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Why I don't do draw alongs and what I do instead.

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Draw alongs became very popular during the covid lockdown. Lot's of teachers and kids discovered draw alongs for the first time. Many classroom teachers still embrace them, and for the most part kids still love them. My concern is that draw alongs are replacing open ended projects. Draw alongs do help children learn to draw specific things, and can even help them learn some general drawing skills, but, they are a creativity killer. They are cookie cutter art.

I taught an after school art class years ago that was all draw alongs. As I went through all the trainings for this specific technique that was supposed to make small children turn into great artists, I felt like what I was doing was wrong. To me it was copying, all copying. And we weren't copying great works of art, we were teaching children how to copy marginal works of art. It felt wrong, and bad. Kids cried in the class, especially the kindergarteners, because they could never get theirs to look like everyone else's. I didn't want their art to look like everyone else's. I didn't ever want them to think the point of art was to make theirs look just like someone else's. So I quit this job after one semester.

As a parent I will admit that I don't keep any of the draw alongs that come home with my kids. To me they don't represent the thoughts, creativity, or personality of my child, so they go in the recycling bin. What I do keep are the free drawings, the self portraits or anything else that came directly from my child's mind and imagination. I value self directed art, because it is a true reflection of my child.

I view my role as an Elementary Art teacher as someone who facilitates self directed projects. It was the same when I taught High School Art. Everyone's artwork should look different. It should reflect the child.

For my younger students I like to give them inspiration, usually from a children's book. But where they go from there is entirely self directed! Kids learn to love art and thrive with this sense of freedom.

Artwork inspired by "Color Blocked" book. Completely self-directed art.

With older students I often turn to direct observation. For example, instead of doing a step-by-step drawing of a piece of candy, I bring in candy corn and have them look at the form, light and shadow. Then during the process they learn how their point of view and the choices in their composition and colors will create a different artwork than their friend.

6th Grade Candy Corn painting, in tempera. Observational drawing, completely self-directed.

My favorite projects are the ones that give children the most choices. This doesn't mean that everyone's artwork will turn out looking perfect, not even close. But this is where you will start to see the true artists in your classroom. This is where the kids with talent really shine. These are the projects that help to create Brave Artists.

If we look back over the history of art, artists were trained by painting and drawing from direct observation. To me this is still one of the best ways to learn how to draw and paint!

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