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Drawing with children: what I wish I’d known

What do you wish you’d known?

I think all parents can point to something.

For me, I wish I’d known about drawing with children (earlier at least): known how important drawing is for early literacy development and as a tool for expression, how to engage a disinterested drawer, how to get a child started on a drawing when they’re feeling anxious about it and how to say “yes” to the mess while strategically managing it with the right equipment and resources.

These learnings started with my experiences of drawing with each of my kids. I share them as my backstory to Squiggle Kids.

Little Mate

My first child, who I call Little Mate in this blog, was not interested in drawing or anything that involved sitting down and creating with paper. In fact, he was so disinterested in it, he would scribble roughly across a page and then either tear or scrunch the paper up. I tried a few times, carefully curating the paper and the drawing tools to try to make it more engaging, and got nowhere other than to a place where I felt frustrated and helpless.

Even kinder didn’t spark his interest in making art. What he did bring home from the painting easel spoke mostly of disinterest too – a quick slap of paint here and another one there!

I decided it probably wasn’t “his thing” and I gave up – partly because his thing seemed to be the outdoors, slides, swings and buggies and partly because it seemed to be the thing of others, particularly girls of the same age, whose homes were adorned with artwork and where making tables were frequently occupied.

But now I know the importance of drawing for preparing children for school, as an early literacy activity and as a tool for expression and therefore that it’s worth persisting with. And now I have a bunch of crafty ideas to encourage and inspire a disinterested drawer like Little Mate – like taking the drawing outside with chalk, drawing in sand in the sandpit, painting with water, drawing with and for him and using his fascination with trains to spark his interest.


Our next little boy showed great interest in drawing, colouring, making and craft.

I have a framed copy of a whale he drew just before his second birthday (well, I think he drew a whale – but because I declared it as such, it’s now the only truth we know!)

In his three-year old kinder year, Dames was asked to draw a design on a big white piece of paper at home that was to be printed on a melamine plate. While I was excited for the opportunity and I thought he’d jump right in, being the interested drawer he was, he instead hit a blank: he didn’t know where to start. It was making him anxious. Putting something down on the page required a huge effort. He kept asking me to do it for him.

But now I know that all children can find it hard to get started drawing, particularly when it’s for a particular project or outcome rather than just for fun. And now I have lots of ideas for helping get a child started drawing, such as drawing alongside the child, starting the drawing off or taking turns drawing. I also have a bunch of ideas for engaging with children’s art without hijacking their creativity (aka the whale incident)!

Miss Gubby

My daughter, Miss Gubby, is now three years old. She has been drawing from early on – it’s easier for little siblings because there are more drawing resources around the home and older children model drawing and creating for them.

But adding children can bring another complication to drawing with your children – not having the time.

Painting is one activity that takes time for parents – set up, supervision and clean-up time. As a busy mum of three, my reaction to Miss Gubby’s question “can I paint?” was often “no”. I always seemed to be in the middle of something when the question came up and not able to drop everything and help facilitate the activity as I would like to.

But now I have some less messy and easier to clean up paint options when Miss Gubby wants to paint and I can’t be as hands on as I want. And, for those days when I do have the time, I say yes to the mess of poster paints and do it with her (getting involved also helps to keep the mess contained!)

My “why” Squiggle Kids

I know I’m not alone in these experiences: drawing with kids can be hard because it can take you out of your comfort zone. Many people also don’t appreciate the importance of drawing for children and their development.

So I started Squiggle Kids with Debbie Isaac to:

  • lift the profile of drawing for young children; and
  • share ideas, strategies, tools and drawing resources for parents and educators to engage and extend children in drawing activities.

Debbie is a paediatric occupational therapist with a long-held passion for drawing with kids both at home and in a clinical setting. Her why Squiggle Kids is different to mine and she will tell you about it in our next blog.

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