You can do Observational Drawing in Kindergarten!

I rarely try new lessons with kindergarten. It freaks me out. I like to stick with what I know and what works well because sometimes that is just how I am! Plus, I’ve spent years getting my kindergarten curriculum to where I want it and like it.

But this year, I tried a new lesson that I found while browsing an old Arts & Activities magazine. It was architecture and observational drawing (two of my favorite things) rolled into one lesson!

The Basics

This lesson was super simple.

First, I demonstrated how to look at something constructed out of blocks. I emphasized drawing large.

Then, students worked in teams to build their structures.

Finally, students drew what they built from observation. Later, I had them add creative details using line designs and their imaginations.

This is one of my favorite new lessons. It got my Kindergarten students away from the follow me back-and-forth and into true observational drawing. Although it was challenging for some, I was amazed at the detail students were able to achieve and how excited they were to try their hand at this exercise.

All I had to do was put some faith in the abilities of the students and let them try something more advanced. The products may not have wowed a crowd, but the process was oh so important and great for teaching shape, lines, observational drawing, and architecture. Plus, it only took two, 40-minute class periods.

What are other ideas do you have for observational drawing with lower elementary students?

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Kim Hyman

    Which issue of the magazine did you locate this in? I am starting a drawing afterschool program on “Seeing and Drawing” This would be a great lesson for me to incorporate and since I have many old issues of the magazine, I am certain to have it. Please point me in the right direction!! : )

    • I can’t remember, I found it online! Sorry. Bad blogger!

  • I tried this in September while I introduced shapes and Paul Klee to first grade and forgot to blog about it! It was the best project so far because I kept the blocks by the carpet area. I made squares with duct tape on the carpet area where the students are allowed to play with the blocks if they finish their work and are “invited.” We talk a lot about block behavior and now they have it pretty much down. Well you know what I’ll be posting soon. Pics from the project that I forgot! It really is a hit!

  • Great minds! The observational drawings look very Klee like don’t they!

  • Jayshree

    I have done observation drawing with KG when they are learning Senses in their classroom. It really go very well-as students use sense of sight to observe shape and color, sense of smell for smell and sense of touch to feel texture.Each student get their own flower and first they practice in sketch book than on final paper they use oil pastel
    I enjoy your blog–i am also looking for summer 2012 professional development In USA than please let me know

  • One lesson that I do with my students every year is self-portraits. I break out the mirrors and we draw and draw. We spend a good month (4 lessons) on drawing the face. Here is a link to my post about using books to go along with the lesson and a prezi with details:

    Mrs. Berry

  • Jackie

    I adapted a lesson from Davis Curriculum. First students create a self-portrait relief from clay using ball & coil techniques & a pencil to carve details. The following week (after the clay reliefs have been fired) students observe their clay self portrait. Using the elmo, I demonstrate how to closely observe & draw the shapes they sculpted and the lines they carved. After drawing their self-portrait relief, students use crayons to color their observational drawing. The third day, we use the observational drawing as a plan and paint the clay relief using watercolors.

    The relief and the plans are so successful that I display both.

    I look forward to trying the block observational drawing!


  • remember the shadows…

    Last October I tacked up enough Black Felt yardage to cover the white board.  I met the students outside, whispered…. we had a guest within the classroom.

    Dangling from as high as I could make it, I hung a reflective (cheap) plastic skeleton.  I positioned the legs and arms in different directions…… Which allowed me to mention line, angle, right angle and so forth as well as the details.   This skeleton did not have 5 toes on each foot.  I made sure the students were looking for details.   Draw what they see, not what they know.

    The students loved it!  When the bones were drawn, I was not surprised to see pink skirts on a few and pants on others.  The piece became a composition when other ‘friends’ were included into the picture as well as other seasonal items.

  • Katy Turman

    Did you have your students add color? I’m writing a LP of my own now inspired by you!