Drawing with Kids Using the Monart Method

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Drawing with Kids using the Monart Method

After much deliberation (years!), I have decided to teach my daughters specific drawing skills using Mona Brookes’ book, Drawing with Children, and the Monart method, as a guide.

I have long thought that drawing should and would just evolve naturally in kids, and that teaching specific skills might stunt their growth and creativity. But I’ve been changing my mind about this more and more over the last couple of years.

Drawing with Children by Mona BrooksMaia has been asking for specific drawing guidance for over a year now and I’ve debated and struggled with this in my head during this time. However, I’ve finally made the plunge, partly because I worry that she might lose interest in art and drawing altogether if she becomes too frustrated with her ability to draw what she wants, and partly because of this passage from Drawing with Children:

“We don’t expect children to play the piano, study dance, or learn a sport without showing them the basic components of these subjects. Why do we expect them to understand the complexities of drawing on their own?”

And, regarding the Monart method, Brookes says:

“Everyone loves to draw if they are given a nonthreatening environment with enough structure for success and enough freedom for creativity. That is what Monart provides. The particular sequence of lessons in this book builds a safe environment as it teaches students to use an alphabet of shape to analyze and break down what they see. Development of perceptual and analytical skills increases critical thinking and problem solving. Easy and quick artistic success also builds self-esteem, and this confidence is transferable to other educational areas.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

So we are beginning to work through the lessons in the Drawing with Children book, spreading the material and exercises from each lesson/chapter out over a week or two. My aim is to keep it fun and go with the flow, but with a specific focus on improving drawing skills. I’ll be posting about our progress, if you’d like to follow along.

Daphne will probably draw as well during this time in her own way or play quietly (one can always hope, anyway), but I don’t think that she is ready or interested in this kind of instruction yet.

So all that’s by way of introduction to today’s post…

Drawing with Kids 10

Maia’s drawing, before starting lessons in the book (age 7.5)

Earlier this week, Maia and I each did a drawing to determine our starting level, as outlined by Mona Brookes. I had paper and pens set out after school on Monday afternoon and we each drew a scene with a house, a tree, a person, flowers, shrubs, as well as a few other things. Brookes suggests taking at least 30 minutes for the drawing, and I think we did about that, although I didn’t set a timer.

Drawing with Kids 8

My drawing, before starting lessons in the book (age 35.9)

I’m hoping to improve my own drawing skills as well and so Maia and I are doing this together. Drawing with Children is subtitled “A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too.” and while I don’t consider myself a beginner, it’s been years since I’ve done any drawing and I could definitely use some skill development and practice.

Mona Brookes suggests that to draw well, we need to be more observant of the 5 kinds of lines that things are composed of: dots, circles, straight lines, curved lines, and angles. To determine a starting level in the Monart method, she includes a shape replication exercise that Maia and I both completed.

Monart three stages

Maia enjoyed the exercise and was easily able to complete the drawings in all three of the stages, minus the most detailed one from the final 3rd (probably due to a combination of difficulty and losing her interest and focus by that time).

Drawing with Kids 7

Daphne had no interest in doing the exercise. I had copied one of the stage 1 exercises for her to try if she wanted to join us, but she wasn’t able to do it and/or had no interest in trying. I didn’t force it, but let her draw with her rock crayons instead (and arrange them on an upturned basket…). With her, I will follow Mona Brooks’ suggestion of identifying shapes and lines in our environment for now.

We still have some more to do from lesson 1, including some warm up games and exercises and then a drawing where we pull together all the shape drawing practice we’ve been doing.

It’ll be interesting to see how both of our drawings progress in the weeks and months to come. I’d also like to explore Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, especially for myself, but am going to focus on this book to begin with.

What do you think? Should drawing skills be taught systematically like this when the child is requesting help learning “how to draw” or should the child be left to develop her own skills naturally?

Follow along on the Drawing with Kids series:

Drawing with Kids using the Monart Method
Drawing with Kids :: Birds (Monart Method Lesson 1)
Drawing with Kids :: Lions! (Monart Method Lesson 2)
Drawing Lessons for Kids with the Monart Method :: Revisited

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  1. says

    This is really interesting Jean. I haven’t heard about the Monart method but I’m going to check these books out right away! I’ve always felt that all people can draw, they just need to practice and learn the skills. It is like writing, first you practice the shapes in print, then you practice making the curves in cursive. Certainly some people will have more of an aptitude or interest in it, but everyone can do it. I think when kids are really young (toddler/preschoolers), they need exposure to materials and not necessarily formal lessons but once they are ready to get to the next level lessons should help strengthen the skills and avoid frustrations. I fondly remember my drawing teacher in high school walking us through figure drawing, negative space, line drawings, etc. with lessons and hands on practice. I have often thought I should get back to drawing – it was always a nice way to relax and focus, taking my mind off other stresses. I will be eager to see how this goes for you guys. Maybe we will do these lessons as a family here too! :)

  2. says

    I bought this book about 2 years ago, but only used it once or twice. Now my daughter, who draws all day every day, does not want to be instructed. I do think about this book often. I will be intriguingly following your progress. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Andrea says

    Some people, children or adults may have the ability to pick up skills intuitively, however, I belong to the camp of people that really need explicit instruction to develop and hone my skills in anything if I want to improve. I think seven year-old are often in that age when they can see the skills that they want to improve in, but recognize they may not be able to get there on their own. They may crave instruction. I see that in my daughter, pure play is turning into a deeper thirst for knowledge. I think this can translate to many artistic and academic pursuits. I think I could learn a lot from this book!

  4. Lauren says

    I’ve been thinking about this lately, too! My children are about the same ages as yours. My son (7) right now has very little interest in drawing, but he may like this more structured approach better than my usual “here are some pencils and paper – lets draw!”.

  5. kara campbell says

    What a timely post for me! Both of my sons recently underwent testing for school and it revealed, among other things, a major spatial processing deficit. So you can imagine that there drawing is far below their age level. I am going to get the book and see if over the summer I can help bolster their drawing skills so they feel better about their output. Right now they see their classmates art work and feel like their work is not up to par. Great post thank you!

  6. says

    I think the best way to do it is just what you did—follow their lead. You kept it fun and free when Maia was young, and as she asked for more instruction–you’re giving. I think what you’re doing is great and she will look back and not only remember the quality time you spent with her, but also that you kept it fun by letting HER direct it. This book looks like it has really fun and great instruction. Thanks for sharing.
    Sarah M

  7. says

    That looks like a great book! I just put it on reserve at my library. Just a note. Her name is Brookes. I almost didn’t find it at the library because you wrote Brooks, with out the E.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. says

    My 7yo daughter and I love to draw and are interested in advancing our skills. This book looks pretty interesting, as does her website. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Adrienne says

    I think this sounds really fun – If nothing else, I think it is great to teach kids early on to seek out resources and try different approaches and sets of advice to improve their skills. I think their minds are hungry for it, and the surge of confidence from them being able to perceive and track their own improvement, the reflective exercise of self-evaluation…excellent! It’s all in the attitude, right? Not, “I will become a good drawer according to someone else’s standards and to please otehrs”, But “Let’s try what this person suggests and see if we enjoy the experience and the final products”. Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to bookmark this so I can try them when my daughter is older.

  10. Adrienne says

    And I think Lauren makes a great point about some kids craving more structure than others. If you’re not pushing for a very specific product, I don’t think it necessarily diminishes creativity…just adds a layer to it.

  11. says

    I hope you’ll continue posting about how you use this book with Maia! We started this book at the beginning of the school year but stopped halfway through (I had a baby, and that’s what got put aside! ;)). But I’m planning to pick it up again in the fall (we homeschool). So I’ll be interested to read your thoughts/plans using it as you go!
    And I’m in the camp of follow-the-child on this one. Both of my children are very interested in drawing lessons, and my 6yo daughter in particular loves having structured drawing activities.

  12. says

    Some kids do seem to pick things up themselves – my son checks out art books all the time from the library to learn from. But he also really likes some structured lessons. A life lesson I’m learning now in many areas is to set up a structure and boundaries, and once we master skills there is freedom within the structure. So I will look forward to seeing how this method works for you! My daughter turns 7 soon, and I think she would be interested in doing this, too.

  13. christine says

    I am so excited that you’re doing this! I have begun this book with my 7.5-year-old, Amira. I’ve been impressed so far at her concentration and skill. I’m very sporadic at sitting down with her, though, so I’m excited to follow along with you. Thank you for your wonderful blog and for taking up this book. Like you, I was reluctant (though not much of an artist) to take on such an instructional book, but Mona’s first line you mentioned was so influential for me, as well. I am looking forward to seeing what Amira is capable of (I believe it’s a lot), as well as what I can do. Makes me nervous, but I’m in!

  14. says

    Several years ago, when my 3 children were 6 – 10, I bought this book as a summer challenge. My son, who was the youngest and also always passionate about drawing, had the least interest as he had already established his own techniques. He continues to draw passionately. My daughters really enjoyed the instruction and structure. My oldest gave one of her drawings from the book to a former teacher and the drawing still hangs in that teacher’s classroom all these years later. My girls are creative and enjoy art, but these exercises didn’t turn them into artists. More, it helped them avoid frustration and maintain confidence in pursuing art at a time when they might have given it up. They still recall the summer we all had “art lessons”!

  15. mary foreman says

    So glad you’re using this book! I have it ans have wanted to use it for years with my kids but haven’t been able to figure out how, so now I’ll just watch your blog and copy. :)

  16. Heather says

    Hope you continue to create pins from these lessons. I follow you on Pinterest. That will help me to remember to follow your progress.
    Love that you are taking the lessons with your daughter! You are right there with her exploring your abilities and stretching your drawing muscles. You are teaching her how to learn by your own example. Also, you are presenting it at a moment when she is fascinated and asking for more. Anyone who suggests what you are doing is stifling is nuts.
    I am a lucky person who gets paid to color. I needed very specific instruction to get to this point. Having some nuts and bolts skills has allowed my creative side to flourish. I wish someone would have helped my to learn these skills sooner.

  17. Cheryl says

    I’ve had this wonderful book for a few years, and I found the approach that it outlines so interesting. I sure wish that I had these types of drawing skills introduced to me as a child.So now I am just starting to do these activities with my almost five year old granddaughter. Imagine my surprise when, after only a few days of reproducing lines and patterns together, she skipped ahead of me by a few chapters and attempted to draw a Chinese lacquer box that happened to be in the room with us. She definitely got the rectangular shape and the wavy lines of the pattern on the box.
    So we will be following your experiences as we also explore where these ideas will take us. I did find that buying two small sketch books for us to work in piqued her interest and set this activity apart from the more freestyle art activities that have always been available to her.

  18. Ashley Cherryholmes says

    This is great! I too struggle with how much to help my daughter when she asks me to draw with her. She is just 3 but draws so well for 3. She is curious about learning more that is for sure and I, by nature, want to expand on a teachable moment. I just do not want to tamper with how well she already does. I struggle with the idea that with the right “tools” she could continue to take of with her skills.

  19. says

    Wow you are awesome. I wish my mom had done this. I have a firm belief that kids are little sponges; they are continually learning and are endlessly eager to learn new things. I love doing art with both of my boys. I learn as much as they do and they get some much needed mom 1 on 1 time which I think is more important than anything else. My 5yo loves anything art, painting, drawing, coloring, play-doh. Then my 7yo loves helping me in the kitchen. Whatever they are interested in I am willing to teach them and learn myself.(Provided it is wholesome of course.) I think art in all forms has a way of expanding your other abilities as well. For example, math skills, drawing makes the connections some people don’t have. Lines, geometry, the distance from one shape to another, all of these connections can be made easier and more enjoyable through art. So bring on the artwork! And the algebra! I detested math until college, where my creativity bloomed. My understanding of mathematics increased ten-fold just because I was expanding the pathways in my brain through art…the possibilities are endless.

  20. says

    I took Betty’s workshop years back and it was incredible. the improvement everyone made in just a couple days’ time was truly amazing! But you have to keep practicing… which I didn’t alas. If you are serious though, her book is definitely a worthwhile read.

  21. says

    Perfect timing, Jean. I feel like my daughter and I have both been in a bit of a slump. I just joined an Artists Way group in hopes of re-igniting/re-fueling myself, but love the idea of also doing something with my daughter (who is 7). She has been asking for more guidance and wanting specific feedback, but I have been hesitant for similar reasons that you gave, but that point about getting better by learning more complex skills and practicing them is a very good one. Having grown up with two artists who also taught art (my dad was a university prof and my mom was a visiting artist in elementary schools), I have vivid memories of times that they would both give very specific feedback, especially as I got older and I really valued that. We always had a copy of Drawing on Right Side of the Brain hanging around the house and I can actually still remember some of those exercises…probably not a bad idea to get a copy for our house now, too.
    Anyway, that’s a very long-winded way of saying thank you for the introduction to the Monart method. I think we’ll be joining you on that path now, too.

  22. says

    This is a good question, Jean. I’ve used this method many times over the years. I think it provides children with the skill to develop their own drawing ability naturally. My students always loved the activities and found themselves applying what they’d learned to other types of drawing. I guess I’d say children need both types of drawing. Some of the greatest artists of the past learned by copying other artists’ work.

  23. Amy says

    When kids get older (middle school-ish) there is an amazing book called “How to Draw what you See” by deRena (or something like that)- it’s like drawing from the right side of the brain, but more in-depth

  24. says

    I still remember very clearly the excitement I felt in the first grade when someone showed me how to draw the human head with correct proportions (divide the head into thirds, eyes in the middle, etc…) and how satisfying it felt to draw a face that actually looked like a face! I am all for teaching drawing techniques as soon as the child shows interest.

  25. Linda Hooker says

    In 1980 I purchased this book at a book store in Riverside California when I was with my husband on a trip. At that time I was teaching !st. thru 12th grade art in Adrian Michigan at Madison school. I still use the process and many of the students I have had for approximately 33 years have gone on to be designers,teachers,chefs,curators,architects etc. Oh..and State winners. I now teach 9th thru 12 th grade art and continue with the success of this process.This is my 40th year of teaching Art and I am the 2013 Secondary Art Educator of the Year for the State of Michigan.I do not plan on retiring soon because I absolutely ..still..love what I do. I would love to tell MONA thank you, You changed my life. Linda

  26. Amy says

    We’ve been using this book for 3 years and really love it. We also love the Draw Write Now! series. It has helped me as an adult draw better as well. I’ve taken high school and college art classes and this book has helped me best.

  27. [email protected] says

    I have used this method and have attended classes on how to teach it. It works really well as long asvthe instructor remains open and fun. I love the success that children develop with this very direct skill teaching. My students do extrodinary work. Judy

  28. says

    Really interesting! I guess up until a certain stage I think I’m on the side of letting the child develop their style and creativity naturally but then so much of what we do is by seeing what others are doing anyway! I think a mix / balance of both might be the way to go? Debbie.

  29. Dorcas McPhee says

    I have used this book and ideas from drawing on the right side of the brain with my children 10, 8 and 5. Since they were very small we have enjoyed creative and artistic activities together. There comes a time when they really get frustrated and want to learn and be taught techniques and both these books were very helpful. I think the best approach is to follow your children and mix approaches of directed art and exploration. When I talked to my brother about some of the techniques he said “but that is just copying” I thought this was funny because that is exactly what realistic drawing is, just copying. If we free children from the idea that being artistic or creative is a great gift or skill that some have and some don’t they will all be able to flourish creatively. Dorcas

  30. Marci says

    I think if she is asking for instruction than it is a perfect time to start teaching specific skills, I wouldn’t start teaching before then though. Thanks for the book recommendation, I will put it away for a time when I too get the request for further instruction. For now I just get “Mom, I don’t need that learn to draw stuff”. Good luck and have fun!

  31. says

    My background is very Bank Street so I also thought that teaching drawing was an absolute no no. I bought that book however, and it sat in my house for years as I never got myself to read it. A few years ago I decided to try it out by teaching some local kids . I went through the book carefully, made the copies she has there and managed to actually teach some kids to draw.
    I also learned some important things from that book.
    I always thought that artists only work from imagination. It was amazing to learn how artist use pictures and real life for inspiration.
    I also learned that there is a place for symbolic drawing and a place for teaching skills and they don’t have to contradict each other.
    It’s a great read if you have the patience to go through it slowly and work on your own skills as you do it.

  32. Corina Colleran says

    I read your post with great interest, as like some others I bought this book a year or two ago, did a little work with my kids and then it got left aside. Interestingly, I have recently trained to become a primary school teacher and so was given lectures in how to teach art from the perspective of our Department of Education (I live in Ireland). Overall the curriculum very much tries to encourage teachers to avoid giving children a piece to replicate, the use of templates,etc – all of which I agree with (and is certainly a problem with some teachers who don’t feel creative enough or don’t want to allow a ‘mess’ to happen). Drawing is considered the most important strand of the Art Curriculum, however, our college tutor also very much said to avoid teaching children how to draw in a step by step manner. He felt that you should draw what you see, and that children may see things in a different manner to adults and if you try to mould that, you have taken away their creativity.
    I have to say, however, as the mother of a 9 and 5 year old who LOVE art, I can see their frustrations when they sit down to draw and (without any comment from me or anyone else) get upset because it doesn’t ‘look’ like it should. They know it’s not round enough or the ears are the wrong shape or whatever and so that’s where I personally would see the value in encouraging learning drawing techniques.
    I happily let my children paint and collage and cut and stick and construct and make a mess and absolutely ENJOY art and being creative myself. In fact I would consider myself a very creative person (as would others) in terms of many kids of media – I crochet, weave, sew, paint, sculpt, print, make cards – you name it, I love it. BUT, in school I did not do ART because I felt I wasn’t good enough at drawing and being good at drawing (back in those days and maybe still today) was what ‘art’ was about. Maybe in another way I am glad that I didn’t take formal instruction in art and it may have made me feel more free to be creative in later life, but maybe I would have pursued art academically if I had felt more confident in my drawing skills as a child.
    I think I will sit down with that book and your blog again with my two girls and give it another go. I don’t feel it will stifle them and might give them a confidence or opportunity that I lacked at an early age. I think the key is to make sure it stays fun and enjoyable.

  33. Tabitha says

    I’m excited about this. Finally got a copy of the book since my 4.5 year old son loves drawing but has been upset that his pictures don’t turn out right. We will take it slowly so that he doesn’t feel pressured, but I’m excited to see what he does with the basic shapes and lines. I’m hoping we can eventually do a warm up and an exercise. At the moment it looks like we will have to work our way up to that or catch him at a better time.
    Thanks again for the information. My husband is the artist, but I’m the one at home with him. This sounds do-able for the even a “non-artist.”

  34. says

    What an interesting idea – I’d never considered teaching concepts about drawing! My 5-year-old gets so upset when she can’t make her pictures “perfect” on the first try. I think this could really help her. Thank you for sharing this! I’m pinning it now :-)

  35. MARY says

    HI KARA,AS A MOM AND O.T.A. WHO HAS WORKED WITH KIDS FOR MANY YEARS,I SUGGEST JUST HAVE FUN WITH IT SO THE BOYS WON’T THINK IT’S WORK AND THEIR SKILLS WILL DEVELOPE. GO OUTSIDE AND USE SIDEWALK CHALK,TAPE POSTER PAPER ROLL SIZE TO HALLWAY WALL,BATH TUB PAINT/CRAYONS,PAINT LARGE AREA WITH CHALKBOARD PAINT.THE MAIN THING IS TO DO IT WITH THEM AND MAKE IT PLAYFUL!!!!HOPE THIS HELPS

  36. Shauna says

    I found your beautiful and well-organized blog in a Google search for “drawing with kids” as I am a homeschool mom of two and we have just started going through the book, “Drawing with Children”. I wonder if you might have any advice that is more specific than what is in the book with regards to basic drawing supplies. We went to Michael’s today and found a broad assortment of artist pens in many different tip widths, and I wasn’t sure what thickness of drawing pens to buy, or what type of fine-tip colored pens. I am guessing Crayola wouldn’t be considered “high-quality”? Or maybe it’s okay if we’re just starting out? Visual arts is not my forte – that much may be obvious from my ignorance – but I hope to grow in that direction along with the kids. Thank you for posting about your experience with this program/book! Also, where did you find the thick brown paper to cover your table? Thanks much!

    • Katylin says

      We also just started using this book. We found Faber-Castell duo tip markers on Amazon–48 colors in all, and like Crayolas they can be fine tip or broad tip depending on how you do the stroke. They are washable and cheap, though I think they’re okay quality. They are not so expensive or delicate that I’m worried about my five-year-old abusing them.