As an artist, public school art teacher of 17 years, and a mom, I have no doubt that kids simply need to draw and make their marks. Repeatedly, I have witnessed toddler to elementary school-age children's intense desire to take a pencil to empty paper (or empty wall) – without the control or instructions from adults, without an objective, without “color in the lines” parameters, and without judgment. The act of drawing is invaluable to developing fine motor agility (for future writing skills too), confidence, creativity, and a visual way of communicating.
Recently a stressed-out friend asked, “What should I do? My 3-year-old daughter wants to draw. I don’t know how to draw.” My answer, “The best thing to do is get big pieces of empty white paper, a variety of drawing tools and let her play. Make sure she knows that there is not a wrong way to draw and it doesn’t have to look like something. Give her space and time. The hottest commodities of any artist!” Most parents know that play is the work of children, how they grow and learn about the world, but parents need to include drawing in that play. When drawing is part of the play routine, the approach is more relaxed and less stress is placed on the results.
Especially between ages 12 months to 6 years, the best
drawing lesson at home is one that involves “empty paper”
time (if you run out, draw on both sides!). As a parent,
watching this process of discovery is intoxicating; it’s
watching your child make his or her first marks on the
world. An empty piece of paper may scare the average adult,
but to a 2 year old, it is ripe with possibilities, a way of being
the boss, and taking control of his or her own life. Beginning
drawing, like learning how to talk or play an instrument,
takes time. It starts with scribbles and playing, and leads
to first shapes and further visual vocabulary – a way of
communicating beyond words.
At age 2, my daughter was a joy to watch, and I couldn’t help but hover over her as she would draw or paint. I will never forget the day that she looked up at me and pointed to a kitchen chair on the other side of the room and barked, “SIT!” A little shocked, I moved farther away to give her space and time. Now I chuckle at the incident – toddlers know what to do with a blank sheet of paper. They need these opportunities to be in charge, but it is the adults that place too many restrictions and often get in the way of such a pure form of creativity.
Many adults pass on their misconceptions that some people are "good" at drawing and others not onto their children. I suggest that you view the process of drawing, like exercise or organic food, as simply "good for you". Once you get your child drawing, step back, and watch. I guarantee you will learn a lot. Then, leave him or her alone for a while, or here’s a thought, begin a drawing of your own. Embrace the empty page and see where it leads, start with scribbles and playing.