Still Drawing Outside the Lines, Only Clearer (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Crafty Cora’s representational drawing skills are developing. I was focused on how she is using drawing to record her observations and ideas. As an art educator, I am generally more interested in this work than that which she does on coloring pages, but I’m not opposed to coloring books. I believe they have some value aside from keeping kids occupied, which they can do quite nicely. They provide space to explore color combinations, fine motor development, and can serve as a starting place for more experimental mark-making.

Sometimes Cora and I search online for coloring pages – Peter Pan, sea creatures, or something else she’s into at that moment. Sometimes Cora finds a coloring book in her craft cabinet on her own. This week was it was the latter, focused in a book full of drawings by Eric Carle. (I have to admit this made me feel a teensy weensy bit better than if she were spending time with princesses.)

Cora can’t read yet, so instructions like “Color this cow black and white or brown” were (thankfully) meaningless to her. She approached her work more like a color field painter or tie dye artist. This one is practically an advertisement for Crayola.


This page became space for storytelling. The dots are gun shots. Still pondering where that came from… likely The Fox and the Hound or some other movie. (Ugh. A topic for another time.)


I will never advocate art educators using coloring pages in their classrooms. I have heard of this happening and I can’t help but cringe. We have a lot more to offer than xeroxing, a task anyone can do without specialized studio and pedagogical training. But I have no problem with them in principle. It’s hard to deny the authentic energy of these marks or Cora’s focused attention while making them.


Oh yeah, and she’s staying inside the lines a lot more than before. Not that that matters…at all.

Still Drawing Outside the Lines, But Getting Clearer


“That’s daddy, me, and mommy” (from left)

I’ve been following Cora’s mark-making development for almost five years now, nearly three on this blog. Like any academic art educator parent, I muse over pretty much any mark she makes with some intention; from her first experiments with blackberry juice at her highchair and water drenched paintbrushes on the driveway to magic marker tatoos and family portraits. But despite my affection for alternative forms of artmaking, those that stray outside the lines, I’m still a sucker for representational drawing. (Read this post from last year from more this.) I’m not talking about realism, but drawings that demonstrate careful observation and reflection of objects and experiences in our world.

So it was with great amazement that I watched, and listened, to Cora complete this (5″ x 8″) drawing the other morning.

IMG_20150613_0001“This is what I want for a snack, Mommy,” she declared as she sat on the floor busily drawing. “A carrot!”

“Of course you can have a carrot,” I told her. “But first, can you tell me about the one you are drawing?”

Cora narrated her drawing for me in great detail. The horizontal line was the ground and the little oval under it towards the center of the page was the carrot. She was actively drawing its leaves and then moved on to the squiggly line to its right which is a shark trying to steal the carrot. I’m not sure about the other squiggles (maybe just the shark’s movement), but the dots are definitely raindrops.

I was happy to be there to capture the moment and document it here. I was happy to know that our work at Over the Fence Urban Farm has helped her learn that carrots come from the ground, not the grocery store. I wish more people could appreciate the process of drawing and not be so fixated on the product. This ought to be the case for folks drawing at any age or stage of life. Drawing is a way of thinking, not just a form of making.

This summer, I promised myself I would write a one-page information sheet this summer for the parents who volunteer in Cora’s cooperative pre-school about documentation and children’s learning, an idea that comes from the Reggio Emila approach to early childhood education. Sometimes I take for granted my professional knowledge of learning and development and assume other parents have this knowledge and training as well. But they don’t, and while I LOVE our school, I think it could do more to develop our parents as reflexive volunteers in the classroom, and teacher researchers in their own homes. This will be my contribution.Teaching parents about documentation, which the teacher’s assistant does a fair amount of, will help them better understand and appreciate Ms. N’s work, and enable them to help her when they are in the room.

Cora’s carrot drawing drawing was just the inspiration I needed to get off my duff and get started. Without my documentation of her narration, the drawing would just look like a series of squiggles and dots. It’s a perfect example of how we can all make learning, and creativity, visible with just a few lines of annotation.

Here’s one more from dinner last night. (Never go to a restaurant with kids and without paper and something to draw with, if only a ballpoint pen, which just happens to be one of my favorite media for drawing.)


“This is a sting turtle. Their bodies are completely red because they are made of hot lava.”