Drawing to Learn for Effective Homeschooling

When it comes to rearing children, I am all for enforcing requirements and boundaries. In our house we make beds, wash dishes, brush teeth, respect the space and belongings of others, and answer with respect.


I am also a great believer in giving children freedom wherever possible, and especially when considering the greater part of learning.

Of course, there are places where specifics are expected; such as a page of math problems, while learning cursive writing, etc. There is just no getting around the fact that five plus five is ten, or that the letter “o” is round. There is obviously incontestable, absolute truth, which is based on the inerrant, eternal Word of God.

But there is also such a thing as killing true, long-lasting learning via the traditional methods we have all come to rely on, such as:

  • Read, regurgitate, test, forget
  • Fill-in-the-blank work pages
  • Multiple choice testing


  • Almost total reliance on written communication

These conventional practices don’t work because they are based on one very false idea; children are not to be trusted with their own thoughts. They must be presented with information which then must be parroted back, no deviations allowed.

Who knows where this was begun? Most would say that it started with Christian education.

However, in my research over the past three decades, all fingers point to the secularization of education as the culprit. It has been the Progressives who have narrowed education down to factory-like procedure while broadening the same application to every subject. It is not surprising; the education establishment which has dictated schools for the last century or so has this as its core value:

Children are nothing more than biological machines and as such are mere commodities which are to be molded and used as leaders see fit.

God, on the other hand, feels very, very differently.

How do I know this? Because I have His Word on it. Jesus is the picture of a God who loves the individual, and everywhere in the Bible we read how He draws close to each single soul who calls on His name. It is our Creator who gives each person intrinsic value and scorns those who would treat people otherwise.

And yet, we have a difficult time distancing ourselves from failed Progressive ideas, even as homeschoolers. It’s a hard thing to jump into the cold, uncharted waters of education without grabbing something familiar to hold on to. Most of us have never experienced anything but the practices outlined above, and so we default to our zone of comfort.

Because homeschooling causes us to become intimately involved in what and how our children are learning, it isn’t long before we discover that our whole operation is dysfunctional. The bright children who eagerly cracked open colorful workbooks at the start of the season begin to complain and resist our efforts. Instead of enjoying “school time” together, we get caught up in battle after battle, with all sides feeling frustrated and Mom feeling defeated and discouraged.

This should not be, and it doesn’t have to be.

One of the ways we can combat such a dysfunctional cycle is to reassess our approach. Are there better ways to go about the whole process? How can we reach into the hearts of our children so that their brilliance can surface?

As I briefly discussed in a previous post, one of the easiest ways to go about this is to incorporate drawing into our daily interactions.

When a child draws, he is inviting you into the inner world of his psyche. We often forget just how hard it is for struggling learners to adequately communicate using the written word. While their minds are racing with one thought after another, their inability to tell us all about what they are thinking causes them frustration. Even their ability to speak is limited, sort of like a foreigner using a Berlitz phrase book to describe a sunrise. Drawing allows them to go beyond their verbal and written abilities and helps them feel understood.

Further, when we give a child a blank space with as little direction as possible to create in, we are communicating volumes to him. We are saying, “Your thoughts are interesting and important,” and, “I understand the way you speak, I understand your language.“We are saying, “I trust you.

I know it sounds foreign, but I believe we need to be more purposeful about the whole idea. We need to incorporate drawing into almost every subject, from spelling to arithmetic, to make room for it on almost every page.

I have been doing this with my own children and I am very pleased with the results.

For instance, while teaching my daughters to read with the McGuffey readers and some solid phonics instruction, I required they copy the words presented after each lesson. However, instead of leaving it at that, I drew a box next to each word for a drawing. Included were words such as “ox” and “fan,” which were fairly easy to represent, but I often wondered about assigning words such as “the.” Amazingly, my little ones were not daunted; they came up with representations of even the most abstract of concepts, and often they brought a smile to my face! It was as if I was allowed a little window into their minds, and when I peaked in I saw genius.

Drawing to Spell

As they have progressed, their drawing has become more clear and detailed. They have gone beyond single words, but can also present whole concepts, whole scenes. Their writing is more organized, more expressive and precise because they have been allowed to organize it first via drawing.

drawing to learn the "o" sound

Even if you are not artistically inclined, you too can use this to help your children learn. Here are some pointers to help:

  • Start early.

Just as soon as your child can hold a crayon without eating it. Young people are pretty fearless. They take chances with lines and color and are easily pleased with the results.

Phonics drawing--vowels

  • Make drawing materials accessible.

Leave a stack of paper and a bin of writing utensils out on the dining room table. As long as they put things back when they are finished, allow them to draw whenever the mood strikes them. My children loved having their own 20 cent spiral notebooks (bought cheaply at back-to-school sale) and pencils to drag around with them wherever they went.

Drawings for fables

  • Blank paper is preferable to coloring books.

Coloring books give a child the impression there is a certain way to draw something. Blank paper gives them the freedom to draw any way they deem proper.

drawing for physics


  • Draw with them.

I know this is sort of hard for some of us, especially if we feel we aren’t talented. But children are so accepting–they will love anything you produce. It’s just the idea that you are comfortable, even with your own mistakes, that will forge the way for them.

watercolor and ink of garden flowers

  • Don’t correct.

Don’t say, “The arms on your soldier are too short,” or “Ladies really don’t have lips that big.” There is nothing like a critical remark to hamper the freedom of expression.

information about Taipei building

  • Oooh and aaah.

Yes, you need to go overboard. When a child hands me a drawing of something, even if I can’t readily identify it, I make an emotional exclamation of some sort–it’s so important!

illustration for narration

  • Ask questions.

Such as, “Where do you think this soldier is going?” or, “Why do you think this lady is all dressed up?” to stimulate conversation and add more value to their efforts. It also helps them make the connection between drawing and communicating with words.

  • Make a place for drawing.

Yes, in every subject. If there isn’t a place for doodling on, say, a math page, give him an index card for doodles and then attach it later with a stapler. The card is small enough that it will keep him from doodling away his entire time, and yet it will keep him from feeling stifled and will actually increase attention and retention.

When I create my notebooking pages for the McGuffey’s, math, spelling, etc., I try and put little boxes in for drawings and doodles. When we study history, science, politics, etc., there is a place for an illustration or two. Sometimes the graphic is printed or copied from another source, which can be important if the subject matter is complicated, etc., but this is actually the exception instead of the rule.

I know there are notebooking pages all over the Net which include graphic illustrations, but I think these defeat the purpose of the exercise and discourage the deeper learning that could take place if the child was allowed to draw for himself.

As I said before, this is not about art, it is about language. The drawings need not be refined, or even recognizable, to be effective.

Allowing children to take chances with lines and colors will only heighten their ability to communicate via words, and may bring out other latent talents yet to be enjoyed. 

I have been receiving some great input on this subject, including a valuable drawing link. Are there any pointers you would like to add?


15 thoughts on “Drawing to Learn for Effective Homeschooling”

  1. Sherry, this is totally off topic… Though I totally agree with you on this topic. I just don’t know where to post this question. How do you manage so your home does not get completely destroyed by the little and not-so-little kids? I feel like every time I turn around something is ruined. Today I noticed new drawings on the walls – toddler art. My oldest scratched up wood floors in his room because he decided to play hockey in there. And it’s not like I am not on top of things, either. I try very hard to be. I don’t expect to live in a museum. I just want some resemblance of a normal home. We can’t keep up with repairs and painting, so every time something like that happens, it will take a long time till we can fix it, and it gets very frustrating sometimes… Any advice? Thank you in advance.

    • Bless your heart! I can totally relate–it seems as though kids are just rough on stuff, and even the best of us cannot totally keep on top of things, especially if we have energetic or “creative” children. It seems strange, but I do believe there are actually children who like to take care of things, or who don’t play outside the lines, but my children were never of that ilk :/ (My oldest daughter was just telling me how her children got into the storage shed and got to their Christmas presents by unscrewing the latch from the door–it is generational!) The early years were the hardest–we would spend hard-earned cash on special toys, furniture, etc. only to find it taken apart and “repurposed” in destructive, albeit genius, ways. The latter years were not as bad, since we had dozens of eyes to catch such nuttiness before it got too far (the older kids felt it their responsibility to keep the younger ones in check). Even older children can be hard on a house, though. I am speaking here of young people learning to get control of their emotions and sometimes taking things out on furnishings–such as slamming doors, drawers, etc., leaving smelly clothes lying around and taking off for work, etc. and on and on. One thing we committed to years ago was that, when we did invest in something nice, we tried and make sure it was nearly indestructible. Our dining table is covered in thick plastic, our carpets are dark in color, and our couches are thick leather. The walls are all semi-gloss instead of satin so that they will be resistant and easily cleaned. The bunkbeds are basic, thick pine. We also plan to have to paint and repair things as we go along, so we keep supplies on hand and have days when we go around and make the children help in the fixing and repairing. Mom painting a wall doesn’t have the same impact as a child painting a wall–that child is more apt to make sure people respect his hard work.

      These are just a few ideas that come to my head. I don’t know if they are helpful at all, except to perhaps make you feel as though you are not alone :).

      • Thank you, Sherry. I felt so exasperated yesterday. I hear you. In a way it us just part of having and enjoying kids. I guess I also like for my house to be clean and somewhat pretty. I have not found the right balance. Thanks for your comment!

        • I understand, since I like having a clean and pretty house, too! I think we can enjoy a bit of both worlds if on the one hand we stay vigilant, and on the other we remember what is truly going to last in the end.

  2. I am loving these posts on drawing! It’s what I was instinctively doing already but because it didn’t fit the typical mold of education, I was having doubts. I just had another great resource to share. It’s an app called ArtKive. You can snap photos of your child’s artwork and categorize the art by child and their age when they made the drawing. I just sat last night and took many photos of our art in order to clear up some space in my homeschool room. This app solves the issue of what to actually do with the piles and piles of beautiful pieces if you are hesitant to get rid of anything. In addition, you can have the artwork printed in book form as a keepsake. I plan on making these a Christmas present this year. Hope that helps!

    • Again–thank you for the link and idea! One low-tech way I have attempted to tackle the same problem is to keep special artwork in protector sheets in a three-inch, three-ring binder labeled on the spine with the year of the collection. We keep these out on a shelf or two and the children spend hours going over them and enjoying them. With a little creativity even larger papers can be included.

      • Great idea with the binders!! I keep a file tray next to the table where they draw and they put their pictures in there. (after we ooh and ahh over them a bit) I go through it & hang some all over (fridge, walls, my bedroom door-the favorite place to showcase 🙂 ) then I throw the rest in a bin in the basement. The binders are so much easier to go through! I am LOVING this drawing series and actually thought about it this morning when drawing “S” things and Mcguffeys 🙂

      • We also keep binders with the best artwork in sheet protectors. Kids love going through them on occasion. Though we don’t specifically draw for subjects, they have almost complete freedom in drawing and painting. They spend a lot of their free time doing just that.

        • That is another reason we love homeschooling; our children have free time to enjoy the finer things on their own instead of making everything a “program.”

  3. Absolutely. Making everything into a program unfortunately often kills the love for the topic at hand. Many great educators of the past realized that. As homeschoolers we have the opportunity to hold our kids to certain standards and also allow them the freedom to learn and explore. That’s what I’ve come to love about this whole process. It is so sad that many kids we know have such busy schedules. When are they supposed to enjoy childhood? They are like miniature adults already…

  4. What if your kids are not artistic in the least and look at drawing as more of a punishment than a fun thing to do? I feel drawing and art are a great enrichment to writing, but my boys hate it. I don’t want to force them, but wonder if they will somehow be disadvantaged if they don’t draw or color at all. My 2-3-year-olds will scribble sometimes, but that’s about where it ends. We do look at art books and “try” to do art study, but our lives are very busy as we all attend language school in the mornings and then do homeschooling in the afternoons. I love all the Charlotte Mason ideas of music study, picture study, etc. Nature study doesn’t even exist because we live on the 29th floor of a high rise in a mega city. I feel like we’re doing well if a day passes and all we get done are the three R’s. My kids are all boys, ages 2-8, and # 6 is on the way.

    • My children are not inclined to draw either. When my son was little he didn’t have the least interest in drawing or coloring. When he was five I started going through the Mona Brooks drawing book with him hoping it would help him gain confidence. He is now in 2nd grade and still struggles when he is supposed to draw something from a reading. He is very mechanically minded and his handwriting is amazing but he struggles in being creative with his drawing. I will continue to have him do drawing a couple times a week (nature journal, and from Ames drawing book) to help strengthen his weakness, however because it is not an enjoyable activity I’m not going to push it otherwise it’s counterproductive. But I don’t believe we did anything wrong to inhibit their desire to draw. We are all just wired differently.

    • I’m so sorry I missed your comment, Bonny. I don’t think you should push your boys to color if they are not yet inclined. It may be that they are still working on the fine motor skills necessary to enjoy using colors and pencils to draw. My own grandson is a lot like that. He also hates to write for the same reasons. My daughter is offering things such as playdough and other things that will help him develop in these areas.

      Of course, no one ever really suffered from not enjoying drawing, unless someone forced them to try and like it! Jessica is so right–we’re all wired so differently.


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