Making the Drawing/Literacy Connection

by Judy Potter

Drawing is an important part of literacy development. Observe as children draw together and you often see and hear them telling stories as they draw, adding occasional letters, and reading their drawings. When the environment is set up so children can have access to materials plus time to make choices and explore processes, it is common for children to spend a long time on their drawings or cover a whole page with writing. Maehr (1989) says that young children may consider their drawings to be actual writing. If asked to 'read' their marks, children can give a clear message or story. Older children may recognize that drawing is an illustrative form of communication, but still continue to use it as writing. Let's look at some more similarities:

Sylvia Chard (1999) says that when doing observational drawings children look closely and observe carefully. Drawing also helps them remember past experiences. Using clipboards children can do observational drawings anywhere. Sylvia calls these "field notes and "event maps" - a mixture of study drawings and notes.

The following are some activity ideas that help children make the drawing/literacy connection:

Have Clipboard-Will Travel:

Small clipboards can be made for each child, using an 8" x 11" piece of heavy cardboard as a base. Secure a clip to the cardboard to hold several pieces of blank paper. If interesting artifacts, such as a collection of leaves, pine cones, or pebbles are on display in the science area, encourage children to take their clipboards with some drawing/writing tools over to make study drawings. Children can also take their clipboards on walks or on field trips to make field drawings and words of what they hear and see. Children can draw pictures and/or write down sounds or sights they encounter. After the walk or field trip, children can share their information with adults and peers.

 Create a Book:

Children's experiences at home, in class, or on field trips add to their learning. Talking, drawing, and writing about the experiences fosters emergent literacy development. After a field trip or other shared learning experience, tell the children that you are going to help them make a book about it. Offer several sheets of paper and invite children to draw pictures of their experiences. Ask children open-ended questions, such as "Tell me about this part of our trip to the train station. What was happening in this picture." Listen as children describe each picture and, on a separate sheet of paper, write down the words exactly as the child says them. These pages can go into the book next to the appropriate picture. Ask each child to help you put the pictures and words in the right order, according to what happened first, next, and last during the trip. Children can create a cover from poster board or colorful construction paper. Ask children to draw on and title their cover then write their name. Bind all pages together inside the cover, then place it in the reading area so the child can share it with the other children. Children can also make a group experience book, each child drawing a different part of the experience. At one of the Expressive Arts Outreach sites children became authors of a group classroom book (Potter & Schoon). Each child had a page with his or her photograph, name, self portrait drawing, and emergent writing. Children had great fun reading their book to one another.

 Dual Platform CD Software Alternatives:

The Amazing Writing Machine (Broderbund) lets a child create a journal or book on the computer and then print in out. In this program children can both draw, paint, use stamps, and write on each page.
Kid Pix Studio (Broderbund) is a children's drawing and painting program. Children can also stamp letters or use the type option to write. The drawings can be saved and placed in a slide show or printed out to create a book.
Disney's Magic Artist (Disney) and IBM's Crayola Make a Masterpiece (IBM Inc.) both have many drawing and painting options. Children can choose to draw or write, collect their work in a portfolio, show a slide show, and print out to create a book.
HyperStudio (Knowledge Adventure) is another way children can create a book about their learning experiences in the home, in the classroom and on field trips.

 The Expressive Arts Outreach Project replication site staff have tried some of these ideas in their early childhood classrooms, using adaptive grips on marking tools when needed. They are finding important connections between drawing and literacy development. I hope you will too.


Chard, S. (August 9, 1999). Engaging children in drawing. Workshop held at Wild Life Prairie Park, IL: Best Practices, Inc.

Maehr, J. (1989). Right! Young children can write! Extensions: Newsletter of the High/Scope Curriculum, 4, 3, 1-4.

Potter, J., & Schoon, S. (1998). Classroom activities. ArtExpress: All around the sites, 3, 4, 1.


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