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Challenge Drawing in Action :: Not What I Expected


Challenge Drawing for Kids

I’ve been meaning to put together a basket of challenge drawing papers for Maia and finally did.

This is something MaryAnn Kohl recommended when we were doing the hole drawings. She suggested making a bunch of different hole and other “challenge” papers for Maia to choose from when she wanted to draw (in addition to our basket of plain paper).

Challenge Drawing for Kids

Challenge Drawing Ideas for Kids

So here’s the current selection that is going in the basket.

I used both plain white sulfite paper and colored construction paper in various combinations.

Some of the papers have holes, some have paper shapes glued on top. Some are white on white, some are two colors. Most are rectangular, some have a new contour.

Challenge Drawing for Kids

The idea is that the hole, shape, or different format will inspire the child in a way that a plain piece of paper wouldn’t and that the drawing might play off of the hole or shape.

Challenge Drawing Ideas for Kids

Maia was excited to give this a try and chose this paper with a white shape pasted on for her first drawing.

Challenge Drawing for Kids

She drew a tree, with branches.

And then she sought out the reverse of the same shape, and made…

Challenge Drawing Ideas for Kids

…another tree.

Both drawings have grass, blue sky, a yellow sun, and a swing.

Make Challenge Drawing Papers for Kids I have to say it wasn’t quite what I expected when I introduced this challenge drawing activity.

I think I was expecting some hugely creative use of the paper and the shape. Certainly not two of the same thing, both with the same depictions of everyday trees, grass, suns, and blue sky that every child draws.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

A.) I could have been more careful to avoid a shape that looked so much like something (in this case a tree).

B.) I don’t really know what I want to say for B. Something along the lines of—do all children go through this stage where they need to use the same symbols for things? Such as green zigzags or lines at the very bottom of the page for grass? And a line of blue across the top for the sky?

There should probably be a C. too. Maybe something like, these are great drawings for a four year old and I should get off my “creative” high horse!

Oh, and D. Sometimes children just want to draw trees (and swings) and they learn best with repetition.

Read our challenge drawing update here.


  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 7:28 am

    I once emailed you asking why my child was choosing to draw and do all her art work in monochromatic color schemes (aka choosing one color and sticking to it for the duration of the art project). It’s interesting that Maia is kind of doing the same thing but with what she is choosing to draw, rather than with the color. I think children see other children draw like that and being in a stage of imitation, they do the same for a long while. Also, parents who draw along with their children, often make the mistake of drawing a tree one way and only one way so that is what the child then draws. I try to draw my trees (example) in as many different ways as possible when I draw with Bear so that she sees that there are many ways to draw a tree. Not that you haven’t done that….I’m just rambling on. lol

  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

    It is very common for kiddos to draw what they know. They love to draw what they feel familiar with. At her age, it is great that she saw a tree!! When she is a bit older, you could have challenge strips. Like; draw a picture of what it would look like if you lived in the ocean, in space, at the zoo… I do this with my the kids I teach k-3 and they love it. It helps them step out of the norm.

  • Reply
    Lisa {milkshake}
    July 30, 2010 at 8:15 am

    Yes, I do think that children go through stages like this. My daughter drew a boy with glasses for months and months. At first nothing varied, but eventually she added different colors, clothing and then other people to the drawings. Now he only sometimes shows up and I kind of miss him!
    I like the idea of a box of challenge drawings.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Enjoy the stage :) My son had a phase about a year ago (age 4.5) when he would cut a piece of paper in half and draw two identical pictures. Often it was Big Ben – he was obsessed with drawing Big Ben. Now he’s 5 1/2, and I got really excited yesterday because he painted a picture without guidance with a horizon – blue above and green below – no stripe at the top and bottom. But now he’s drawing an elephant in almost every picture. Sometimes he’s ready to try something new, and sometimes he enjoys the comfort of “I know how to do this!”
    Oh, and it’s not just kids ;) I saw an exhibit of Giorgio de Chirico with my 6th grade students once… de Chirico painted the same architectural images over and over in different ways. One of my students clicked with that and drew de Chirico’s towers for months in his notebooks.
    Thanks for sharing the challenge drawing idea! I will try that.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Remember a child’s drawing isn’t always art as much as a story they are telling.

  • Reply
    Maya in Eugene
    July 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Your Maia’s drawings are not the same… perhaps as she was creating the first image she enjoyed discovering the shape as a familiar object – she then clearly altered the painting to accommodate more leaves in the tree, along with fruit. Her sky is fuller and either a lake has materialized or the sky is meeting the horizon. Two different drawings of the same image, but hardly the same. Think of Monet and his garden. Think of so many greats and their inspirations – Frida and her own image, for another example.
    Don’t worry about the shapes of paper cutouts so much – the stage you’re describing will lead her to identify any shape you offer her as a familiar object. I didn’t see a tree, I saw Old Faithful, the geyser at Yellowstone. The tree pops out to me in her painting as an obvious shape only because her representation is so fantastic. The shape becomes obvious after she transformed it – give yourself a break! Remember, it’s called a “challenge” because it’s something new for her and perhaps the success she felt at transforming the first shape led her to continue working on the same imagery. As for the grass and sky – she’s making sense of the world and without sophisticated brushstrokes grass will be zig zags, especially when working with markers or crayons (I preferred individual stripes as a kiddo – I remember it drove my mom crazy that I always made the same scene with the same individual blades of grass…). The sky is really hard to get. My 9-year-old put it this way “The sky is blue far away, but it’s made out of air, so isn’t all air sky? And air is clear so I’m only making the air far away blue.”
    Creativity abounds in your home, sweet mama. Let her draw this image over and over – there are so many others which could haunt you if she became attached. Remember her really cool dark cave drawing you posted a while back? good thing she’s not drawing dark,scary cave after dark, scary cave! :-)

  • Reply
    Rachel at Stitched in Color
    July 30, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I think it was creative for her to see that cut out as a tree. It could have been a spoon or a balloon. She enjoyed the process and repeated it.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 9:07 am

    I relate to the desire to draw variations on a theme. When I doodle, I draw insects, fish, flowers, and robots. These are forms that allow for almost endless variation- and from years of doodling on the edges of notebooks I have developed a level of mastery that I don’t have with other objects or animals (I try to draw birds or frogs, and they look much more cartoonish). I vote for option D.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I like that she found the reverse of each shape. That’s critical thinking!!! More than just drawing is going on.

  • Reply
    Pure Mothers
    July 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Monet painted lots of water lilies and what of Picasso’s blue period? There is nothing wrong with using the same imagery. It doesn’t make the art less creative. :-)

  • Reply
    July 30, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I agree with Maya, the trees seem to be different species :) and she is working on drawing horizon in the second picture. Monet and all that…

  • Reply
    July 31, 2010 at 9:36 am

    My son has been drawing nothing but cars and cat faces for nearly 2 years. He is just about to turn 4. When he started drawing clear THINGS so young, I thought for sure by now he’d be drawing all sorts of things. He watches his father draw everything under the sun, practically every night of the week. But nope! Cars, cats and once in a blue moon, an excavator.

  • Reply
    July 31, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    My friend Sylvia Fein wrote a lovely book about a child’s artistic development called Heidi’s Horse. It shows the evolustion of her daughter’s visual thinking by showing her drawings from the very beginning through her early teens. Sylvia later wrote First Drawings: the Genesis of Visual Thinking. These books might give you some insight into children’s love of repetition and order as well as universal tropes such as those blue line skies and green zig-zag grass.

  • Reply
    July 31, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    aah – their journey is to remind us that it is after all – their journey! We are just guide and aid but generally I find, often a bit irrelevant! Hope you enjoy your journey watching her journey! Oh and we just updated and baby proofed our space I will try and blog it soon!

  • Reply
    August 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Oh they are wonderful drawings – so happy! I’m with ‘Maya in Eugene’. I would add also that I think that at this age they are still developing their abstract thinking and that it makes sense to draw the sky ‘up’ and the grass ‘down’. I love the look on her face :D

  • Reply
    August 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Wow – I love the comments already here. I agree that the pictures show her developing something that may be her current theme. My son has always drawn for many hours a day most days (now 10) and we have been through many many themes. Sea creatures, trains, horses racing, super heroes … I love the focus as you see very real development in the pictures. I would love to see how the picture changes if she does more swing and tree art works!

  • Reply
    August 2, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    you just gave me a super idea, I will try to gather drawing during the week put them in a basket and have them make a collage the last day of the week!
    what do you think?

  • Reply
    August 2, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I tried this with my kids the other day. I have a question…did you talk about the paper when you gave it to your daughter? My kids love, love, love to draw and I was very excited about trying this exercise. But when I showed them the stack of papers for them to use they looked at me blankly. They really didn’t do anything with them at all. One of the papers had a triangle pasted to it and my daughter (almost 4) scribbled on top of the triangle and said “all done!” She usually draws people, houses, rainbows, etc., so I was a little surprised that she didn’t incorporate the triangle into a picture. Maybe I should just keep trying!

  • Reply
    August 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

    We are getting ready to go on a trip and I am just thinking that this will be perfect in the car. :)

  • Reply
    August 17, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    yep, this is textbook child development/psychology. all children of this age develop a “schema” or unique but consistent pattern of drawing. i wouldnt at all be discouraged!

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