November 10, 2020
Drawing is widely recognized as part of the developmental progression of writing development. However, drawing remains to be something that it not widely taught in early childhood classrooms. Since drawing is part of a young child’s writing tools, we need to embrace this developmental stage of writing and explicitly teach drawing to young children!
I was first introduced to this idea by Marth Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe in their book Talking, Drawing, Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers. Horn and Giaccobbe (2007) write, "If we really believe that drawing is writing, then we need to give our students information about how to draw well, just as we do with writing word" (p. 52). I echo their calling and encourage you to think about incorporating drawing lessons into your writing instruction with young children. Until children become fluent writers of words, drawing will always play a valuable role in helping children organize their thinking and express their ideas. Organizing thinking and expressing ideas are foundations for writing.
Let’s explore a few reasons as to why drawing should be integrated into writing instruction in the early childhood classroom:
Drawing builds on children’s interests and strengths
Drawing is an enjoyable activity that many young children engage in frequently, and it is a skill with which young children enter school. They have been using a variety of writing utensils to make intentional marks on paper (or walls!) since they were toddlers. When you ask a child to tell you about their drawing, they have a clear answer about the marks on the page, which adults may perceive as scribbles or chaos, which is not usually the case! The word “scribble” typically has a negative connotation; adults use this word to describe marks on a page that they do not understand and therefore, label as messy. However, this connotation does not honor the child’s intention of express ideas through drawing
When we recognize that children are expressing ideas through visual symbols constructed on a page, we can then begin to view children’s drawing as an early form of writing. We can then help them hone their drawing skills to express their intentions more clearly as we provide them with drawing instruction. Leveraging a child’s natural inclination to draw capitalizes on their developmental strengths and promotes success and confidence in young writers.
Drawing can be used to help teach the writing process
Brainstorming. Drafting. Revising. Editing. Publishing. The steps of the writing process are well known. Did you know that children can go through this process with drawing? Each step of the writing process can be introduced and explored through drawing.
As we engage young children in the writing process through drawing, we are not only building the foundation for later writing development, but also teaching valuable cognitive and language skills. These skills include recalling memories, connecting ideas, using specific vocabulary, and forming complex ideas into language.
Drawing can help children learn about craft and structure of writing
As children think about filling in details in their drawing, decide what details to draw viewers’ attention to, and draw a series of pictures, they are learning about craft and structure. Craft and structure include how text is organized, word choice, and types of genres. How is this translated in drawing?
So, what do I mean when I say we should teach drawing? Teaching drawing looks like incorporating drawing ‘mini-lessons’ into your day. Ideas for drawing mini-lessons include:
In drawing mini-lessons you will model drawing skills (you do not have to be an artist!) and then provide children time to practice these skills. As you model, think aloud (just like you do when you are modeling writing). Invite children to share their drawings and explain how they drew what they drew. Consider focusing on one skill over several mini-lessons to help children internalize the skill you are teaching and provide them with many opportunities to practice.
Hopefully, you see the value of integrating drawing instruction into writing instruction. When we do so, we recognize that children are writers who use drawings to express their ideas. We honor the rich literacy practices that children DO enter school with and acknowledge that children are writers from a young age, even before they can use conventional writing to express ideas.
I leave you with a quote from Horn and Giacobbe (2007):
“Most important, drawing is part of writing because it is what young children do naturally and playfully. And playfulness that energizes, challenges, and engages is essential in our classrooms” (p. 64).