Author Archives: Shoo Rayner

Teaching children to write through illustration

Illustration is the art of telling stories with pictures.

We spend so much time and energy teaching children to write, while we ignore and often discourage, their natural storytelling skills.

Have you ever given children a piece of paper and some drawing implements and then watched them get to work?

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of hesitation or reluctance to get going. Any reluctance is usually a matter of self-confidence in the child, which has probably been bashed out of them by adults already.

Completing a drawing is a brilliant confidence booster. The drawing stares back in an uncomplicated, non-judgemental way and says, “Well done. You created me!”

Drawing is the simplest way of creating something out of nothing and manifesting original thought. Never mind the improved fine motor skills, cognitive growth and improved attention.

Kids love drawing and undertake the task with seemingly inborn ability. No need to learn complicated letters or graphemes. They just do it, and quite often they do it collaboratively, building a picture through conversation and storytelling.

A huge percentage of the children in any classroom are visually-minded. Some may even be word-blinded.

The natural exam-based process that chooses our teachers, selects word-minded people, who may have no concept of just how difficult written language is for some visually-minded children.

While teachers wonder how to improve writing skills, they ignore the inborn storytelling skills their children have already.

Illustration is the art of storytelling and illustration is what children do – naturally – without coercion.

Children are natural illustrators. They will build drawings, adding new stuff as they think of it. Essentially, they are building first drafts of stories.

Many a time I have done a simple drawing of one of my characters with a class. As I go around looking at the children’s work, some children ask if they can add a police car or a plane crash in the background, or maybe a marauding dinosaur or a city landscape.

Later in the day, their teacher will find me and show me how a child has not only labelled their drawing but has written the story too, often explaining that this child never writes anything.

Now I would love to take all the credit! Sure, it’s cool and exciting to have an author or an illustrator come into your class for the day, but all I did was to show how to get started and give permission for the story to grow and expand, just by the fact that I was there and so the time was found and allowed for the child to experiment.

It would be wonderful if teachers would or could be allowed to draw, showing children how to tackle complicated drawings. I find, in my experience of visiting schools, that teachers are often scared of drawing, of making a fool of themselves. They have maybe been given an afternoon on the subject at Teacher Training College – institutions that further self-selected lecturers to be even more word-biased!

I fully understand that politicians set goals and targets for teachers to reach, otherwise they lose their jobs. They even prescribe the routes to achieving those goals – even though they may be counter-productive.

The goals and targets are arbitrary, set by politicians and word-minded educationalists to discriminate against the creative and visually-minded.

What is so sad about this situation, is that the introduction of drawing (and reading for pleasure, not for point scoring,) would actually bring about the elusive results that, for all the highly-researched pedagogical input, the politicians so desire but find to be ultimately unachievable.

There is an old law of teaching – you only have to be one day ahead of your students.

Teachers, can learn to draw well enough to teach their children simple starter drawings – as they might offer starter sentences – which then give permission to the children to carry on and build their “first drafts”.

The amazing benefit is that children love and admire teacher’s for their drawing talent – however bad the teacher may think the drawing is. Watching a teacher show how to draw something is magic – like watching a magician draw a rabbit out of a hat. How do they do that!?

Children seem to have an innate skill, when it comes to drawing, but they do need instruction, time and practice to improve their skills – skills they will happily share amongst themselves like no other subject. After all, the only tuition they are getting in drawing skills at the moment is from their peers.

Drawing teaches advanced research skills, application and concentration resulting in improved self-esteem and knowledge retention. What’s not to like?

Get those pencils out and have a go!

Climate Change – What on Earth can I do?

I remebember – some 50 years ago! – being curled up in a ball on my bed, inconsolable, blubbing real tears for the panda bears that were soon going to become extinct.

Then, some 35 years ago, working on a college project to design a conservation poster, or something like that, reading the Red Book in the college library, being appalled at the extinction pressure put on local species I knew and loved.

I was fired up. I went round to the Friends of the Earth to offer my services. They stared at me blankly and politely shewed me the door. In retrospect – I may have seemed scarily hyper – I’ve learned to tone down that strength of enthusiasm over the years, but the moment was gone and I, like many people, shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Never mind, what can I possibly do as a single individual?

The World Wildlife Fund saved the Pandas and we all went Awww! when the little baby panda sneezed on YouTube and everything seemed to be okay. We had saved the world! We were free to go on trashing the world, guilt free. There was always someone around to small and take away the mess and dump it in a jungle somewhere far away.

I put the recycling out every week. I agonise over high-carbon decisions, but generally give in to the easy option. I waited four years to get my latest phone. The old one was getting very slow – due to built in obsolescence – I still use it as a second camera and ipod.

I love my phone. I was a very early adopter. I got the first iPhone when it came out. Almost everybody laughed as I got it out to look stuff up on google. “You’ll be doing this soon,” I told them. They laughed even louder.

Try and prize their phones out of their hands now! It was the same with twitter, facebook and instagram. “What’s the point?” asked all this people, who now spend all day swiping and twiddling their thumbs with new messages and pictures of their cats.

But I worry – not only about the rape of our personal data, or the way the internet destroys value in the offline world, or the way it makes everyone unaccountable for their actions. I also worry about the power it uses… and the human minds it consumes.

I recently made a video – How to draw Greta Thunberg – YouTube have now removed comments from my “made for kids” content but, before they did, 50 percent of the comments were beyond negative – they were slurs. My innocent, how to draw videos usually get 99-100% thumbs up likes – so far Greta has 70.2% – 33 likes to 14 dislikes – one subscriber even felt they had to unsubscribe.

That’s a lot of haters who, I presume, don’t care if the apocalypse is just around the corner. They’ve booked their seat at the restaurant at the end of the world and can’t wait for the firework show to begin.

What don’t they like? Do they not like hearing the truth? Or can’t they bear the guilt put on them by a kid? Or that a kid is smarter than them? Or don’t they like that she’s actually doing something – actually standing up for what she believes and is doing something about it – even if it means sailing across the Atlantic rather than flying – how brilliant was that? She got as much ridicule doing that as film stars do, when they fly to climate meetings – (they should be ridiculed!)

Do they just not like that she’s a bit different. Do they hate the very qualities that have made her such an inspiration to a whole generation? Maybe they work for coal and petrochemical interests, see the writing on the wall and are wondering what they can do?

So what can I do? What can I do to bring back the insects that I remember spending summer Sunday mornings scraping off the car headlights and windshield?

What can I do to bring those pesky starlings and twittering sparrows back to the feeding table. What can I do to bring back the trilling of the chaffinch, that seemed to just disappear a couple of years ago?

What can I do to stop the advance of robots calling me up to tell my they want to hack into my Amazon account if I give them my pin number.

What can I do about Amazon? It’s fabulous! I love it! Amazon panders to all our most base instincts. It knows more about us that we do ourselves. It reduces all profit from human ingenuity to the minimum, which it then aggregates and gives to one man to spend on his personal whims.

What can we do about Facebook and Google? We love them, don’t we? We love them as they exploit us and everything we love so they can, maybe unwittingly, destroy everything we hold dear.

What can I do?

Giving up the internet is pointless. It is the only way an individual can try and make their voice heard these days.

Moaning is pointless. No one listens to moaning.

Giving up anything, doesn’t sound too great – saving the planet should be positive sum gain.

There have to be positive things we, as individuals can do.

Leading by example. Not blocking bridges or winding up the very people whose minds and attitudes need to change.

There must be something?

Draw an artists mannequin Real Easy

Learn how to draw an Artists Mannequin real easy with step by step instructions.

Mannequins are really useful drawing aids. you can set them up to help you draw people in motion. By drawing all the ball joints you can get a “feeling” for the structure of a body so you can eventually sketch out human bodies from your imagination.

You can get a mannequin from Amazon here in the US and here in the UK (I will get a small commission but you will not be charged extra.