Teaching Opinion

Kindergartners Think in Beautiful Drawings About Dr. Martin Luther King

By Nancy Flanagan — February 01, 2016 2 min read
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My friend, WA Kindergarten teacher Susan DuFresne, just shared a great post about an art lesson she taught last week, deftly combining some observation / drawing skills with developmentally appropriate thoughts on the man they were drawing: Dr. Martin Luther King. The drawings she posted (using two YouTube videos to help students with drawing basics, and more advanced techniques, like shading) charmed and delighted her friends. But the things her students said about the man they were drawing were downright profound.

The kids were astounded by the second, advanced-skills video, exclaiming, "It looks like a REAL person!!" They ALL wanted to try doing the realistic sketching. I told them it requires special soft drawing pencils and Q-tips for blending and shading, which our school does not have, but I would try to get them the supplies. I'm going to find a way to get the materials and teach them the slower version of the lesson with my own drawing next week. The thing that choked me up was their confidence in believing they could be successful and their strong desire to take that risk! I felt proud of them, that they had developed that much self-confidence. When they came to my classroom they expressed a belief of "I can't draw THAT!" Clearly they have more confidence now in their abilities, because the arts are something that inspire this risk-taking and persistence, like no other medium. The sense of purpose is so strong for children who want to create what they see. I've had children who give up so easily--or won't even try, in academics--be willing to try something new in art when they see an example of the finished product. I've witnessed them try and fail multiple times and not give up until they are satisfied with the result!

Here are some of the drawings using the first, step-by-step drawing video, and including the students’ own thoughts on their work, and what they had to say, after a discussion of how they could make the world a better place, like Dr. King did. Dufresne says: Through questioning, I discovered many in my academically diverse, integrated kindergarten class had not heard of Dr. King. In order to develop background knowledge for my students, I read Martin’s Big Words to them, sang songs about Dr. King, danced to those song--and read/colored our own emergent reader about MLK.

DuFresne is a teacher leader, a strong voice for fully public education and the importance of art in learning. She and Anthony Cody recently launched a No Art Left Behind blog series and Facebook page. She would be the first person to tell you that all kindergartners deserve regular art and music programs, that the arts are essential in educating all our children. Chat with her at @NoArtLeftBehind about artful resistance in our public schools. Better yet, soak up the innocent and moving words of her five year-olds: I dream of a better world...

  • I would make sure people have houses
  • I would have pes and harme (peace and harmony)
  • I would klenup the hol wrld (clean up the whole world)
  • I would share the drinking fountain
  • I would hav evreone go to the sam scul

Now there’s a thought--what if everyone went to the same school? One big school, where there were plenty of Q-tips and art pencils and a teacher who nurtured drawing skills as well as conversations about people who changed the country where they live? Dufresne:

Every child was successful and proud. We finished our drawings, and it was “choice time.” I have a room full of toys and all kinds of games and activities, but this group of kids wanted nothing to do with them, today--nearly all my kids asked permission to continue drawing after the lesson, during their choice time. Many asked if they could draw Dr. King again. Of course I said yes!

Art changes the world and makes it a better place. I dream of a world where all children get to experience art every day in our public schools.

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