Sketchbooks in schools

Published by Lori Pickert on April 21, 2009 at 05:31 PM

Sketchbooks/journals are a big part of project work — it’s important to keep your ideas, thoughts, plans, and questions together (you and your child!) and keep track of your ideas and all the iterations of your representations from the initial idea of a sketch to the list of materials you need to pasting in photographs, items torn out of magazines and newspapers, etc. etc. etc.

Sketchbooks are a fantatsic learning tool!

Check out Sketchbooks in Schools — lots of great stuff!

Hat tip: Thriving Too.

Project journal — parent’s

Published by Lori Pickert on October 14, 2008 at 02:15 PM

I use my project journal to keep track of

  • what the boys are doing each day
  • books they’ve read
  • movies they’ve seen
  • sites they’ve visited online
  • their conversations
  • letters and e-mails they’ve sent
  • photos of them working
  • photos they’ve taken
  • their sketches, models, and constructions
  • their questions
  • their plans
  • their requests — for materials, field work, etc.
  • and so on...

I use a digital camera and print out my photos on regular copy paper to glue in my journal. I also display these on bulletin boards dedicated to their ongoing projects, and I print copies of anything they want to put in their own journals.

I highlight their questions in my journal, so I can remind them later of things they wanted to investigate.

I also highlight things I want to remember to do — get them materials they asked for, make copies of some sketches for their project board, etc.

(I am not this well organized in, well, any other aspect of my life. But I know from experience that if I don’t write things down as they happen, I will quickly lose track of their plans and questions and wonderings. They speed along so steadfastly that if I’m not coming along behind with a basket to collect all of their future plans — the things they have thought of, but haven’t done yet — many of them will be lost forever.)

My journal is an important tool for me. My part in our learning relationship is to support them in their investigation, and that requires a lot of me — I have to pay attention to what’s happening every day. I have to be quiet and see what they are saying, doing, and planning, without my interference. I have to respond faithfully when they ask for things — whether it’s wire, tape, help looking up something online, or a trip to the natural history museum. I need to keep track of all those lines of inquiry they mark as a path they want to follow later, when they have more time, so they can focus on what they are doing right now.

Your journal can also be a powerful assessment tool, if that is something you need or want to do. And it is a powerful reminder of what your children can accomplish simply following their own trail of questions.

A project journal should not be simply a diary of what happened, however — focusing on the past. To be a useful tool, you must constantly review and reflect. Your role isn’t a passive one, trailing along behind your children, dutifully taking notes. Their project journals will be primarily about their topic — say, bees — but your project journal is primarily about your topic — your children and how they learn. Therefore, it isn’t a dead record of the past, but a living documentation that stretches from the past into the future.

Also see: Inside my project journal

PBH: How to start

Published by Lori Pickert on October 4, 2008 at 01:43 PM

The most important part of learning through projects isn’t amassing knowledge about any particular subject, but mastering how to learn.

So we start by asking children, “How can we find out about this?”

Running concurrently with our study of any particular subject is the study of learning itself: Where is the information? Who knows about this? Where can we go? What can we see? Meta-learning: learning about learning.

We gather knowledge and acquire skills: What do we want to know? What’s important and what’s not? What do we want to do with what we’ve learned? How do we explain what we know to others?

“How can we find out about this?” Children may suggest books; they may suggest the internet. They may make surprising suggestions, like “Let’s ask Grandma!” They may make really interesting suggestions, like “What about that place we went last summer? I saw something about it there.” We are investigating our deepest interests and we are learning the process by which we acquire knowledge. We can look things up in books, we can look at websites, we can watch movies. We can visit the places where things happen in real life; we can interview experts in person or by phone, letter, or email. We can ask our friends, our family, our neighbors, our community members.

There are myriad ways to learn about something. Rather than handing these resources over to our children as a fait accompli, we help them to discover their own resources. Rather than supplying them with readymade activities, we help them pursue their own ideas.

You’ve heard about slow food; this is slow learning. You could bring your child a stack of books from the library and take a trip to the museum  — or you could let your child go to the library and talk to the librarian about how to find books, let your child decide which books look like they have the best information, wait for your child to suggest visiting the museum then let her plan the trip ... well, it’s going to take a lot longer. But they are digging deeper, exploring outward in more directions, doing more of the work themselves, discovering, solving, and planning.

Even something as simple as talking to the librarian themselves is a huge accomplishment for a young child. In our adult world, we always want to race ahead; getting there first is seen as a win. Doing more is seen as accomplishing more. When we mentor children to be self-directed learners, we slow down to their pace. We take our time and savor every step of the process, because when our child really knows it, they own it, and they can access it whenever they choose.

More important, [we] had developed guidance strategies for promoting behaviors in the children that enabled them to begin to become self-directing, self-disciplined, able to make choices, and to engage in projects for sustained periods of time. — Ann Lewin, Model Early Learning Center


Interested in learning more about PBH and self-directed learning? Start here: 10 Steps to Getting Started

Reggio and kinesthetic learners

Published by Lori Pickert on May 6, 2008 at 01:30 PM

I got a great question in the comments to my interview at The Artful Parent, and I wanted to share it and my answer here.

Hi Lori,

What a wonderful interview! Thank you for the information. I have been doing some research on Reggio, homeschooling and other philosophies. I currently am a special education teacher in the public school system. For the most part I love my job; however, there are MANY things I don’t agree with. I have a almost 3 year old and 8 month old. I am reseraching my alternatives for them when it comes to education and I have a question for you. Everything I am reading seems to be art based, what if a child isn’t much into art? My daughter for example will paint, color, playdough, etc.f or about 10 minutes tops, but when it comes to running outside, dribbling a ball, or playing on a playground I can’t get her in! I guess I am wondering how she would fit into such models? Thank Eileen

Hi, Eileen - and thank you! While many people focus on the visual arts aspect of the Reggio approach, the Hundred Languages actually embrace kinesthetic learners - children do learn in different ways and can engage with a subject and express their knowledge by building, dancing, performing skits, dramatic play, and in many other active ways.

And while the visual arts (e.g., drawing, painting, collage) are important, an active child might be more engaged with building models, sculpting clay, creating large-scale dramatic play structures (e.g., child-size vehicles, buildings, rooms), etc.

The idea isn't to try to funnel a child toward visual arts, but rather give them a whole smorgasbord of choices - books about buildings and bridges and other structures *with* a fantastic array of blocks and other building materials, a great dress-up trunk *with* a stage to dance and perform on, an art studio with a quiet nook to draw in *and* an array of exciting things to build and scupt with. And when a child shows a particular interest, paying attention and providing them with what they need to take the work further.

If you are interested in the Reggio approach specifically, if you delve a little deeper you will find wonderful garden- and park-centered projects to read about.

Since you already know your child has a strong desire to be outside, you can meet her halfway and provide her with tools for learning outdoors - magnifying glass, binoculars, bug box, field guides, sandbox, outdoor building materials (rocks, shells, pinecones, etc.), a work area outdoors (perhaps a small table), scarves for running and dancing, a garden... We set up easels outdoors with pencils, oil pastels, and paint so that children can paint and play and draw and play - and there are so many exciting things to learn about outside!

You can read the whole interview and all of the comments here.

Nature journals: Drawing outdoors

Published by Lori Pickert on April 20, 2008 at 02:18 AM


park bench, by Jack, age 8



Nice things to have when you draw outdoors:

• A big binder clip to keep your sketchbook pages from flapping in the breeze.

• A hand lens for looking at flowers, insects, and textures up close.

• Hat with a brim to keep the sun out of your eyes and off your neck.

• There is so much to look at, sometimes it’s hard to choose what to draw. A small frame or viewfinder can help a child focus on a smaller area that is easier to draw.*

• Take a photograph of what you were drawing.

Art lesson: Watercolor techniques

Published by Lori Pickert on April 16, 2008 at 07:30 PM


We’ll be taking watercolors with us to the woods and the prairie and the garden this summer with our nature journals, so we can give our drawings a wash of color.

Since it’s still quite cold and blustery in our corner of the world, we did a little drawing outside for Friday’s art class, then we headed inside to review some watercolor techniques.

I’ve already shared that I think the best way to introduce any child to a medium is with plenty of free exploration. Time — time to play and explore and experiment! Children need time to master materials before they can work purposefully.

This is a pretty common material, though — most of my students have already used watercolors. And my time with them is limited to an hour and a half a week. So I thought I’d lead them through some simple guided experiments to become familiar with (or become reacquainted with) what watercolors can do and how they behave.

This “lesson” isn’t about making art — we’re just going to learn and/or practice a few skills so we’re ready to make art next time!

Everyone started out with their watercolor paints, a nice heavy sheet of watercolor paper, a paintbrush, and some clean water.

First, we talked about how to get the paint wet to get it started. We loaded up our brush with a lot of color. Then we painted one big stripe across the top of our paper.


Then we dipped our brush back into the water and without getting more paint, we painted a second stripe across the bottom of the first stripe. The paint ran together, but the bottom stripe was lighter. Then we did it again and got an even lighter stripe. Now we had a graded wash.



Next, we cleaned out brushes thoroughly (by swishing our water violently) and then painted a wet square of plain water on our paper.


Then we loaded up our brush with color again and painted on the wet paper.


Then we painted another line beside it on the dry paper and talked about the differences.


(The kids loved this whole exercise — part art, part science experiment, lots of excited exclamations: “Look at mine!” “Cool!”)

Now we painted another big block of a light color.


We cleaned our brush and loaded it up with a darker color and then put some splotches into the light color to see what would happen.


We talked about what happens when the colors mix together.


Then we chose a different color and painted another big area next to this one, allowing them to touch.


What happened? The colors blend together. When might we want this to happen? If we don't want the colors to mix, what should we do? (Wait for the first color to dry!)

Next we painted another big blue square.


More science! This time we're going to practice taking paint up from the paper.

We rinse our brush well and then use our fingertips to squeeze the water from the bristles.


Now use your dry brush to suck up some paint from your blue square. You've made a white spot! Magic!


You can also use this technique to fix mixtakes — well, a little mistake anyway!

Then we used a crumpled piece of paper towel to take up more paint, and stamp a pattern as well!


If you have time (and materials), you can experiment with using a small piece of sponge, crumpled tissue paper, leaves from the garden, and anything else you can think of to stamp in your watercolors.

Next, we used a white crayon to draw on the paper to make a resist.

Anything waxy will create a place the watercolor paint won’t stick — crayon, oil pastel, even a candle! (I know it’s a little late, but those plain wax crayons that come with Easter egg-decorating kits are perfect for this.)

Draw a little something on your paper and then paint over it.


We talked a bit about when you might want to use your white crayon — if there is something white in your picture that you want to stay white, for example.

Of course, you can use any color of crayon to make a resist painting! For our nature journal kit, though, we'll make sure to carry a white crayon.


Finally, we finished by using everything we just learned to paint whatever we wanted!






See also:

Nature journals

Free exploration/working purposefully

Nature journaling: supplies

Published by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2008 at 07:25 PM


The best part of any new project is gathering the supplies, right?

naturesketching.jpgFor kids:

  1. Sketchbook. This is a great one. It has heavy paper so you can watercolor in it and the pages won't fall apart. But any sketchbook will do — you can even make your own.

    I like a journal about 5 x 7", because you only need a small bag to carry it and your supplies, but the page is big enough to draw a whole scene as well as details.

    Pay attention to how the journal is bound — spiral obviously allows you to work flat. If the binding is sewn it may also lay flat — you don't want a journal with a spine that won't open all the way and allow you to use the whole page.

  2. Pencils + self-enclosed pencil sharpener + white eraser. Ideally you will have a few pencils of different hardness. These are sold grouped together inexpensively at the art supply store. But again, ordinary pencils are fine, too.
  3. Pencil case — hard or soft, as long as it protects everything in your bag from being covered with pencil marks and your pencil leads from breaking.
  4. Watercolors + brush. Any old watercolor set will do! They usually come with a brush. I personally like Prang because they are very good quality, last a long time, and the colors are bright and clear. You can buy Prang watercolors at any department store; you don't need to go to the art supply store.

    You can get a little fancier by buying a few extra watercolor brushes of different sizes. It's nice to have at least one extra brush in case you lose yours. Again, you can buy a few brushes bundled together at the art supply store for a few dollars. (You can always find a more expensive version of every art supply, but don't worry about that for this project!) You can also investigate water brushes; they are wonderful for painting on the go: like this or like this. Check your local art or hobby store to see what they have. These unscrew and you fill them with water, then you simply squeeze them to clean the brush. (Bring a piece of old t-shirt or similar to dab against — you can wash and reuse these.)

  5. Water bottle. Again, any old empty water bottle or soda bottle will do. Fill it up about three-fourths of the way. Fancy: I like these water-bottle clips that fit over the neck of the bottle and allow you to clip them to your bag or belt loop. But you can also carry it inside your field bag.
  6. Ziploc bag or small plastic case for holding treasures. Pinecones, leaves, and seed pods will take a beating if they're just thrown loose in your bag or stuffed in your pocket. Keep one ziploc bag (freezer type is best — they are heavy duty) and reuse for each trip.
  7. Field bag to carry your supplies. If you want to do some extended walking or exploring before you draw and paint, it's nice to have your hands free. We'll be sharing our instructions for making easy field bags out of recycled clothing!

Extras: A folded paper towel (for drying your brush or taking up paint), a white crayon (for resist work), a black or other color crayon (for rubbings; a soft pencil also works), and that's about it! Camping cups — the ones that telescope or lie flat — are nice for pouring water into (as bottles are generally tippy). I have a little canvas bucket that I use.

For grown-ups:

  1. Your own kit (everything on the previous list). If you are working with a large group, it doesn't hurt to bring an extra of everything.

    You can carry an extra small bottle of water for the kid who inevitably dumps theirs, but don't be tempted into carrying more water! It's heavy and it will make you cranky and weigh you down.

  2. Sunscreen, bug spray, wipes, bandaids, ziploc bag. (Wipes are great for the unexpected bird bomb or "ugh, what did I sit in?!" One ziploc bag can hold all your garbage. Reuse it if you love the Earth.)
  3. Field guides for looking up interesting finds on the spot.
  4. A roll of masking tape for when kids want to tape something in their journal.
  5. A field bag or backpack to carry your supplies and keep your hands free.

With this kit, you'll be all set.

Confidence issues and the young artist

Published by Lori Pickert on March 18, 2008 at 01:29 PM



My kids most of the time see what I've drawn and right away start complaining that they can't draw and that they want me to draw it for them, or saying "I don't know how to draw it". — Heather

Never draw for your children. It sets up a dynamic where they are going to try to copy your example, and that's not what we're after. We want to observe and try to draw what we see, not mimic someone else's drawing.

Instead of drawing for your child, talk to them and support their efforts.

The child who says "I can't draw!" or "My drawing looks terrible!" is expressing a lack of confidence or maybe just looking for confirmation or denial. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by something that seems too difficult.

If they complain that they are making mistakes or their drawing isn't good, point out that we have to make mistakes when we are learning something new. If we aren't making mistakes, we aren't learning.

Focus their attention on what they are drawing. Talk together about at which point they might start drawing the object. Have them trace it with their finger before they start. Talk about all the things they notice about what they are drawing — the textures, the details.

Try breaking the exercise down into smaller tasks. "Can you draw this line?" Once they have drawn that line, "Can you add this detail?" It is always helpful to ask, "What do you think?" They will usually point out to me what they haven't yet drawn, or some detail they've so far ignored. They may point out something they don't like about their drawing. "It's too small." "It's the wrong shape." In that case, say, "I see what you are saying. Why don't you draw it again over here [on a blank piece of the paper or a new sheet]."

Let them see that they are learning. This is why I like to use a sketchbook. Flip back and look at their first drawings and ask them what they think. Can they see their own progress? Remind them that the two things that will make them better at drawing are observation and practice.

My son compares his drawing to his older brother's and becomes upset and says he doesn't want to draw anymore. What should I say? — Pam

If a child compares himself to an older friend or sibling or to you or another adult, point out that that person has simply had more practice than he has.

When my younger son made this same lament, his older brother said, "You are a much better artist than I was at your age — when you are my age, you will probably be better than me!"

If I was working with a child and they admired my work, I would say a genuine "Thank you!" and maybe "I've been working really hard on this." (Modeling desirable behavior.)

If the child went on to say, discouraged, "I'll never be that good", I would point out how much progress they've made and/or point out how much better I get when I practice. (Praising effort, not results.)

I have a question about using erasers--how would you handle objections?? My oldest is Mr. Perfectionist and I can already hear him griping at me for suggesting this. Any ideas?? — Jill

My older students especially can spend the entire class erasing and trying to perfect each line as they go. Stress that sketching is practicing and when you stop being happy with your drawing, instead of erasing you're just going to move to another part of the paper (or a new page) and keep drawing.

How about a little sports analogy? If your son was practicing batting, he would hit 100 balls in a row. He wouldn't stop every time he missed one and say, wait, pitch that one to me again — I need to redo that! You just keep practicing and after hundreds of balls, you're a much better hitter.

How do you encourage them to follow their own ideas instead of feeling like they should copy you? — Michelle

Copying isn't necessarily bad. In the clasroom, we loved to see kids copying each other, because they would get into a fantastic group dynamic, extending each other's work. For example, child #1 makes an aquarium by wrapping a piece of cardboard into a tube. Child #2 "copies" the first child and also makes an aquarium, but he finds a piece of acetate in the recyclables and makes a transparent tube. Child #1 goes to find his own piece of acetate and make a new, transparent aquarium. Child #3 is now on the scene and also wants to make an aquarium — but he adds beads to the bottom for rocks and tapes cut-out fish to the sides. You can see how this kind of dialog improves everyone's work.

I wouldn't necessarily assume that a child lacks confidence in her own ideas if she switches to making the same thing that you are making, or the same thing as the child next to her. In some ways this can be "restaurant syndrome" — I thought I wanted a salad until you ordered the club sandwich. I had an idea, but once I saw your idea, that looked great, too!

If your child has a lot of opportunities to make authentic art — preferably every day — they will eventually work on their own ideas. If you sit down to, say, play with wire sculpture with your children, you might hang back and wait to see what they are making and encourage their efforts.

Try having your child draw from her imagination while you are nearby but busy with some other activity — cooking dinner, for example. Have her tell you about her drawing while she makes it. "I'm drawing our house. This is me. This is you. This is Daddy. This is Grandma coming to visit" etc. When you are making art together or with a group of friends, try not to worry too much if she's "copying" someone else's idea. She will probably add her own ideas, like seasoning, and she is still getting great experience learning about the materials and what she can do with them.

Related stuff:

Drawing with your children

Drawing with your children, continued


Drawing with your children, continued

Published by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2008 at 06:17 PM


The best reason for drawing with your children occurred to me only after I wrote the last post. (Of course!)

If you don't draw with your children, then you are getting out the materials, sitting down with them, talking about the goals of the drawing exercise, and then .. what? If I was drawing — and trying something new — it would make me nervous to have you sit and watch me! I would wonder how you thought I was doing, if you thought I was doing a good job, if I was doing it right or wrong. I would know you were watching me, and I would realize you were judging my work.

When I bake with my children, we put on our aprons, get out the bowl and measuring cups and ingredients, divvy up the tasks, and we get to measuring, mixing, stirring, spooning, etc.

I don't step back and have them do everything because I'm worried about intimidating them with my awesome baking skills. We work together, side by side, cheerfully, as a team.

This is the same kind of cooperative environment that I am suggesting for making art.

I'm not sitting and watching you draw (with an implied judgment). I'm just sitting here drawing, too, concentrating on my own work. We may show each other what we did, and we may talk about what we like and don't like and how successful we thought we were (talking about our own work), but I'm not here to critique a child's work.

Draw with them, but don't draw for them.

So, again — draw with your children! Show them that's it about the fun of acquiring a new skill, not about you judging their efforts. Get on their level and draw alongside them. It's fun!