Teaching Children to Draw: Tips from a Recovering Art Major

Teaching children artThe three art degrees I collected in college are finally paying off.

I wanted to be an artist ever since I started sketching superheroes as a lad. My passion fizzled near the end of college when I realized my writing skills lapped my artistic ones. All that training – and days spent studying nude figure models – went for naught.

Suddenly, my art skills are in demand again.

My sons are at the age when taking pen to paper is a joy. Ben, at 2, shows genuine creativity and zest for art. Elijah, nearly 5, is less enamored with art but still game when given a blank sheet of paper and crayons.

As a parent, I could simply sit back and let their artistic juices flow. Why not fall back on my art training to make each drawing session the best it can be? Fellow parents may consider the following advice from a recovering art major …

  • Don’t Skimp on Supplies: I remember fellow art students struggled with one media but thrived using another. The same holds true for children. A pack of Crayola Crayons and paper should be all a parent needs, but it’s best to give your children an array of art tools. You never know which tool will become your child’s favorite. Note: If you spring for paints and markers, find supplies that are easy to clean up. You will be scrubbing paint and magic markers from walls, tables and other unwanted surfaces. Also, consider keeping a stack of gently used or recycled papers on hand. Art supplies aren’t cheap, and our boys go through paper at a maddening rate. Turn cardboard boxes inside out for more drawing surfaces.
  • Build on School Sessions: Elijah constantly creates art projects in class, proudly showing them to me on the way home from school. Don’t just display his masterpieces on the refrigerator door. Ask questions about the projects and see if you can connect them to art you can do at home. Ask the teacher about the methods used for each assignment and mimic the approach if possible. That will keep your children inspired and draw a powerful connection between home and school time.

Child's turkey art work

  • Observation is the Key: Some life lessons are as simple as they are effective. The key to hitting a baseball is keeping your eye on the ball. Period. With illustration, it’s learning how to observe. Ask a friend to draw a model’s face, and the first thing he or she will do is create a face from memory, complete with oval-shaped eyes that look little like the model’s actual eyes. Look. Really look. It’s a skill I picked up in art school that I never forgot, and instilling it early in your children could make a difference in the work they create.
  • Stand Back … Back: One of my favorite art professors would physically force us to step back from our easels to see our art from a different perspective. Have your budding artists do the same to give them a fresh approach to their creations.
  • Inspire Creativity, not Conformity: Growing up, my grandmother and I use to color all the time, and I couldn’t understand why she used colors that didn’t match reality. I was a pretty uptight kid and couldn’t see beyond the obvious. Years later I realized she was right. We don’t need to make the sun yellow, the sky blue and the grass green all the time. Let your kids color the way they see the world, and you’ll let their creativity free.


  1. says

    This is great…and comforting. Our oldest (a junior in HS) wants to study art and design. We’ve long-encouraged her love. But there’s a fear she won’t eat or move out. I guess we buy into the starving-artist stereotype and constantly talk about “real” careers, but that’s unfair. Poor kid.

    We are all about finding creative surfaces to use. We gave the basement stairwell to our younger daughter as a canvas because she was wild about drawing on walls.

  2. says

    I was initially an art major in college. Then I thought I needed to do something more marketable and I ended up majoring in English and Film. In other news, I apparently have no idea what is marketable . . .

    My daughter at three has cooled somewhat in her excitement about drawing and coloring, but has gotten more and more excited about painting. Which is basically cool, since I’m a painter, but also daunting, because it’s seriously hard for me to work up the energy for what will most likely end up a marathon splatter-painting activity. If only art weren’t so messy (says the dude who’s done a lot of splatter painting himself).

    • Christian Toto says

      That’s funny. One reason I liked to draw rather than paint as an art major was the mess … too many spills, cleaning agents, etc. Just got fed up with it, but the mess factor is infinitely worse with a young one! Please check out a post I’ll be publishing shortly — it’s all about honoring your child’s talents even when they stand in stark opposition to your own gifts and interests…

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