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Form Drawing on Chalkboard

This is a simple introduction to the practice of form drawing with children. Form drawing, as practiced in Waldorf schools, strengthens eye-hand coordination and helps develop fine motor skills as a preparation, and later a support, for writing.

Form drawing also teaches thinking, but in a non-intellectual way; it trains the intelligence to be flexible and nimble, able to follow and understand a complicated “line” of thought. The more human beings are trained to think flexibly, the greater the contribution they can make to the changing needs and circumstances of the world.

Any form you choose to explore with your child on the chalkboard can also be moved and experienced with the whole body. Start with the experience of the form, whenever possible; then draw it on the chalkboard. The forms will be better internalized this way, making “writing” more fun and engaged, less abstract, and representative of something felt and real.

Some ideas for form drawing

  • Seek the forms in nature and the world. The foundation of all form drawing, and writing, proceeds from mastering straight lines and curves. Spend some time in your yard and neighborhood, looking for straight lines and curves. Grab a leaf and look closely. How about the road outside your home? I found that this exercise, alone, kept my first grader interested for weeks when we went on our daily walks.
  • Move the forms. Walk, run, and skip the forms, be they straight lines and curves, five-pointed stars, or spirals. Move the forms forwards and backwards, with big steps and baby steps. Use the dominant hand to draw the shapes really large in the air, or with a stick in the dirt. Use the feet: draw the forms in leaves, sand or mud. Or get a big piece of paper and join your child in drawing with his or her feet, holding a crayon between your toes.
  • Create the forms in 3D with beeswax modeling clay. Employ string, rocks, twigs or stuffed animals to make these shapes. In other words, use this as an opportunity to get creative and have fun.
  • Keep forms simple. Change orientation of forms. Create patterns. We aren’t seeking a reproduction of a drawing of an object in form drawing, but the simplest shape, or form, possible. So explore drawing simple lines, of the same height and of different heights, on the vertical, then the horizontal, and later on the diagonal. With the curves, how about a lot of “c” shapes of different sizes, followed by “u” shapes (with only the curve—no straight line), and upside-down “u” shapes? Create patterns “ccCcc” or “uuuUUU” or “cCcCcC.” Then, later on, create forms with both straight lines and curves, together. You can introduce letters as having both straight and curved lines. What did you see on your walks that had both forms together?
  • Explore numbers using forms. Use a circle for “one,” a straight line for “two,” triangle for “three,” a square for “four,” a star for “five,” a Star of David for “six,” a rainbow for “seven,” an octopus for “eight,” and so on.
  • Archetypal forms. One archetypal form to explore is the spiral. Look for them everywhere (pine cones, galaxies, snails, springs), move them, draw them with the feet as well as with the dominant hand. Find them, move them, draw them. In second grade, mirrored forms come to the fore. It blew me away when my soon-to-be second-grader spontaneously drew two spirals facing each other on his chalkboard. These archetypes are quite real.
  • Resources for deepening a form drawing practice. A book I found valuable in form drawing with my son was Form Drawing for Beginners by Donna Simmons. Form drawing can extend well into adulthood and become a spiritual practice in its own right. Here locally, there are classes open to the community in form drawing (including drawing Celtic knots freehand) and sacred geometry through the Waldorf Teacher Training Eugene. I recommend them highly.