"When we as teachers are purposeful about bringing nature into our classrooms, we create opportunities for curiosity, questioning, observation, collecting and analyzing information."
(Nenia & Clucas Walter, pg. 8)
I recently read the article 'Exploring Nature Indoors with Observational Drawing and Scientific Thinking' by Kendra Nenia and Melissa Clucas Walter in the Fall 2021issue of Teaching Young Children. In it the authors discuss the many literacy benefits for children who carefully observe and draw objects from nature. As I was reading I was also considering the rich mathematical wonderings and connections that observational drawing can offer children.
Observational drawing is when children draw what they see. If they are observing and exploring a natural object they are creating a realistic portrayal of the object in a drawn format. Children can sketch black and white representations using only pencil or marker, or draw their outlines first and then add colourful details after.
As children explore ask them to consider what they see. Use varied questions to prompt a deeper exploration of the object including:
- What shape is this object?
- What size is this object?
- What textures do they feel when they handle the object?
- How heavy/light is the object?
- Are there any patterns on the object?
- What colours can be seen on the object?
- Does sunlight or artificial light affect the object?
- Are there any shadows created on the object when it's placed in the light?
- What contours can be observed?
- Of what does this object remind you?
Ask children to consider how they can draw the object in order to highlight their observations and ensure they are represented. What other drawing tools can be used to help in this artistic representation (e.g., pastels, watercolours)? What math is uncovered in this process? Engaging in supportive discussions with children throughout the drawing can help them to 'notice and name' the math they see. Educators can enhance this mathematical understanding by scaffolding the conversation and highlighting additional math concepts (e.g., proportional reasoning, perspective, reflections, symmetry) and encouraging children to include these in their drawings.
Once a child is satisfied with his or her drawing, encourage the child to represent the object in another way using a different artistic medium such as clay, Plasticine or wire.
When we tried observational drawing we first examined and drew a small pumpkin.
Once children are satisfied with their drawings encourage them to share these with their peers. Children can reflect upon their experience - How did their mistakes help them to learn and improve their work? What did they enjoy about the experience? What might they do differently next time? How might children like to display their work? Sometimes children enjoy gifting their art to others, or displaying it in a public space like the school library. These drawings can be added near the shelf where books about nature are housed. Perhaps children will be inspired to create a documentation display to share the process of their observational drawing, and the final pieces, with others in the school or community.