Using Drawing to Build Fine Motor Skills, Teach Vocabulary, Math, and Reading!

I have always been a bit of an artist.  It began with a love of coloring in my preschool years, and drawing and painting became a passion during high school.  I liked to make everything I did a bit artistic.  My math projects doubled as art projects, as my “stella octangula” was a patterned kaleidoscope of drawings.  My middle school science project (an electric circuit board) became an intricate drawing extravaganza as I matched drawings of Disney villains and heroes via electric circuits.  For me, adding art to my work heightened my interest, and consequently my effort.

Years later, I see it doing the same for my students.  It all began with handwriting.  While I believe that basic handwriting skills are necessary, teaching handwriting can be a struggle.  I find that kids are either naturally great at handwriting and love it, or they struggle with it and it is a misery.  With certain students, handwriting was the “break down” part of the day.

However, with these same students, I had an “in” through drawing.  I could get them to focus on pencil grip, control the pressure of their lines, manage shading, and even put together very detailed drawings.  The difference was incredible.  They were motivated by learning to draw things they were interested in, and the side bonus of improved legibility was icing on the cake.

I began implementing weekly drawing time with my kids.  I should mention that they draw daily as part of their writing workshop, and they do have art class once a week as well.  I am a firm believer in creative expression, and I want my students to have freedom to explore different ways of representing ideas.  All of that being said, I saw remarkable changes in my students when I began teaching them how to draw some simple things.

Let me start at the beginning….  The drawing journey all kicks off with our “artist tools.”  At the beginning of the school year I ask for donations of 64 count Crayola crayon boxes.  I need one box of crayons per child.  I then sort the crayons into baggies.  For example, all red crayons go in a bag, all magenta into another bag, all wild strawberry into another, etc.  I also set up trays for each student.  On the tray there are four cups, each with a colored sticker label on it to indicate the shades and colors that will go in that cup.

After several weeks of sharing tubs of pencils and crayons, the kids are thrilled to learn that they will have a set of brand new crayons that are all theirs.  These crayons are their artist tools, and I release them to them slowly.  I might give them five or six crayons on the first day.  Then, each time we do a drawing activity, I give them a few more colors.  I give them what I think they will need or want for a certain drawing.  The slow release of the crayons keeps them absolutely hooked – they cannot wait to get new colors!  By having the crayons already sorted, I just grab a bag and pass one out to each child.

I then explain to the kids that these crayons are their artist tools.  They do not have to share them with anyone.  If they break a crayon, they have a broken crayon.  If they use up all of a color, it is gone.  They can organize and use them as they like.

Then we get into the lesson.  When I teach the kids to draw, I am giving them specific instructions on how to make something that looks just like mine.  Again, this is not because I want every kid to be alike.  Instead, it gives them a place to start.  I am sure to tell them before every lesson that this is not the only  way to draw a _________, but it is an option.  I then take the kids, step by step, through a drawing process.

This is where it gets fun.  Depending on my goals for the day, I can embed so many lessons.  My early lessons focus a lot on pencil grip and positional words.  (“Draw a circle in the middle of the page.  Next, draw a small rectangle below the circle.”)  I use lots of basic shapes, and show the kids how they can draw almost anything using basic shapes.

As we proceed, I teach them about pressure.  I show them how to increase and decrease the pressure as they color to create different shades, and I show how too much pressure can break a crayon.  We talk about shading, and how to use shading to make things look three dimensional.

I teach the kids how to read the color names on the sides of the crayons. I talk to them about proportions, measurements, how to use a ruler, parallel and perpendicular lines, symmetry, scientific drawings, labels and diagrams – the list goes on.  I also let the kids tell me what they want to learn to draw.  As long as it is appropriate, it is fair game.  We have drawn mermaids, dirt bikes, helicopters, Halloween witches – you name it.

Here is the point.  Getting kids to practice holding a pencil so they can make a row of 25 letter h figures across dotted lines is difficult.  Getting kids to carefully hold a “macaroni and cheese colored crayon” as they color parallel lines on a submarine is much more fun.

Over the next few weeks I will be highlighting some of the drawing activities I do with my kids to show how you can embed so many curricular concepts into something incredibly motivating and fun!

How do you help build fine motor skills in struggling students?  How do you use art to build motivation?

4 Responses to Using Drawing to Build Fine Motor Skills, Teach Vocabulary, Math, and Reading!

  1. Tracey November 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    How do you store each student’s set of cups? I like the drink holders!

    • Teaching Ace December 1, 2012 at 9:35 am #

      Hi! Sorry for the delay in responding. Storage is a challenge. In my current classroom I have a piece of furniture with eight drawers at the bottom. I assign four students per drawer (using six drawers) and put stickers on the drawers so the kids can always locate their tray. I love this system, because the kids can access their tools easily and independently. Before I got this furniture, I used large pieces of foam core to create shelves, and stacked the trays in between. This worked in terms of space, but the kids could not get their tools independently. I think you just have to work with the furniture and space available.

  2. early learning stores basildon eng July 12, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    I recently came across your blog again have been reading along.

    I thought I would leave my first-class comment. I don’t know what to say except
    that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog, I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  1. 3D Objects and Drawing | Teaching Ace - August 10, 2013

    […] About once a week, give or take, we do a class drawing activity.  It sometimes focuses on things the kids want to learn to draw, but sometimes I choose the plan.  You can read more about the drawing work we do by clicking here. […]