Tag Archives: drawing

Art Contests for Kids


There are a lot of art contests for kids online, and homeschoolers are encouraged to enter them as well.  Our school days at home are fairly relaxed, so contests provide some healthy structure to our work. By participating in a contest, children have a definite goal a deadline to meet. They also recognize the need to present their very best work, even if it means re-doing something that’s already completed. If they win, they experience the thrill of victory, and if they don’t, they learn how to take defeat in stride to try again another day. They learn, as Henry Ford stated, that “failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”  (Love those “failure/success” quotes!)

If you’d like to encourage your child to enter an art contest, here are a few to check out:

  • Constitution Day Poster Contest – This contest for ages 3 -12 celebrates the U.S. Consitution. Children are to create an 8 ½” x 11” poster showing how they have benefited from the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. A fun and creative contest, but you have to hurry – the deadline for submitting entries is October 1.
  • Teachers Against Prejudice is sponsoring an art contest for students in grades 1-4. The theme for the artwork this year is “Sharing Cultures.” Entries must be submitted by October 15.
  • This is My Math Art Contest sponsored by McGraw-Hill is for students in grades K-5. Young artists are to illustrate “What math means to me” and enter their work by October 29.
  • NRA Youth Wildlife Art Contest – Have a wildlife artist in your family? If she’s 18 or under, she can enter this contest with her best drawing or painting of an animal. The deadline is November 1.
  • Smilemakers Pearcasso Art Contest – If your child likes to play with his food at mealtime, this may be the perfect contest for him! Artists ages 5-18 are to create their artwork with pears! Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Decide to Drive Poster Contest – For students in grades 5-8, this contest focuses on the importance of driving without distractions. Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Frogs are Green Art Contest – Kids ages 3 – 12 are invited to enter this contest focusing on green living. The deadline for submissions is November 30.

Gesture Drawing

This fall, I’m teaching several art classes — some in my home and one at our homeschool co-op. This week, we worked on drawing a still life, a project that included lessons in proportion and shading. To get the students warmed up and focused, however, we did a quick activity before working on the main pieces — a very quick activity. The students created some gesture drawings.

Gesture drawing is the name given to the quick sketches an artist creates of a particular subject — sketches to capture the mood, feeling, emotion, or movement of the subject. The sketches are created as a series of overlapping (often circular) lines without any erasing — no changes can be made once a line is on the paper. These drawings are done quickly; depending on the subject matter, one may spend as little as 10 seconds drawing a particular object, while more difficult compositions may take five minutes or so.

The purpose? This style of drawing helps to literally “loosen” up an artist; no erasers can be used to make corrections, and the artist is encouraged to draw quickly and freely. Gesture drawing is also aids in sharpening observation skills as the artist must focus all of his or her attention on the object.  Here’s how we did it:

I found a number of objects to use from my kitchen, some symmetrical, some not. The objects included mugs, syrup bottles, bananas, pears, cooking utensils, and toys (yes, we have toys in our kitchen too!).  I placed one object in front of each student, then provided them with a piece of scratch paper on which to draw. I gave them all a pencil but no eraser. They then had 30 sections to draw the object they were looking at.

We all found out that thirty seconds goes by very quickly when one is drawing. Next, I had everyone pass their objects two people to the left. We then spent another 30 seconds drawing the second object. We followed this procedure two or three more times. I even had them try drawing the object while looking only at the object and not at their paper at all.

The best part of all — you don’t  even need an art class to try this fun activity!  You can do it together with your children around the kitchen table, and everyone can create a gesture drawing (or two or three). You’ll find it’s good practice for everyone — and a lot of fun!

Why Take an Art Class?

This past week, we started back with our co-op classes. Instead of teaching the younger elementary students, though, I’m teaching classes to middle school and high school students, and one of those classes is Sr. High Art. As I introduced the course, I asked the students why learning how to create art is important.

At first no one answered my question — I wasn’t sure if they were just shy, or if they just didn’t know. Finally, someone said, “Because it’s fun.” And that’s a great reason. For many people, creating art — whether they are working on a two- dimensional piece such as drawing or painting, or whether they’re making a three-dimensional carving or sculpture — is very enjoyable. It can be a way to escape the stresses of the day and concentrate on something else for a while.

And there are other reasons. Art encourages children to use their imaginations — to do more than sit and watch a television show or video game. Also, the arts often help children develop a their self-confidence and self-esteem, as students can look with a sense of pride at something they created themselves.

Since our co-op is a Christian co-op, I shared with my students yet another reason for taking the class: sometimes the arts can reach people with the message of the Gospel when logic and reasoning cannot. Half of the people in the world out there are  logical thinkers, who want to hear something that’s black-and-white, cut-and-dried. The other half, however, — those creative-type thinkers, may identify more with the images and emotions conveyed through the arts. I can remember so many times I have been moved by a painting, a song, or a melody.

God, as the Creator, is the greatest artist of all — and he’s created us with an appreciation for beauty along with the desire to create beautiful things. And we can do that for His glory — what better reason could there be for taking an art class?

Photo by mindexpansion

Finishing Those Unfinished Projects

Today was the last day of our writing camp. It began on Monday and ran for two hours each day. By the end, every child had a completed story in a folder, with the folders acting as the cover of their books. They had designed and colored a picture for the front of the folder, as well as created a title page, a dedication page, and an author page. We also included an author photo. They had completed two author’s bookmarks and a painted picture frame which contained a photo of the child holding his or her book.

While most of the children finished everything, a few didn’t complete all of the illustrations for their books. Two of my children who were at the camp ran out of time, and one of them was quite upset. “Don’t worry, ” I told her, “We can finish at home.”

Now comes the tricky part — setting aside time in the very near future to get those books completed all the way, especially during the summer when there are a lot of other things going on. I have a shelf full of my children’s unfinished art pieces, so I know it’s going to be a challenge. If you’re like me and want to help your children finish those unfinished projects, here are some ideas for you (and me!) to try:

  • Get back to the project right away! The longer it goes unfinished, the less likely your child (or you) will want to work on it again.
  • Set aside a particular time — a day, a morning, an afternoon — to work only on the project. Don’t worry about other schoolwork you may have had planned; finishing a project is a lesson in itself.
  • If your student is reluctant to finish it, give him smaller intervals of time to work on it, such as 20 or 30 minutes. Provide him with a timer, so he can see just how much time he has left. Challenge him to get a certain amount completed before the timer goes off.
  • Create a place for your student to work on the project and ONLY that project, such as an extra desk or worktable. That way, if it’s still not completed in one sitting, your child can return to it and easily pick up again where he left off.
  • Provide a reward! When the project’s completed, celebrate by showing it off to family and friends or sharing a special dessert or treat.

Now go get started…and get finished!

Photo by JDurham

Writing Camp

A couple of weeks ago, a friend approached me about putting together a writing camp for the homeschoolers in our area. I was able to get in touch with another friend, author Pam Zollman, who has taught writing classes for years. This week we met to decide the details, and I think the camp is going to be really good.

Pam has written over 40 books for children, and she also worked as an editor at Highlights Magazine. As I listened to her talk during our planning meeting, I could tell she has a knack for getting the information to across to students.

During the camp, we’ll follow a similar schedule each day. To begin, we’ll read a favorite picture book, then together the class with discuss the story elements found in the picture book: characters, setting, and plot. This camp will focus on illustration, too, so we’ll look at the pictures to determine the medium used and the mood created.

Then Pam will start with the writing instruction, and the kids will work on their own original stories. Next, I’ll give the children some drawing tips so they can develop illustrations to go along with their books. Throughout the camp, Pam and I will be available to help them out as they work on their projects.

One of the best things about this camp is the educational experience it affords — and during the summer, too! Kids will spend five days learning, reading, writing, drawing, and putting their own book together. It can certainly be counted as school time, even if the children are having too much fun to realize it!

Do you have a friend who likes to write? Does she enjoy teaching as well? If so, encourage her to set up a class for the homeschoolers in your area. It doesn’t have to last all week — even one or two classes can inspire a young writer to start creating.

Craft: Outside My Window


We did this craft to go along with the picture book by Patricia Polacco entitled Mrs. Katz and Tush. In one of the illustrations, the artist included a view of the buildings outside of Mrs. Katz’s window. For our project, then, the children drew pictures of what they might see from a window of their own house.

You’ll need:

  • Rectangular piece of cardboard, cut out like a picture frame
  • Brown watercolors
  • Paint Brush
  • Container with Water
  • Paper towel
  • Heavy piece of paper, such as construction paper, cardstock, or watercolor paper
  • Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Masking tape
  • Hot glue and a glue gun
  • Two small pieces of fabric, about 3″ wide and as long as the width of your cardboard. We used patterned pieces, as Polacco includes a lot of patterns in her illustrations in this book. I purchased multiple pieces from the fabric store so the children could choose which pattern they liked best. By purchasing only 1/4 of a yard of fabric that was on sale, I spent 25 cents – 30 cents for each piece.
  • Two small pieces of yarn, long enough to tie into a knot

1. To begin, have your child paint the cardboard with some brown watercolors — either darker or lighter or a variety of brown shades. This will be the frame for the window. They can wipe off any excess water that may be on the cardboard with the paper towel.

2. While the cardboard is drying, give your student the sheet of paper. Have them draw something they might see out a window. He might draw a cityscape with buildings and roads, other houses in the neighborhood, trees and flowers in the backyard, or even the moon and stars at night. Give him time to color in his drawing with makers or crayons.

3. Next, tape his drawing to the back of the cardboard so that his drawing can be seen through the opening.

4. To make it look even more like a window, add some curtains. With your hot glue gun, glue a piece of fabric to each side of the window. For our project, we glued the top of the curtain to the top of the back side of the cardboard, then flipped the curtain over to the front of the cardboard.

5. Finally, tie back the curtains with the yarn.

What’s outside your window?

Nuts and Bolts

This week, our Five in a Row story for the K-5/First Graders at co-op was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. It was a little harder coming up with a craft to go along with the story, but with the help of my oldest son, John, we came up with one that was a big hit.

The story is about Mike Mulligan and his out-dated steam shovel, Mary Ann. In the story, they take on one last job, digging the cellar of the new town hall in Popperville. As we read the book, we talked about the different machines depicted, and how Mike Mulligan used his machine Mary Ann to dig faster and better.

The project? The children had to think up and sketch their own time-saving machines.


  • 1/2 sheet of posterboard (one per student)
  • Pencils
  • Markers, crayons, and/or colored pencils
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hot glue
  • Collection of misc. nails, screws, nuts, washers, bolts, etc.

Each student was given 1/2 sheet of posterboard and a pencil and instructed to spend a few minutes thinking about the kind of machine they would design. What would their machine do? How would it be helpful? What would it need to do the job?

Next, the children drew their machines on the posterboard. After they were satisfied with it, they colored them in with crayons, colored pencils, or markers.
While they were working, we plugged in a couple of low-temp mini-glue guns.  When the students had finished their drawings, they were given a handful of various nuts, nails, screws, bolts, etc. to choose from. They would then place them on their pictures where they thought they should go. We then used hot glue (a lot for the heavier items) to affix them to the “machine.”

The children really enjoyed it — and they enjoyed telling about their machines, too! Later that day, they stood up one by one with the drawings of their machines and explained just what their machines were supposed to do. They were all so proud of their ideas — and I was too!

What Can I Do?

 file6151244762637About half-way through the summer, when the initial thrill of summertime wears off, my children will come to me and say, “There’s nothing to do!” Now, deep down they know that’s a mistake, because they can always work on schoolwork – practicing their math facts, writing essays, etc. But because I love summer too, I give them a few fun options to choose from:

 1. Read a book by themselves, or read to their little brother.

 2. Make a wordless book. Draw the whole story – no words allowed.

3. Play with play dough. For less than $1 a can (off-brands are even cheaper), it’s an inexpensive way to entertain little ones.

4. Paint their faces (older children can paint their own if they have a mirror). Craft acrylics work well for face paint. Have the children put on old clothes (the paint doesn’t come out of clothing) and give them a couple of colors to choose from. Be sure not to paint around their eyes or mouth.

5.  Play in the sprinkler or hose.

6. Use the hose to make mud pies. Decorate the mud pies with twigs and flowers.

7. Play with bubbles outside. I like to use the large container of bubbles from Wal-Mart and flyswatters. Pour some of the bubbles into a bowl. Give each child a flyswatter to stick into the bubbles. As they wave the flyswatter around, hundreds of tiny bubbles will appear.

8. Make a robot. Use empty boxes, paper towel tubes, and toilet paper tubes. Pull out all of your craft supplies – markers, glue, popsicle sticks, sequins, paper, pom-poms, and see what the kids come up with.

If none of these ideas interest them, they could also:

9. Clean the bathroom.

10. Fold laundry.

11. Sweep outside.

12. Do the dishes.

With these options in the mix, they suddenly find something to do, and the summer fun continues.

Nature Journaling

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter Lillie came running in from playing outside.

“Mommy! Mommy!” she shouted. “It’s spring! It’s spring! I saw one of those yellow flowers in the front yard!”

It was still pretty chilly outside, but she was right — the daffodils were starting to bloom. It was a good reminder to pull out our nature journals.

We started working in our nature journals again last fall, then with the busyness of the holidays we tucked them away for a while. But new life in the spring presents the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. 

Fridays are our least busy day, so that’s when we set aside some time to go outside. If you’d like to start a nature journal, here are a few tips for getting started. 



Paper: An ordinary tablet, sketchbook, homemade journal, composition book, or spiral notebook 

 Pencils and erasers

Colored pencils or watercolors

Field guides of birds, snakes, lizards, mammals, rocks, trees, etc.



The date, time, place, and weather conditions

What you see, hear, or smell. You can try to identify the objects, plants, and animals and write about what you find.

Drawings in pencil, pen, colored pencils, or watercolors.



The scientific names and common names of specimens

Interesting facts about the specimens you find

Special poems, scriptures, or hymns

A brief description or story about what you’ve found

Pressed leaves or flowers 

Leaf rubbings


There aren’t any set rules to nature journaling — one child may want to include only butterflies, while another is interested in trees. Or, a child may want to include everything he finds. As you head outside with your child, though, be sure to take a notebook and pencil for yourself. You never know what you might find!

Dot Pictures for Preschoolers

One day a week, I teach art lessons to homeschoolers at my kitchen table. In one of the classes, I have several little ones ages 5-6 working on projects at the same time. Even when copying a simple picture, these younger ones often get stuck, not knowing where to begin or how to continue. I’m usually bouncing back and forth between them, pointing out shapes and where they fit in.

For example, if a child was drawing a puppy, I might say, “Look, see this eye? It’s a circle, isn’t it? How many eyes does this puppy have? Let’s put two circles where the eyes would go.”

Sometimes, though, a young child might still be at a loss of what to do next. They want to draw, but they don’t know how to get the pencil going in the right direction. When that happens, I just have them connect the dots.  I outline the rest of the child’s picture in dots, placing them close to each other and without any letters or numbers beside them. If the dots are close enough together, even children as young as three can follow them with a pencil. It’s easy enough for them to do, helps improve their fine motor skills, and gives them a great sense of accomplishment for having “drawn” the picture.

While dot pictures have helped my art students in class, they’re great for preschoolers anytime!  You can create your own, even if you don’t feel comfortable drawing. Simply place a coloring page under a sheet of copy paper and “trace” the outline in dots. Children love to guess what the pictures are before they begin, and they can even color them in with crayons when they’re finished. And at some point along the way, these young students will become confident enough to move ahead with their drawings on their own.