Teaching children to write through illustration

Illustration is the art of telling stories with pictures.

We spend so much time and energy teaching children to write, while we ignore and often discourage, their natural storytelling skills.

Have you ever given children a piece of paper and some drawing implements and then watched them get to work?

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of hesitation or reluctance to get going. Any reluctance is usually a matter of self-confidence in the child, which has probably been bashed out of them by adults already.

Completing a drawing is a brilliant confidence booster. The drawing stares back in an uncomplicated, non-judgemental way and says, “Well done. You created me!”

Drawing is the simplest way of creating something out of nothing and manifesting original thought. Never mind the improved fine motor skills, cognitive growth and improved attention.

Kids love drawing and undertake the task with seemingly inborn ability. No need to learn complicated letters or graphemes. They just do it, and quite often they do it collaboratively, building a picture through conversation and storytelling.

A huge percentage of the children in any classroom are visually-minded. Some may even be word-blinded.

The natural exam-based process that chooses our teachers, selects word-minded people, who may have no concept of just how difficult written language is for some visually-minded children.

While teachers wonder how to improve writing skills, they ignore the inborn storytelling skills their children have already.

Illustration is the art of storytelling and illustration is what children do – naturally – without coercion.

Children are natural illustrators. They will build drawings, adding new stuff as they think of it. Essentially, they are building first drafts of stories.

Many a time I have done a simple drawing of one of my characters with a class. As I go around looking at the children’s work, some children ask if they can add a police car or a plane crash in the background, or maybe a marauding dinosaur or a city landscape.

Later in the day, their teacher will find me and show me how a child has not only labelled their drawing but has written the story too, often explaining that this child never writes anything.

Now I would love to take all the credit! Sure, it’s cool and exciting to have an author or an illustrator come into your class for the day, but all I did was to show how to get started and give permission for the story to grow and expand, just by the fact that I was there and so the time was found and allowed for the child to experiment.

It would be wonderful if teachers would or could be allowed to draw, showing children how to tackle complicated drawings. I find, in my experience of visiting schools, that teachers are often scared of drawing, of making a fool of themselves. They have maybe been given an afternoon on the subject at Teacher Training College – institutions that further self-selected lecturers to be even more word-biased!

I fully understand that politicians set goals and targets for teachers to reach, otherwise they lose their jobs. They even prescribe the routes to achieving those goals – even though they may be counter-productive.

The goals and targets are arbitrary, set by politicians and word-minded educationalists to discriminate against the creative and visually-minded.

What is so sad about this situation, is that the introduction of drawing (and reading for pleasure, not for point scoring,) would actually bring about the elusive results that, for all the highly-researched pedagogical input, the politicians so desire but find to be ultimately unachievable.

There is an old law of teaching – you only have to be one day ahead of your students.

Teachers, can learn to draw well enough to teach their children simple starter drawings – as they might offer starter sentences – which then give permission to the children to carry on and build their “first drafts”.

The amazing benefit is that children love and admire teacher’s for their drawing talent – however bad the teacher may think the drawing is. Watching a teacher show how to draw something is magic – like watching a magician draw a rabbit out of a hat. How do they do that!?

Children seem to have an innate skill, when it comes to drawing, but they do need instruction, time and practice to improve their skills – skills they will happily share amongst themselves like no other subject. After all, the only tuition they are getting in drawing skills at the moment is from their peers.

Drawing teaches advanced research skills, application and concentration resulting in improved self-esteem and knowledge retention. What’s not to like?

Get those pencils out and have a go!

What do you think would make a good subject for a drawing video? If you are under 13, please get permission from an adult to send your idea.

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