Visual Learning: How Drawing Can Help Your Child

By Dr. Rick Bavaria

Study Skills
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Everyone learns in different ways. For parents, identifying and understanding your child’s learning style can help you to support them in their schoolwork.

For example, as I tutored a fourth-grader, I noticed that (without even thinking about it) he drew pictures as he spoke and listened. We were reviewing and studying for an upcoming social studies quiz. The boy took notes and quite naturally supplemented them with drawings of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Paul Revere’s ride, and the Boston Tea Party. At first, I thought his attention was drifting, but then I realized he was fully engaged. In fact, the drawing sharpened his focus. I noticed that every page in his class notebook was accompanied by drawings.

For some kids, drawing can enhance their studying. Howard Gardner, who has written extensively on “learning styles” calls these kids “visual learners”. They’re good at drawing, sketching, graphing, painting, and creating three-dimensional representations.

Visual learning is then, essentially, a way for these children to better picture and understand concepts. For these kids, drawing makes their learning easier, more efficient, more fun. Here are some ways drawing can help a visual learner study and retain information:

Visualization.
Drawing helps kids visualize their learning. Just as my fourth-grader “saw” Bunker Hill, Paul Revere, and the Boston Tea Party, other kids can draw their lessons to help them visualize a concept, an event, a timeline, or maybe a person. For some kids, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Expression.
Kids don’t have the extensive vocabularies that adults have, so they can have a difficult time expressing their thoughts and ideas, especially during stressful times. Drawing helps them find the right “words.”

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History.
Kids love to draw battles, royalty, struggle, favorite historical figures, and scenes that spark their imagination. When they combine words and pictures, they’re helping history take root in their minds.

Science.
Drawing helps kids during chemistry, biology, astronomy, and physics labs. It helps them understand processes and organize their knowledge. Try “quizzing” your child by asking them to draw the concepts they are learning about in their science class. This will help them to retain the knowledge.

Math.
Drawing can help kids learn patterns, shapes, and angles. It can assist in showing relationships, measurements, comparisons and contrasts. It makes learning step-by-step processes manageable. Think long division.

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Reading.
Kids need help when they’re reading longer chapter books. When I taught To Kill a Mockingbird to “reluctant” teenage readers, I had them draw their versions of the characters. We put these drawing all over the walls. As we read or discussed Atticus, Scout, Mayella, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley (especially Boo), I noticed their eyes going repeatedly to their pictures.

Writing.
Drawing helps young writers map out their ideas, visualize characters, imagine settings, and create interesting plots. They expand their vocabulary, spark their imaginations, and trigger insights.

Art.
Of course. Whether they’re painting, sculpting, or folding origami, drawing is the first organizing step. Try teaching your child about project planning by asking them to sketch a design for an art project before beginning the final piece.

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Note taking.
Drawings bring organization to notes, help provide structure to information, and allow visual learners to “see” what they’re writing about. It makes the ephemeral concrete.

Research.
Especially for older kids who are researching a topic – either for school or for their own interests – supplementing notes with charts, graphs, or drawings helps them make sense of complicated information or to come to reasonable conclusions.

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