Observational Drawing for Younger Kids

Leonardo da Vinci didn't go to school as a child. As a boy, he spent his days outside– looking carefully at nature, and recording what he saw in his detailed sketches and field notes. 

No one taught him how to draw... he taught himself.

Observational drawing for younger kids | Art project for kids | Invite your kids to draw what they see

This may come as a surprise, but drawing is really not a "talent" as many people believe it to be. Drawing is a learned skill... just like handwriting. Those people who spend more time in careful observation, and practice drawing will see their skills improve. Anyone can do it, and although some people prefer to learn in a classroom, it's not necessary. Kids teach themselves to draw all the time!

Observational drawing is such an amazing exercise for younger kids! Sometimes, we save these kinds of activities for kids to do when they are older, but in many ways, little kids have an advantage. They are so carefree and eager to try new things.

Depending on your kids' interest in art, and their personalities, I have two fun ideas for you to try out (you may find one works better than another).

Observational Drawing Activities

One way is to invite the kids to be art detectives. Choose a subject matter that will set them up for success. Fruit is great (a single piece of fruit, or a VERY simple still life arrangement). Something simple that they’ll be able to translate from 3d to 2d without feeling frustrated. Then you can tell them that they are detectives. They need to investigate this subject. Look at it from all sides. Touch it, smell it, notice the color and the texture. But, most of all, focus on the shape of the subject. Get your kids involved in a discussion about different observations they are making as they look at the subject. Finally, offer pencils for them to do their drawing, (and then as an additional option, you could add color). But just focusing on one element at a time is great… begin by focusing on shape, and move up to texture, shading, color, etc. later. It can be helpful toward the end of drawing time to propose an open ended question. Ask them to take one last look to see if they’ve forgotten anything. Often this will re-engage children in looking, and they’ll notice one more detail. With younger kids, it’s more about getting used to seeing, verbalizing their thoughts, and experimenting with how their observations can be translated onto their paper.

The second approach is to tell them that art tells a story, and when they create art, they become storytellers. You can kind of go through the same process as the “detective game” but this time you emphasize that art is a form of communication, and when they draw something just like it is, they are telling a story with their art. Let them know that their art is recording this moment, so people who aren't here today can look at it later and see what they saw.

A few more tips:

  • Don't show an example of how the drawing “should” look. (This leads to kids copying the example rather than looking at the subject of their art.)
  • Try to linger on the “discussion” phase of the project as long as your kids remain engaged. I think this is the most valuable part of the project with younger kids.
  • Remind them to keep looking back and forth from their paper to the subject (especially if you see they are becoming captivated by their drawing, and they are forgetting to look carefully at the subject).


Once your kids have tried it out, show off their art! Join our fun and friendly Facebook group to chat, or post their art on instagram and tag me so I can oooh and aaaah over their masterpieces! @arthistorykids #arthistorykids

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