how we got arlo so into drawing

this post is sponsored by SLUMBERKINS

arlo is OBSESSED with drawing these days! like he’ll usually choose it over watching tv, it’s bizarre!! lol. i get asked a lot about how we’ve gotten him into it, and obviously it’s not all based on our actions, but i’ll share the tips i do have for making it fun and keeping him inspired.

he’s gone through phases where he’s not into it at all, he’s been mostly into playing with toys, for years he only wanted to bake and cook or watch mamma mia: here we go again — but right now drawing as much as he can is absolutely the priority for him.  🙂

slumberkins is a company that help kids learn social-emotional skills. they teach children to identify and support all their emotions with books, stuffed animals (they come in a large size or a snuggler size) and affirmation cards. they have a quiz on their website to find out which ones are best for whatever your kid struggles with.

i wasn’t sure if arlo was too old for something like that (he’s 4.5 right now), but apparently he isn’t! their products actually benefit children up to age 8 (and even older if they especially need some extra support). we got him the hammerhead because hammerhead sharks are his #2 favorite animal (if you know him you know crabs are #1 forever haha), but the hammerhead teaches conflict resolution which was PERFECT for arlo. he struggles with regulating his disappointment/anger, and it’s especially prevalent when he’s drawing and messes up. so we decided to keep him near the drawing supplies and arlo has totally taken to the concept. 

keep supplies always out and always accessible

this is probably the most important tip! for years now, i’ve kept a big basket of markers and a pad of paper right next to the dining table. it’s at his height, so he can reach everything himself (and put it away himself). because he sits next to them for all his meals, drawing is never out of sight, out of mind. 

i’ve also allowed him to draw while he eats and not put too much* emphasis on finishing his meal versus working on a drawing. allowing him to do both simultaneously has seemed to make him more chill about doing both of them. i think sometimes he’ll even be more accepting of a dinner he’s not interested in when it’s not the only thing he’s focused on. 

i keep additional art supplies in a drawer nearby, but he never thinks of using them — so i think having the art supplies out in plain sight is crucial! if you have a designated playroom, that would be fine too, but i’ve really enjoyed having drawing be a part of our mealtime. 

*there are definitely still plenty of meals where i have to remind him to eat more than either of us want, don’t get me wrong haha.

let them be the boss!!!

we have a theory that arlo loves to draw as much as he does because it’s one of the only places he has agency– he’s totally in control of what he creates and he loves the power!! i know he gets frustrated sometimes with all the rules and us constantly bossing him around to do this or that, so he seems to love the fact that he has power over what he draws, which we constantly remind him of.

he also gets to explore things with drawing he might not be allowed to do at that moment. for example, we only allow him to play ipad games a few times a week– so sometimes when he seems to be really craving it, he’ll draw some of the guys from the games instead! 

teach them it’s ok to mess up

this is definitely the biggest struggle, especially when he’s been working really hard on a drawing and then messes something up at the end. since he usually draws with big thick markers he can’t really fix mistakes so sometimes he gets PISSED. we always encourage him to take a deep breath, but sometimes we have to take away the markers and paper before he throws them :/ 

it’s obviously a learned skill that he doesn’t quite have yet, but now our routine is to hug his hammerhead for some soothing. sometimes it really does help him! the hammerhead’s affirmation reinforces the belief that we’re lovable and deserve connection even when we lose our tempers. 

so we remind him that it’s ok to mess up, hug the hammerhead and i try to either help him fix the mistake or just encourage him to start over and that it’s not a big deal. 

don’t let a mess be a big deal

this is also really important! if arlo is using paints, then i’ll usually get out a piece of cardboard to paint on and maybe even an apron– but during daily drawing sessions i never act as if anything is too precious nearby. i do “kindly” ask him sometimes to be conscious of the table runner, but i never move it away while he’s drawing. i think letting him do his thing makes him feel more confident to draw as hard as he wants haha. 

we’re also lucky that arlo just happens to be a really tidy kid. i mean we have an entirely beige house and nothing has ever really gotten ruined. 

if you have super precious table linens or anything like that, obviously i’d keep them off the table unless it’s a special occasion. if you have a really expensive wood table that you don’t want marker all over, i would just keep a drawing setup for them there at all times, like a leather mat. our white table has seen better days, but i’m able to get all the marker off with a magic eraser.

and i just let the table runner get pretty thrashed and i spot clean it later. i also got a second one so that i can swap them out. i machine wash it and air dry and everything seems to pretty much come out!

arlos hands are ALWAYS covered in marker now, and i don’t worry about it much. it makes me nostalgic because that’s how my hands looked as a kid and it was an ongoing joke with my family that when we’d visit my aunts house she’d throw me in the tub and my mom would say let her be an artist!! haha.

help them draw the things they love

arlos loved learning to draw the guys he loves most. whether it’s under the sea or christmas or spooky halloween things– i always try to help him figure out how to draw a simple version of them. we keep a parent sketchbook nearby to help show him how to draw things when he asks. sometimes he’ll figure them out on his own but sometimes he wants guidance and i always make sure to help him!! 

he loves being able to draw whatever he wants independently, but for some things that are more complicated– he’ll ask me to remind him how to draw it– over and over and over (yoshi), i try to just have patience and remember that soon he’ll know how to do it on his own. i sit next to him and we look at a picture on my phone and i verbally direct him part by part. 

and back to getting mad, if i help coach him to draw something new and it doesn’t look like the thing, i’m in the dog house. so i have to be very careful to do a good job coaching hahah.

keep them inspired

besides helping him draw new things, we’ve gotten him tons of step by step drawing books about the things he’s passionate about. ed emberley books are all we buy, they are so great for kids and arlo has learned a ton from them! but there are tons of other kinds as well. 

and if they like coloring books, i’d keep a stack of those nearby as well. arlo was really into coloring books when he was little, but has gotten really bored of them since so we don’t even really have any– i think arlo just likes having more control. 

keep the supplies fresh

whatever their medium of choice is, keep ’em coming! arlo loves brush markers the most. we used to just use regular kid markers but once he started using some brush markers that’s all he really preferred. so we’ve had to get him a lot of replacements because brush markers are so delicate and he’s 4.5 so he presses down way too hard. 

i’ve had to get a pack of just black brush markers to replace when he ruins the tip, and every so often i go through the entire basket of markers and take out all the dried out ones. he got a big new set for xmas and i like to make sure he has tons of variety.

and same for paper, he goes through drawing pads really quickly these days so i always make sure to have a few extras ready when he’ll need them. we’ve gotten a few different kinds but using these heavy weight spirals one are great for us, because they’re easy to rip out and the markers don’t bleed through too much. i’ll link a few more we’ve used at the end of the post. 

cherish their masterpieces, and make them feel good about art

i know all the parenting instagrams these days say to not praise your kid too much or whatever so that they don’t crave praise, but sorry– i enjoy praising him for his art. and he loves to feel good about what he creates!

sure maybe he craves it too much, sometimes he says “is this the best drawing in the world???” to which we reply “yes” and he says “why???” and we say “because you worked so hard on it.” this back and forth happens a lot haha, but we always make sure to say it’s great because of his hard work.

and when a drawing is complete, when he’s super proud of it, we go and hang it on his closet door. he loves to admire his little gallery now and gets really excited to hang certain pieces. i definitely think keeping some art on display helps encourage them to keep creating too.

i think that’s it! phew! i hope this was helpful and if your kid is struggling with something, whether it be confidence or a new transition or anything—  slumberkins provides so much emotional support for them!!


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  1. Such a wonderful blog post! Thank you so much for the tips. I’ll definitely use them with my little artist!

  2. I just love Arlo’s drawings, and how you’ve made your shelf still look so beautiful which keeping the supplies accessible !

  3. Check out Art for Kids Hub YouTube channel. I use these videos in my Art classroom. All ages love it. It’s a father and one of his children drawing together. They always draw with a sharpie and never worry about perfection. Their motto is ” the most important thing is to have fun, and practice.”

  4. how old did he start? i have a 15mo old and want to try, but i don’t know where to begin….. paper and crayons???

    1. Molly Madfis says:

      yeah crayons! or one of those LED drawing pads! arlo probably got more into it around 2.5 maybe??