Just Let Them Free Draw!

I found myself with a rare extra 10 minutes one day in a Kindergarten art class.  I had many students finishing up their weavings (which can be tricky) and about half the class finished. I still needed to help the other kiddos (so reading a book to the group was out of the question). I needed something to keep the other kinders occupied.  You see, I do have a system for students who finish early, but I don’t introduce it until 1st grade. I don’t feel Kindergarteners are ready for the “Imagination Cupboard” (come to think I don’t think I’ve written about this Imagination Cupboard… I’ll have to do that soon!).  Anyhow.. back to the story…

I just handed out blank paper (we used the back since it was recycled paper) and told them to free draw. They just happened to have sharpies and markers near by, so those are the only supplies they got. I was amazed. The room got quiet. Kids were begging for that white sheet of paper. I just couldn’t believe it. Were my lessons not engaging? Did they really dislike other days in art so much? Why was this blank white paper so intriguing? Don’t they do this for hours at home?  Isn’t white paper very plentiful everywhere?  Did we have rain for 5 days straight and they could free draw all they wanted during indoor recess?  I was puzzled.  Whatever the cause, letting the students free draw for a megar 10-15 minutes was the best thing since sliced bread to these 6 year olds.

Then the drawings came.  There is just something about them. They are free. They are happy. They are whimsical. They are KIDS ART. Not forced. Not planned. Just freedom of expression at its raw core.  Why don’t I see this very often in my art room? Am I too focused on knocking out my curriculum objectives that I forget to let the students simply draw and express themselves? Is this technique of allowing some free-draw time healthy for the kids or is it just a “cop-out”  for teachers to get students to shut up and color?  I conclude there is a time and place for free draw in the art room……. Apparently that time and place was last week during the last 10 minutes of art. ha.

So now, for the creations that just make me smile… Enjoy…


What is your opnion on the time and place for free draw?

Why do kids love this so much?

Why am I not surprised they do?

Jessica Balsley

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.


  • I definitely think it’s essential that kids have time to free draw. I teach older kids and we all know how much kids love to doodle/draw in other classes when they are supposed to be taking notes, etc. So I start every single art class with 5 minutes of silent free drawing. We rotate through drawing from observation, memory, and imagination, and they just draw whatever comes to mind. No erasers, no getting a new paper and starting over, just pure drawing practice. I think it helps them transition into art and get settled so they are ready for directions which are to follow, but also helps to develop their imaginations and drawing skills. They keep all of their drawings in a ‘sketchbook’ (a construction paper folder) and it’s really cool for them to be able to flip through at the end of the year and see how far they have come.


    • When I was a practicum student, one of the teachers I observed did ‘squiggles time.’ For the first 3 min or so of every class, kids have free draw time. They each have a sheet of paper with a shape or line on it and ‘finish’ the drawing however they want. This time is expected to be quiet so every kid can transition into art time at their own pace. Also, with back to back art classes, this is a time for me to make sure I am prepared for their class as well. At the end of the year, they have one drawing from each art class to make into a book to take home!

      • Francyfree2

        What a wonderful idea for a class entry task!  I actually just did this as a warm up for my drawing class the other day, as I wanted to vary our routine.  But the idea of using it on a weekly basis and saving those drawings for a book is wonderful!

  • Dawn Kruger

    My K-6 all make sketchbooks in September. I give structured drawing assignments throughout 1st quarter. Any leftover pages are for free drawing when assignments are finish early.
    With K-2 drawing is so much about storytelling that I think it is a really important part of building language skills. Sometimes it’s hard to always be patient and responsive when 19th kid wants to tell you about thier drawings, but it is important. It is a way that they invest value and meaning in their work.

    • I am loving some of your structured sketchbook exercises- Wondering if it would take too much of my instructional time away since i see the kids so little, but I totally see the value in it. I also like the idea of students getting “into their right brain” when they come into art and I can set up. If I get the routine going it would become just that- routine. thanks for planting the seed in my mind, everyone!

  • Allison

    i think kindergarten and 1st graders do it best! the older they get the more they need to ask “what should i draw” or they just end up making signs or lists of friends! i am never afraid to give the young ones a blank piece of paper :)

  • S. Brooks

    “Free Draw” has such a negative LOADED meaning in my school district because the (close to retirement)art teacher who covers one day of classes at my school allows the students to free draw most of the year because she has many health problems and has no energy to teach. It is really hard on those classes because they see what I do with the children the rest of the week…very sad. I do not use the term free draw for this reason, but allow my students to draw from a “How to Draw” binder I created. I do agree that we need to focus our classes and teach our curriculum. Enjoy!

  • isaac

    Free drawing is most effective when used in the midst of an organized and busy curriculum. In my experience, students LOVE to free draw after we’ve had a focused amount of time on a specific project or unit. It’s a welcome break from the curriculum side of art class. However, when I haven’t been organized in the past, giving students a lot of leeway, free drawing gets really boring really fast. They need the structure in the day-to-day… and free drawing is like recess. Kids love recess, but not really for the reasons they think they do. If it was all recess all the time, they would eventually get bored and be looking for a teacher to provide them with some kind of structure (although many students would dispute that fact!)

    • Great observations, Isaac! Thank you for your insight.

      • I have VERY shortened art classes at my new school district, but one thing I have done is create a “GIANT” refrigerator with white paper in the front of my classroom. I tell students whenever I can that I want them to draw whenever they can, and they can bring in their artworks from home to show on my fridge! I helps me teach my curriculum but also helps students know I value artwork they make on their own time.