How can learning to draw help with learning to write?

Jun 24, 2019

We learn by observing, experimenting, exploring, making mistakes, and through explicit teaching.

Making the first marks

What a joy to watch the delight on a toddler’s face when they see the marks they make with a crayon on paper. Can I do that again?! How we react as viewers has an impact also on whether or not the child making the marks will be encouraged to try again. Asking them to talk about what they have drawn helps them (and you!) to clarify thinking and ideas. Using your imagination to perhaps embellish what you think they have drawn can build their confidence to try again - to see what else you might see, always mindful that what they say it is, is what it is! They may then start to see more in their creations. You’ll learn to distinguish what it is they are trying to draw and your acknowledgement gives them inspiration to do more.

These rather random arm and hand movements gradually become more purposeful and controlled. They make straight lines, curved lines, go round and round in circles, scribble back and forth. As they attempt different strokes and actions, there will be opportunities for you to suggest and guide. Possibly you could add elements on their paper but they may feel like you are interfering with their work. Alternatively, you could have your own piece of paper where you do your own drawings: simple ones that they might try to copy. Any attempts to copy can be praised pointing out the parts that you can see and perhaps a suggestion of how they might add a little something to see how they feel that looks.

Developing control

Learning to control a pencil or crayon correctly (or a paintbrush, for that matter), is essential in developing the fine motor skills required to form letters and blend these into words which flow across the page then as sentences. These are not skills to be left until they start formal education. Toddlers want to make their mark - preferably not on the walls or other inappropriate surfaces! At an early age they can learn what materials are suitable if you ensure they have ready access to them.

With the first attempts at drawing simple shapes involving lines, curves and circles you may suggest this be a face: circle for the head, circle for eyes, dots for the nose and a curve for the mouth. Demonstrate for them how drawing a circle is done anti-clockwise (ready for letter formation) - remembering that what they do themselves is not wrong but by constantly being a role model for them and getting them to copy, they will develop the correct action. There are of course letters that require circles to go clockwise so they are just as important. Then maybe add some stick legs. Encourage lines from top to bottom of the page (for common letter formations) - but add variety! Do some zigzags. Then some spirals and snakes - this is drawing fun but will eventually help with letters like ‘e’ and ‘s’. You get the idea! Have a look at Artventure lessons like Feelings Show or Circle Creature.

Building sound and letter relationships

If you have been helping your child to hear initial sounds in words, like 'mmmmmum' and 'mmmmilk', 'dddddad' and 'ddddog' then you might feel they are ready to try to do the first letter of their name. Using the SOUND not the name of the letter (NAMES of letters come later) helps build word knowledge. 'Eddie' starts with the sound ‘e’ not the letter ‘ee’. Obviously some letters are easier to create than others and some sounds are confusing! 'George' does not start with ‘j’, the sound. 'Imogen' starts with ‘i’ but Isla starts with ‘eye’. There are 44 sounds in the English language but only 26 letters! The capital or upper-case version is what they should be learning to draw/write for their own name, as all proper nouns/names start with a capital. They’ll learn later that there is a lower-case version as well ('Eddie' uses both versions). By building the SOUNDS orally, and then showing them how to write the sounds, they can form words (what two letters make the ‘ee’ sound at the end of 'Eddie'?). They can now be learning that these sounds they have drawn/written have names too - created by the letters of the alphabet. Writing has started!

Communicating through writing and drawing

From writing to writers. Writers first draw, then form letters. Experienced writers create pictures with their words. When even just the basic skills of creating letters, words and sentences have been developed, ideas can then be recorded and we become writers. Initially we can share stories and ideas through pictures and by drawing. We add names and words to our artwork. A sentence describes what is in the picture. Gradually we get to the point where we write first, then illustrate. Eventually there are just words and the images are created in our mind.

Exploring writing opportunities

Helping children develop their imagination to produce creative ideas and texts starts with telling them stories, reading books, exploring pictures and talking about these. Discuss events they are involved in; build their vocabulary related to things they are interested in. Support them in their understanding and use of new words - to develop a knowledge base of facts. Be creative yourself and allow them to play in a fantasy world. Get them to recount the day’s activities: what they liked best and didn’t like, and what they are grateful for. Read picture books and encourage them to look closely at pictures. Is there more to the story than what’s in the words? Track the words with your finger as you read. Show them capital letters in the text that are the same as the start of their name. Is there a repeated line that they can say while you follow it with your finger? Can they predict what might happen before turning the page? All these interactions help children become writers (as well as readers).

As they attempt to write, diversify the format for this with opportunities for drawing and writing. They can make greeting cards, birthday and thank you cards. Give their writing a purpose. Ask them to draw/write a list of activities they would like to do. Create a menu listing all the food available for breakfast, with drawings, and then get them to ask the family what they would like. Try a search in Artventure for ‘food’. Write the week’s shopping list. Write a letter to Nan. Make a book for a sibling or cousin. Being mindful of opportunities for children to draw and write in their daily activities helps them develop their hand-eye coordination, their creativity and their literacy.

So how does drawing help us write? By learning that:

  • circles and lines, curves and squiggles can create letters
  • letters represent sounds
  • sounds build words
  • words relate to drawings
  • writing stories creates pictures in our head.

This video clip shares similar ideas: ‘Why kids should draw more

Teacher and Artventure Blogger