Why is my preschool student spending so much time DRAWING?

April 29, 2020 | Kristen Jordan

Preschool teachers Ms. Jordan and Mr. Johnson collaborated on this blog during the time of distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis.

You may be wondering, why is my preschool child spending so much time drawing during distance learning?

The first two answers are ones you might expect:

1. Art for Art’s sake!

Exposure to and in-depth involvement in the arts is vastly important for your child’s overall development. Learning to create beauty and express oneself through artistic media is an essential part of the human experience.

We hear about this all the time, as in this article:

The Importance of Art in Child Development (PBS Parents Section)

2. Art is a wonderful way to supplement, support, and reinforce any area of study, both in terms of the skills needed and knowledge gained in each area.

There are so many ways for children to use the arts to communicate what they know.

We hear about this all the time in articles such as this:

Using Arts Education to Help Other Lessons Stick (New York Times)
The arts can be a source of joy in a child’s day, and also come in handy for memorizing times tables.

But the third reason might surprise you…

3. In preschool, drawing is literacy.

Let’s break this down …

The goal of writing and drawing: Communication

  • Since young children don’t yet know how to write words fluently, they use pictures instead to tell their stories, share information, and express their understanding and ideas.
  • The work we try to do with drawing encourages children to add detail and complexity to their work, just as they eventually will when writing about topics.
  • Just as there are different types of writing (narrative, story, factual, instructional, opinion, etc.), there are different ways of drawing (story, imaginative, abstract, observational, instructional, etc.). All communicate different types of information.

The drawing process has many parallels to the writing process. The steps in creating a piece of drawing are almost identical to creating a piece of writing:

  • As we draw, we think about what we want to create, plan, and work carefully.
  • We often revise and edit, making our work stronger and more beautiful.
  • Writers spend lots of time and effort re-writing. The process of re-writing, revising, and editing makes their work stronger, better, and more beautiful.  The same is true for drawing. That is why we often ask children to draw the same thing more than once and do multiple drafts, add details, or add color. We are revising and editing our work, just like writers.

Observational drawing, like literacy, requires critical thinking.

  • This overlaps a bit with Reason #2 (above)… When children create observational drawings (or paintings or block structures, etc.), they are forced to look more carefully to really see what it is they are looking at. It can be very challenging for children to remove preconceived notions about the way something looks and draw what is actually in front of them. However, the process of looking very carefully and really trying to draw what you see changes your thinking!
    • How many leaves are on those sprouts?
    • What shape are they?
    • How many body parts does that insect really have?
    • What details do you see on that bug’s face?
    • You mean it doesn’t have a smiley face like me?


  • The challenge of observing carefully and drawing what they see helps children (and all us!) gain new knowledge and is amazingly effective at helping them reconstruct ideas.
  • Additionally, the work of looking carefully, and noticing shapes and details, will help children develop spatial relation skills, a visual literacy which will help with being able to discern letters and print on the page in a book.

Drawing builds the stamina and skills needed for writing.

This one is pretty simple:

  • The more children draw, the more strength and coordination they develop in their hands and fingers (fine motor development), contributing to their ability to write words on the page efficiently.
  • The more children draw for long periods of time, the more they will be able to write for long periods of time. It helps them build stamina.
  • Letters are formed in a certain way. As children work on developing control in drawing (particularly observational drawing), they are learning the control they will need to form letters.

The beauty that is created is definitely a joy — and the long-term effects that these drawings will have on their lives as writers and readers and thinkers will be beautiful as well.


Kristen Jordan

Teacher, Rivers Class

Kristen Jordan began helping at Mustard Seed School in 2006, after her daughter had been a student in the preschool. She substituted for many years in all grades; in 2011, she returned to the classroom and has been a teacher in The Nest ever since.

Prior to the birth of her daughter Clara, in 2002, Ms. Jordan worked in Brooklyn as a first grade teacher with the New York City Public Schools. During this time, her school collaborated with the Brooklyn Museum, and this work helped Ms. Jordan develop a real interest in the parallels between the process of making art and the process of writing in the classroom. She thoroughly enjoys teaching both art and literacy to preschoolers.

Ms Jordan’s background includes work with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. While at Teachers College, she trained with esteemed educator and author Lucy Calkins. Early in her teaching career, Ms. Jordan did not think that she wanted to teach very young children but her view has changed! She now really enjoys and takes great interest in young children and their development.

Ms. Jordan enjoys reading, working out, hiking, cooking, and spending time with her daughter and family. Although she has lived on the East Coast for a very long time, as a native of Oregon, she really loves the mountains!

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