When you think about kids drawing, what do you think about? Is it cute little figures with legs coming directly out of heads? Is it stray marks outside the lines in a coloring book? Is it a unique family portrait one of your children drew and has a special place in your heart? Whatever your answer, there is probably one thing you don’t think about when you look at your child’s drawings. Their ability to write. We all like pretty pictures and rainbows, but you might be surprised to learn just how much drawing can impact a child’s writing skills, from before they are in preschool until they are in high school and beyond. Whether it’s developing fine motor skills or fleshing out ideas before writing fiction, drawing can directly impact how well your child writes. Read on to learn more.
How does drawing help language development? Drawing helps develop fine motor skills.
For preschool teachers, fine motor skill and gross motor skills are something they think about and look for every day. But what do these terms really mean? Gross motor skills refer to those that use larger muscle movements- those that move arms, legs, or the entire body. Gross motor skills include running, throwing, and jumping. Gross motor skills develop earlier than fine motor skills in children, especially babies.
Fine motor skills are those that require smaller movements, particularly those done with the hand. Fine motor skills can be developed with drawing, cutting, pasting, tearing, and other activities that require small movements of the fingers and hands. Parents magazine recommends using certain materials to develop fine motor skills in preschoolers. “Good choices include…crayons, nontoxic and washable markers and paints, paste, glue, modeling clay, an easel, construction paper, safety scissors, a smock to guard against stained clothing, coloring books, and simple sewing cards.” It’s interesting then, that so many art materials are great for developing fine motor skills.
And why bother with fine motor skills to begin with? Fine motor skills are essential for good handwriting. Children must learn muscle control if they are to hold a pencil properly, form letters with the tiny movements writing requires, or stay on a line as they write. Drawing develops strength in these muscles and control as well. For children, drawing provides practice in fine motor skills that are essential as a child learns how to write.
Drawing promotes organized thinking.
Drawing isn’t just beneficial to children under five. If you could be a fly on the wall of almost any high school writing class in the U.S. today, you’d hear the teacher talking about the writing process. When writing an essay or piece of short fiction, a student does not start with the first word and write in sequence till they reach the end. Writing is something that comes in stages, including generating ideas, developing those idea, and organizing those ideas. All before any actual writing takes place.
Your child may not be writing high school essays, especially if they still like when you read aloud. But you can encourage this type of thinking with your child even before they can write. And you can do it with drawing.
Drawing isn’t something that one does linearly. You don’t start on the left side of the paper and make every necessary mark before moving an inch to the right and making all the marks there, continuing one inch at a time until you reach the right edge of the paper. In the same way you don’t start writing at the beginning of a longer piece and continue until you reach the end.
With drawing, you get bigger pieces in place before fleshing them out. And you may get the basics of several items in a picture in place before getting into detail with any of them. This actually mirrors the writing process. Get the big ideas in place and then develop them with details. As new ideas come while drawing, they can be added to the picture. A child can continue this way until they have a complete picture with many interesting details. This is also true as a child, and even professional authors, write. Through the writing process, they get bigger ideas in place before adding details and fleshing them out. When they get new ideas, they add them to the picture where they belong, not just the space that is next in line. When a child becomes comfortable with this process, getting the big pieces situated and then adding more details around and to them, they will be better prepared to write as they get older.
The next time your child sits down with a pack of crayons, sit with them. Draw with them, either on their page or on your own. And ask them to talk about the picture as they create it. You’ll be surprised at the story that may come from your child’s mouth – complete with plot, characters, and setting (the three essential pieces for any story). And the story will develop and change as the picture does. My friend talks about a time she was painting with her son, six at the time. He started with a big green blob in the center of the page and went on to tell a complete story with a captured baby, a mom who was trying to get him, and ninjas. (Everything is better with ninjas.) The painting still hangs on her wall – a complete picture and story for all to see.
Drawing helps form a writer
Your child may not be a career novelist or even a journalist when they are ready to enter the workforce. But writing will be a part of their future to one degree or another, even if they don’t pursue education beyond high school. You can help lay the foundation for writing by encouraging your child to draw. And as they draw, have them talk about the story they are portraying on paper. I doubt you’ll mention the writing process when you do, but you can be assured that encouraging this process in your child will lay the foundations they will need as they become more proficient writers.
And as they make their crayon masterpiece, it will benefit more than just their mind. It will benefit their muscles too. Whether they choose crayons, markers, or paintbrushes, or any other items in the craft aisle, the process of creating art will help develop the fine motor skills your child needs to hold a pencil and manipulate it correctly. Yes, painting a rainbow across the page can impact whether your child can stay between the lines.
Drawing has a lot to offer kids, both young and old. It develops the mind and the body and above all, in my opinion, it’s fun. So grab a piece of paper and sit down with your child today. Let them create. Let them dream. And let them learn without even realizing they are doing it. As acclaimed educator Maria Montessori so wisely put it, “Play is the work of the child.”