10/30/2011 10:19 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2011

Drawing for Young Learners

As a teacher of young children for more than 30 years, one of the things that I valued most was children's drawings. What incredible imagination and creativity young children have!

At the beginning of each school year, I would go to the board and create for the children hand-drawn pictures of what we were going to learn. In that way, I showed the children that we can communicate through drawing, just like book illustrators do. Then I showed them that those pictures can be described by words, and we can read them.

What I also showed the children was that I was not afraid to draw, no matter what it looked like. I just did my best. What was important for the children to learn from me was that drawing is a way to express oneself, and once they saw me drawing, they did not once say that they couldn't draw! This is a crucial turning point in encouraging children's learning and creativity.

Drawing promotes recognition of visual details, conceptual understanding of what is being learned, and improved eye-hand coordination. Those children with detailed drawings were those who also became the best writers of the letters we were learning as the year progressed. My four-year-old students amazed me! Their drawings showed so many details of the concepts we were studying. During a theme on insect families, their renderings of butterflies, ladybugs, flies, and other insects had heads, thoraxes, abdomens, and the correct number of legs!

As your child begins to learn to write letters, you can ask him or her to write labels and captions for the drawings. Don't worry about spelling and legibility--what's important in doing this is that your child is making connections between pictures, words, and ideas.

At home, ask your child to draw what he or she did at school that day. Or ask your child to draw pictures of family or friends. You can also model drawing by drawing a part of a picture and asking your child to add to it so it becomes a family project. Share those pictures by placing them on the refrigerator and make a point to have your child draw as much as possible every day. Keep a scrapbook of his or her drawings as a perfect gift for grandparents.

All of these activities will show your child that you value his or her written communications--a valuable step along the road to learning to write.