Drawing to Learn

We homeschoolers are living an educator’s dream. No top-down imperatives to get in our way. If we find something that works, we can implement it immediately instead of waiting for permission from some remote authority.

homeschooling, drawing to learn, drawing to teach

This is one reason why I am so thankful for the Internet. We can find encouragement and inspiration at the click of a mouse or flick of the finger.

In this post I am hoping to share something vital, something you can really use. This is not one of those ho-hum ideas, but one that just might revolutionize the way you do “school.” It is actually sort of obvious, but I don’t think anyone has officially recognized its importance. I didn’t even recognize its importance myself for a long, long time, even though I had been benefiting from it for the last 27 years of homeschooling!

What is this amazing element that is almost essential to good learning?


No, I’m not talking about art. I’m not suggesting that we start practicing our sketch lines and perspective points (no Rembrandts or Michelangelos need apply).

This is all about drawing to learn.

It’s not a new concept, really. People have been drawing for learning for eons. The following is just one example:

image compliments of the Harry Ransom Center
image compliments of the Harry Ransom Center

These pages were found in a commonplace book compiled by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, who lived in the 1800’s. There are numerous illustrations throughout.

Lewis and Clark are also good examples. No one would accuse either of being accomplished artists, yet their journals are replete with drawings of the discoveries and memories they were gathering on their journey through the west.

If you take the time to think about it, life is a lot like a great quest through uncharted territory. Children are more than mere products for society to exploit; they are explorers, and scientists, and chroniclers of their discoveries. Each one is distinct, each one with the potential of eternity beating in their breast.

There is no way around it; we need to do more than foist fact after fact down their throats; we can present interesting, relevant, and important information to them, but it is their job to take all of the input they receive and organize it into something coherent and meaningful.

Unfortunately, for most children schooling tends to expect their thoughts to be in written form. While this is understandable on many levels, it is also a disaster for students who have trouble expressing and understanding without visual compliments.

While we are stopping to think, why not consider the old adage we are all very familiar with: A Picture Paints a Thousand Words.

Most adults have trouble figuring things out without a diagram, or feel inept explaining something to someone else without grabbing a napkin and scribbling out a quick sketch or two. And yet, we expect our children to narrow their expressions and explanations down to mere words.



We sit them in classrooms, or at our kitchen tables, for hour after hour after hour of instruction, and then we torment them by telling them not to trust their interpretations of what they are taking in. We train them out of creative innovation by telling them their recollections and impressions are limited to choice a, b, or c. We frustrate those too young to read and write well by rejecting their attempts at communication via illustration. Then we further hamper them by telling them their little scribbles and doodles and sketches aren’t important, that they are a waste of time.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I know this because I was caught up into the same mindset. My children rebelled, of course, by doodling all over their schoolwork (I have crates filled with books bearing the ideas which were considered “outside the lines). While I frowned on such “defacement,” I did encourage drawing in almost every other place in their lives, which saved them in the end, I’m certain!

But I should have done more. These days, with the children I am still teaching at home, I am much more purposeful. In almost everything we study, I encourage drawing, drawing, drawing. It is not just an activity we tack on to the day; it is an essential part of everything we study.

I think this is why notebooking works so well. Yes, there is a place for parroting, chronicling, and composing, but there are almost always places where children can draw, or at least compile pictures and other graphic representations done by others. We include it because it works, but we don’t realize just how important it is or how much more of it we should be doing.

“But we aren’t an artistic family,” you say.

I hear and understand. It’s actually daunting, especially as adults, to think we have to produce drawings to represent thoughts. Most of us mistakenly believe that we shouldn’t even try unless we are “good” at it. Our inadequacy then is communicated to our young learners, and we discourage any of their early attempts at drawing because we don’t see them as future artists.

But, as I said before, it’s not about art; it’s about thinking and communicating.

I hope I’ve whet your appetite, because I have plenty more to share–stay tuned!


14 thoughts on “Drawing to Learn”

  1. Hooray hooray! Can’t wait to read more! We absolutely HAVE to draw with school every day. And remember I told you my daughter loved Faith’s drawings & literally just poured over the tiny examples in the McGuffey sample pages? She’s drawn to drawings 🙂 I don’t know how old Faith is, but that particular daughter is 11 & thinks your daughter is quite talented! Thanks again & can’t wait to read more!

    • You have made Faith very happy! She is 12, by the way, and drawing is like breathing to her. I don’t think our children are alone in their need to draw, I hope this will help other moms with their visual children. Next time I hope to share practical ways to put things together.

  2. Thank you Sherry! This is super encouraging. I was an artistic kid but it was never “good” enough for my school art teacher. Now I have a bright eight year old with beautiful handwriting, amazing engineering skills, and a great memory who is struggling to read. He just recently found a graph notepad and has been drawing intricate angled drawings. I admit I was tempted to brush off his drawings but now I feel like this must be how he is learning. I am still letting go of that public school model drilled into my brain. Neither my husband or I ever fit the bill so it’s no surprise my kiddos don’t either. Thanks again for being such a blessing.

    • Yes, this is just what I have been realizing. Many, many children learn by drawing, but we continually discourage them when we should be congratulating them!

  3. I love that you’ve brought up this topic of drawing. My children all LOVE to draw and are constantly doodling. I have a question about this…often times when I read aloud I have allowed them to draw as I read because they enjoy it so much. They aren’t necessarily drawing on the topic I’m reading about, so I’ve been wondering if this is okay? I’ve wondered if their drawing during reading was teaching them to not pay attention somehow. I’d love to hear your thoughts. My children are 9,7, and 5.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful question. I find that it can be both; sometimes they are drawing for distraction, other times they are drawing and paying attention. It is amazing, however, to find them quoting things I was reading or talking about later, so I do believe they are listening more than I realize, even if they are drawing and doodling at the same time. This reminds me of all the times I have spent on the phone doing business with someone or even enjoying a friendly conversation, yet doodling all over some sort of paper while listening…

  4. Oh, I also meant to mention that http://www.artforkidshub.com is an awesome resource for teaching children to draw. There are step-by-step instructions and even an easier section for children under 5 to learn as well. My kids have learned SO much from this site. Just thought I’d share for your readers who might want a little instruction for their children.


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