Day 5: Drawing Tips

by | Adapt & Modify Activities

31 days medal 400 by 400 red


You may become quickly discouraged when you realize that a child younger than yours can already pick up a crayon and scribble up portraits of his family members.  Meanwhile, your child struggles to hold a rattling toy in his hand – much less scratch a few lines on a piece of paper.

These drawing tips are designed to guide the already beaten-down parent who finds ideas on Pinterest meant for the child who can hold a pencil and design like Leonardo daVinci.




Drawing Pinterest board screenshot

Why drawing may be a challenge for children with special needs

  • Drawing requires advanced fine motor skills, which may be demanding for a child who cannot even maintain a neat pincer grasp yet.
  • Drawing calls for good eye-hand coordination.
  • Drawing requires concentration and attention, which is difficult for the child who has trouble remaining focused.

Drawing tips

Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for drawing

  • Just because you assume he can’t, doesn’t mean he won’t. If there is one thing I’ve learned while attempting to have my son practice with drawing tools, it’s to never assume.  I have been surprised time and again how using the right tools helps to develop the skills he may be lacking. Rather than harping on the fact that my son can’t hold a pencil because he hasn’t perfected the pincer grasp, I tried to find tools that could get him motivated enough to want to do the activity, while inadvertently practicing the pincer grasp!  You can use a variety of drawing tools to maintain attention while building fine motor skills.
  • Begin slowly.  I’ve given this tip on previous days in this 31-day challenge, but I feel I have to repeat it.  As parents, we sometimes want to rush things along because we see the end-goal and feel that in order to get there we’ll need to skip some steps.  Remember that the steps are where most of the learning is happening.  Honor the process and remind yourself that your child’s brain and body is working the hardest right now.
drawing with water - drawing tips for children with special needs

This toy is one of the first drawing tools I introduced to my son. It works with water on a fabric surface. Water is poured in the “pen” and you simply glide it over the surface to draw. You can flip the board over to a fresh new fabric while the first side dries and the image disappears. 

water fabric painting - drawing with the disabled child

I use this toy without the pen tools, but with wet fingertips instead. My son, who has tactile sensory aversions to certain textures, doesn’t mind water on his hands (different from paint on the hands). To get him to touch the surface, I had him tap, tap, tap like on a drum (because he already knows to do that).

  • Introduce the drawing tools ahead of time.  Clearly, if your child is struggling with holding a drawing tool, you are not going to expect him to design a blueprint for your new home.  You need to build on the prerequisites for drawing first.  Manipulation of the tool even before it’s used on paper is recommended.  I find that by introducing new items to my son and having him familiarize himself with them helps when the time comes to use them.  This way, he’s not taking in too many tasks in one session.
doodle toy - drawing tips

This is a magnetic drawing toy that allows for great exposure and practice before using authentic drawing tools.

  • Connect the object to a sound/ exclamatory word as well as with a corresponding movement.   Since a drawing tool is used in the hand, I like to exaggerate the movement with the hand and assign it a sound I think that tool would make.  For instance, a pencil might make a “shhk, shhk, shhk” sound (at least to me),  so I’ll officially make that the drawing sound that will accompany the exaggerated movement of flowing the hand horizontally from side to side.   Even if in future we’d use a crayon, which may be more silent, that is still going to be the drawing sound.  You may remember that I assigned the “zoom, zoom, zoom” exclamation to painting from side to side, and “tap, tap, tap” when stamp painting.  I keep them consistent so that my son makes the connection between the movement (with the hand/arm), the verbal routine (the sound) and the skill action (drawing, painting, stamping, cutting, etc.)  You can bet that when I pull out a crayon, my kiddo is already doing the movement with his arm telling me that he’s recognized what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it – and we haven’t even done it yet!
paint tool - drawing tips

These are actually paint-filled gadgets that allow for colors to spill on a paper while your child holds the ball.

chalk - drawing tips

Chalk also make for great drawing tools. They can be used on paper as well as on chalkboard.

  • Find the ideal positioning.   As with all other activities that require the development of fine motor skills, ensure that your child’s trunk and lower body are supported.  If an adapted chair is available, use that.  For a fidgety child, you might already own an inflatable sensory chair cushion.  If this works best for your child, consider using it while drawing as well.
  • Begin with easy-mark drawing tools.  While crayons may be the first drawing tool for most children, when it comes to a child with fine motor delays, this is a very difficult tool to begin with because it requires a lot of strength to get the colors on paper (try it yourself and pay attention to how much pressure you need to apply to make a mark).  Instead, begin with tools that mark easily – like a marker.  While most kindergarten teachers might cringe at the thought of having young ones use a marker, it only makes sense that a marker should be one of the first tools they use when making streaks on a paper!  Don’t expect your child to hold the tool properly yet.  Holding it in his fist and jabbing at a paper is a sensible place to start. Since you’ve practiced the verbal routines along with the movements, you could be having your child move the marker up and down (exaggerated movements when practicing), and repeat, “Dot, dot, dot, dot” or “Jab, jab, jab, jab.”  Eventually work up to a “sshk, shhk, shhk” side-to-side movement, and “Squiggle, squiggle” when drawing curvy lines.  My little guy likes that word “squiggle”.
markers - drawing tips

Markers easily glide on paper.  They can also be used in a fist to “jab” or “dot” the paper. Try a variety of thicknesses, sizes and shapes. Highlighters are wide and flat. Child-sized markers are small and thin. Adult-sized markers are thick and long. Don’t forget about dry-erase markers that can be used on a whiteboard.

  • Find drawing tools of different shapes and sizes.  Even though crayons are difficult to draw with, if you locate crayons of different shapes and sizes, you’ll be surprised!  You know your child best, so you decide if triangular, rectangular, cone-shaped or round crayons will work better. You can find a variety of options on the market and test them all out (like I did).
These are differently-shaped crayons that are somewhat easier to hold in the hand.

These are differently-shaped crayons that are somewhat easier to hold in the hand.

  • Offer a large drawing surface.  Provide a large sheet of paper and adhere it to the table/ drawing surface to ensure that it won’t slip and slide while your child “shhk, shhk, shhks”.
crayon collage - drawing tips

When drawing with beeswax block crayons, use the entire edge of the crayon – rather than the thin-lined edge. You want to have your child practice shading rather than line drawing first since shading takes up more space on the page in less strokes. We practiced this hand-over-hand as we “shhk, shhk, shhked” across the page. We repeated with several colors.

  • Consider hiring an art therapist.  Whether you are wanting to see your child paint or draw, you might find that having the support of an art therapist (who is also trained in helping your child with fine motor development through art), would be a special addition to your homeschool week.  I’ve observed several art therapists in my years in the classroom, and it’s just wonderful what they can bring out in children with special needs. I’m looking to add an art therapist this year to enrich my son’s experiences with “schooling”.

Does your child draw?  What are the greatest difficulties you both face?  What adaptations have you already made?  What drawing tools do you own?

Are you looking for more specific direction for your child’s needs?  We can work through them in a one-on-one consultation.


  1. Chantal Halle

    Great article with practical suggestions.
    I find that my son can not bear to hold a chalk as it is dusty and stains his hands. However, he is content to use a chalk holder as he does not have to deal with the “messy” part.

    • Gabriella Volpe

      It’s interesting because I have that same aversion to chalk and have always used a chalk holder as a teacher. Sometimes, the exposure to the new texture is good, but not if it stops the child from ever enjoying projects that incorporate that tool (like sidewalk drawings in summer). Thanks for sharing that tip with us. It will surely help other families!

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