Montessori Make Over - a Montessori Playroom in Bondi, Australia
Scissor Practice + Cutting Tray Ideas (at 3-4yrs)

Our Approach to Observational Drawing (3-4yrs+)

Observational drawings at How we Montessori sunflowers at three years

Have you tried observational drawing with your children? My three-year-old has been enjoying a lot of observational drawing so I want to share some of my thoughts about it. I want to encourage you, no matter your child's age, to give it a go.

Why try observational drawing? Observational drawing can:

  • help strengthen memory - as the child looks at the object and remembers what they see.
  • develop fine motor skills.
  • develop spatial awareness.
  • develop concentration and focus.
  • develop observational skills - the child will look closely at the object and notice certain details, sometimes what the child notices are unexpected details.
  • assist the child to interpret a three-dimensional form into a two-dimensional form.
  • allows the child to develop visual communication skills - through drawing the child is communicating what they see, what they imagine, and what they want to communicate, often focusing on different forms of expression, it's not just the image it's the mediums they choose, the pressure they use, the thickness of the lines.
  • help the child grasp concepts such as depth and scale. 
  • help the child to understand the outline, structure and form of objects. 

Dinosaur observational drawing at How we Montessori at three years old

The tips I've received about observations drawings for this age group (3-6yrs) include:

  • hold back from offering comment or instruction.
  • resist providing examples for the child to copy.
  • ensure the process is entirely child-led - we can put out a few materials but the child decides if and when to use them.
  • offer multiple, but not too many as to overwhelm, drawing choices, such as pencils and crayon or oil pastels.
  • offer multiple, but not too many as to overwhelm, paper choices, such as different sizes.
  • don't make a fuss - we can make drawing a part of our everyday lives but if we make it a formal event the child may resist and we may resent it if we take too much time to set it up and then the child doesn't want to participate. 
  • don't be discouraged - the child's observational drawings may not live up to your expectations.

I've shown some examples here where my child's drawings are somewhat looking like the objects, but many of his drawings look more like scribbles or are really abstract, this is normal and are a part of the drawing and learning process. 

Drawing of a Narwal at three year old Otto at how we Montessori 45 months observational drawing

For observational drawing, I love to set some paper up on the kitchen table while I'm cooking or busy and put out some pencils and markers and some beautiful items like some shells, flowers, fruits, or something that we are currently interested in and learning about. I have put items like model animals on a plain cake stand which make the items look special and stand out, it's like they are on a stage.

We can put some drawing materials and paper on our outdoor table, on a coffee table near a window or perhaps on or next to our nature (or seasonal) table to encourage observational drawings.

Observational drawings can also be useful in nature journals. Observational drawings can help children record important information about their environment including the animals, plants or landscapes. 

Drawing of a Narwal at three year old Otto at how we Montessori 45 months observational drawing

Repetition is important. I've found many drawings my child has made on the same object, such as the Narwal pictured above. He is developing his skills and draws the same thing over and over. 

Dinosaur observational drawing at How we Montessori at three years old

We can also see here how observational drawings may also assist children to develop mathematical skills like counting. 

One of the key points I've noticed in my Montessori readings is that in the early years we should avoid teaching the child how to draw or drawing examples for the child to follow! 


"It is important that we do not provide adult-made models, colouring books or sheets, or prepared "colour-in" papers. Never show a child how to draw or paint something - like a flower or a house; the child will often simply repeat and repeat what you have shown. Famous artists like Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso worked for many years to achieve the originality, spontaneity, and childlike qualities that our children all possess naturally. The best we can do for our children is to prepare a beautiful environment, provide the best materials, and get out of the way." - The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three.


"Above all, it is essential to avoid the vast number of structured "art" materials and projects commercially produced for children. As children get older, this becomes increasingly difficult for parents. After the age of three or four years, children are attracted by "Paint by Number" kits, colouring books, and prescribed models of all sorts, because these do not require the same effort as creating their own ideas for expression through art activities. However, it is experience with this unique inner energy for producing ideas and skill of self-expression that we want the child to have. Instead of buying various kits and premanufactured models to put together, give your child a "making box" for creating his own art projects." - Montessori From the Start


"We would also caution against art lessons for young children. What they need instead is the opportunity to participate in the special language of self-expression that artistic endeavour on their own makes possible. There is plenty of time after they have begun elementary school for children to learn the formal techniques of drawing, painting and sculpting. What they need as young children is parents who serve as good models and access to appropriate materials. Parents need to respect their children's original efforts in art and help them to appreciate the cultural heritage given to us by the best painters, sculptors and architects of human history." - Montessori From the Start.


"The most common – and most egregious – mistakes include drawing images and shapes for the child to copy, telling them how or what to draw, and most painfully of all criticizing their pictures (that includes offering “helpful tips” for improvement, or showing a “how-to-draw” manual. Just let be). But we should equally avoid over-enthusiastic praise or pushing the child to draw for the adult – the all too common, “won’t you make a picture for mommy?” We want the child to follow their inner needs and motivations, not to perform art to please us." -

We have attended art classes with our children as young as two years, however, they are process art classes, the children are presented with art materials and can use them in their own way. Perhaps it's also important to consider modelling to our children, allowing them to see us create art. 

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