids admire. So their sketchbook is also a great place to keep a collection of images with a drawing style that they enjoy.

I do this all the time. Most of the time, I make little changes to the drawings so that I’m keeping the parts I like best, but improving the areas I think should look different. Eventually, after making many of these collections, your style will emerge. You’ll discover that you have developed a favorite way to draw different elements that you repeat in almost every drawing. You will rely less and less on looking at how other people have drawn things and come up with your own ideas from your memory bank of images.

It’s OK to Make Mistakes!

Bob Ross may have had the best antidote for perfectionism by calling mistakes “happy little accidents”. Dealing with perfectionism is about mindset and helping students see mistakes as something good.

1) Opportunities to do something different. This “happy little accident” may have opened up a chance to try something different.

2) A learning opportunity – we grow more from making mistakes than from always getting it right the first time.

3) Evidence you are working outside your comfort zone. The only way we don’t make mistakes is by repeating the same thing over and over that we already know how to do.

My hope is that students will feel comfortable taking creative risks in your classroom and trying out new media and drawing subjects. When students hear you talk about mistakes in a good way this may help them let down their guard and not be afraid to have a failed attempt at something.

Summing it Up

As you work with your beginning art students, whether they are in first grade or freshmen, look for opportunities to teach about a non-realistic style, be more tolerant of kids wanting to copy an artist, and purposefully embracing mistakes. See this as a stepping stone to creating confident artists that have developed their own style and are willing to take risks.

Share ideas in the comment section or my Facebook group:

  • What lesson can you teach that welcomes a non-realistic style?
  • How can you communicate to kids that it’s OK to make mistakes?

You can read more tips in my post – Drawing Tips: Encouraging Reluctant Drawers

mannequin standing next to a white frame with the 3 rules to break inside the frame
Click on the image to get your free download of this infographic!

This infographic is a good reminder that kids, especially reluctant drawers, are in a special place that requires nurturing from their art teachers to cultivate confidence and a love of drawing. This is the perfect time to celebrate their ideas more than their technique and reward their efforts more than their finished product.

You can read more about 3 Rules to Break to Encourage Reluctant Drawers in this blog post.

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Stacey Peters

I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art. I'm a former elementary art teacher of 25 years turned business owner. Giving you the tools you need to bring more drawing into your classroom brings me joy.

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I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art.


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