At Drawn To Discover, we focus on developing visual literacy through fine motor skill development and academic drawing lessons. In this 3-part blog series we are exploring what visual literacy is, why it is important, what it means for children, and effective ways for developing it with children. Part 1 explored the definition of visual literacy. In a nutshell, visual literacy is the ability to comprehend, communicate, and create through imagery. Here, in part 2, we explore what visual literacy means for young children both in education and in life.

“Visual literacy is the ability to comprehend, communicate, and create through imagery.”

children are able to comprehend STEAM through drawings and improving visual literacy

Kindergarten Example

Visual Literacy & Children

This exploration is not only important to us here at Drawn To Discover, but it has been gaining interest among educators and researchers over the years (Bintz, 2016, Britsch, 2012). Indeed, recent research demonstrates the importance of these skills for student success both in the classroom and out. Yet, despite these clear research results, more and more students are entering school without requisite handwriting or fine motor skills, nor are they developing them in the early grades (Brown, 2017; Graham, Harris, & Adkins, 2018). For example, Graham (2009/2010) found in a nation-wide survey that while 1st – 3rd grade teachers reported that proficient handwriting was integral to classroom success, only 39% of their students’ handwriting was adequate. Moreover, only 12% of teachers felt that they received adequate preparation in their college education courses to teach handwriting skills.

Visual literacy goes hand-in-hand with fine motor skills such as drawing and handwriting (no pun intended). A key aspect to developing visual thinking in children is this connection between the brain and the body, especially the fingers and thumb. When children develop fine motor skills through drawing and handwriting, they establish important neural pathways that strengthen learning (James & Engelhart, 2012; Li & James, 2016) and they gain mastery over their environment (Horn & Giacobbe, 2007; Leigh, 2017). When these skills are developed effectively, children can improve their language development and reading and writing abilities. As neuroscientist Dr. Karin James has stated, “Letter learning is the highest predictor of reading ability later. One great way to learn them is by producing them by hand or through printing them.” (Goodman & Barrett, 2017). Additionally, highly developed drawing and handwriting skills allow children to better express themselves and create deeper connections to the world around them (Halperin, Smith, & Smith, 2013).

Unfortunately, an increasing number of children are not developing these skills. Instead pointing, clicking, and swiping has replaced these readiness skills and children are entering school not prepared to learn. Drawn To Discover has been working tirelessly to rectify this.

Pencil grip is key to handwriting success. This is an example of bad pencil grip which would cause hand fatigue.                             Proper pencil grip can increase stamina and allow children to carry out lengthier assignments. This picture is an example of good pencil grip.

Example of Poor Grip                                                            Example of Good Grip

It all started 15 years ago with the simple question, “Could weekly drawing lessons affect the fine motor connections between the brain and the hand for young students?” While teaching guided art lessons to kindergartners as an invited speaker, our co-founder, Wendy Halperin, saw a pervasive lack of ability for children to properly hold a pencil in order to draw proficiently. It was apparent that instruction on a proper pencil grip and the development of drawing and writing skills were needed. From those needs, a curriculum featuring weekly drawing lessons was born and implemented.

The response was very positive and schools asked for it to continue and to even expand. Those initial teaching experiences then grew into a non-profit program, Drawing Children Into Reading (DCIR) with a curriculum encompassing lessons for preschool through 2nd grade. The lead author continued teaching weekly lessons in classrooms as well as training other teachers. The program expanded to include several schools across several states.

Growing & Expanding

The curriculum has continued to grow and now incorporates science, math, social studies, engineering, and social-emotional objectives within its integrated and holistic approach. Moreover, the curriculum is now available for Grow and expand learning and visual literacy with DrawnToDiscover parents and teachers through this online platform, providing lessons for children ages 4 to 11. The drawing lessons from both programs are grounded in the research studies described here and the classroom experience of Wendy. Several studies have found positive outcomes for students receiving weekly classroom instruction with this curriculum (DeFauw, 2016; Halperin, et al., 2013; Leigh, 2017; Smith & Smith, 2011a; Smith & Smith, 2011b).

In conclusion, developing children’s visual literacy affords them greater opportunities for self-expression, communication, knowledge acquisition, and creativity. Drawn To Discover has found an effective means of developing this skill though drawing and handwriting lessons. We’ll talk more about the research with this work and effective ways of developing visual literacy for children in Part 3. Stay tuned…

Missed Part 1? Check out “Exploring Visual Literacy – Part 1: What Is It?”


Bintz, C. (2016). Visual literacy: does it enhance leadership abilities required for the twenty-first century? Journal of  Visual Literacy, 35(2), 91-103.

Britsch, S. (2012). Image as language: Teacher-created photographs and visual literacy for English language      learning. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(2), 113-121.

Brown, S. L. (2017, November 13). iPad generation’s fingers not ready to write teachers say. ABC Radio Melbourne. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-14/ipad- generations-fingers-not-ready-to-write/9143880

DeFauw, D. L. (2016). Drawing Children Into Reading: A qualitative case study of a preschool drawing curriculum. Early Childhood Development and Care, 186(4), 624-641.

Goodman, B. & Barrett, D. C. (Producers). (November 7, 2017). Advice for parents of young children: 7 key aspects of early literacy development. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from: https://drawntodiscover.com/podcast/advice-parents-young-children-7-key-aspects-early-literacy-development/

Graham, S. (2009/2010). Want to improve children’s writing? Don’t neglect their handwriting. American Educator, 33, 20-27.

Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Adkins, (2018). The impact of supplemental handwriting and spelling instruction with first grade students who do not acquire transcription skills as rapidly as peers: a randomized control trial. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 31, 1273-1294.

Halperin, W. A., Smith, M. L., & Smith, R. L. (2013). Drawing Children Into Reading: Studies of art lessons’ effects on literacy. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 106, 901-927.

Horn, M. & Giacobbe, M. E. (2007). Talking, drawing, writing: Lessons for our youngest writers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

James, K. H. & Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 1, 32–42.

Leigh, S.R. (2017). First grade children discover the power of expression by creating descriptive drawings. In R. Meyer & K. Whitmore (Eds.), Reclaiming Early Childhood Literacies: Narratives of Hope, Power, and Vision (pp. 141-149). New York: Routledge.

Li, J. X. & James, K. H. (2016). Handwriting generates variable visual output to facilitate symbol learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(3), 298-313.

Smith, M. L., & Smith, R. L. (2011a). Drawing Children Into Reading: A study of art lessons’ effects on literacy. Michigan Reading Journal, 44(1), 11–19.

Smith, M. L., & Smith, R. L. (2011b). Drawing Children Into Reading: Projects 64 & 120, a longitudinal study at South Haven Maple Grove Elementary. Retrieved from: http://drawingchildrenintoreading.com/assets/south-haven-foundation-report.pdf

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