Ode to Broken Crayons: Some do’s and don’ts

We’ve all been there with a huge sigh, staring at a pile of old crayons. Ready to throw them out.

Or staring in disbelief as our child peels the paper right off brand new crayons! How dare he!

And if he snaps a crayon in half, oh my! Call in re-enforcements!

But the truth is, there are dozens of ways to use old crayons. And kids already know it.

Cubosh on VisualHunt

One way is Alison’s idea to recycle old crayons.  I love it!

Via Alison Sherwood

You can also . . .

Carve them,
break them,
peel them,
grate them;
Melt them in old muffin tins.

Color sideways,
blunt or tip;
batik on fabric,
paper slips;
Toss more colors in the bin.

Try sun-catchers,
“paint” with dots;
iron shavings
for stained glass spots;
Take your old crayons for a spin!

and much more.

jennifer*clare on Visual Hunt
rgirardin and 19melissa68 on Visual Hunt

Kids love this kind of exploration and naturally think outside the box. Especially the crayon box.

A child is naturally more consumed with the process more than the product—until we train him otherwise! Therefore . . .


  • Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve failed to follow these guidelines in the past. This is “Art Rules According to Laura’s Experience & Reading.” Just be willing to take a fresh approach from now on. No guilt trips.
  • Don’t make it all about you and your approval.
  • Don’t label artwork as good, beautiful, nice, pretty, wonderful, terrific, amazing, etc. Don’t say “I like it” or “I love it”. These are value judgments. This kind of praise is more akin to flattery, and eventually makes kids dependent on your approval rather than following his own artistic instincts.
  • Don’t ask “What is it?” This question assumes that everything must be “real” or recognizable.
  • Don’t utilize “formula” and no-fail crafts. If you can’t avoid them, use them sparingly. Or figure out ways to individualize them. Otherwise, the already floundering child will come to rely on them and be reticent to try his own ideas. It may also develop a false sense of accomplishment.
Jeffrey’s Artwork


  • Give your child large paper. 18” x 24” or larger is good, so as not to restrict arm movement.
  • Encourage experimentation.
Kaia’s Artwork
  • State observations to validate what she’s done:

“I see that you’ve made circles of many sizes.”
“You’ve used many shades of red and blue.”
“You made very thick lines here, and thinner lines over here.”
The bottom line is: Describe, don’t judge.

  • Discuss technique. Note if he is applying heavy or light pressure with a crayon. Note if he’s using the tip or taking off the paper and using it lengthwise–even broken in half. Yes, broken and unwrapped crayons are okay! Note straight and curvy lines, short and long, thin and thick, blunt or sharp tips. This is more important than discussing subject matter. Again, describe, don’t judge.

Statements of observation are affirmations
that prove you’re engaged with his artwork,
that you’re really seeing it,
rather than merely labeling it as good or pretty.

On a personal note, as a kid, I remember certain adults complimenting my drawings. But the words fell flat unless they came from someone who actually knew something about art. It’s easy to “impress” the person who’s not knowledgable in that area.

Perhaps it would be like me randomly walking up to a heart surgeon and telling him that he’s the greatest surgeon ever, that he does amazing work. But what do I know about heart surgery? I don’t know the difference between cardiac tissue or a hamstring. A compliment from someone like me means nothing, no matter my good intentions. He would more likely value praise from his colleagues and superiors.

  • Say “Tell me about your picture” if you’re not sure what to say about it.
Colin’s Artwork
  • Encourage scribbling when it occurs with pre-school children. Scribbling is a natural phase and makes writing easier later.
  • Display artwork. Put the rest in a 24” by 36” portfolio, or smaller pieces in a binder.

AND . . .

I loved these books when my kids were young! For kids ages 6 to 9, each page offers an invitation to draw by means of open-ended thinking. The activities are designed to stimulate creativity and problem-solving skills.

The several books in this series offer an alternative to traditional coloring books that merely espouse coloring inside the lines of grown-up drawings. According to Striker, coloring books do more harm than good, and only breed sameness, killing creative thought and confidence.

Drawing on her experiences as an art teacher, Striker’s book Please Touch teaches parents how to foster creativity in children before age four through art, music, and play. You may not agree with everything she says, but she has many valid points about nurturing imagination and bringing out the best in kids. In addition, you can get specific ideas for art activities that will encourage your toddler’s or pre-schooler’s imagination in her book Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art. Also, learn what to expect at each stage of artistic development.

Now you can see why my son had such two disparate reactions to my comments on his project?

So when have you been either encouraged or stifled by praise for your creative work? And why?

Ever musing,


P.S. Coming soon: An artist who’s just as comfortable sculpting polymer clay trees as she is painting Tom Petty portraits (& other stars), and also “draws” the best from her art students

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13 thoughts on “Ode to Broken Crayons: Some do’s and don’ts

  1. Thank you for the list of Susan Striker’s books!
    Hmmm, when have I been encouraged or stifled…? The earliest project that comes to mind was a shadow box I made in early elementary school. The assignment was to create an early Native American settlement. My parents were all about using what was already in the house– no trips to the store for supplies. My dad encouraged me to use my imagination in coming up with household items, and I did just that. Dyed sugar became sand, sky, and sunshine. Real mud from my backyard made little mini Adobe like houses. I think toothpicks were used in numerous way… I was pretty proud of it, so were my parents, or at least the pretended to be, lol.

    1. Just think . . . if your parents had taken you to the store, you probably wouldn’t have been as innovative with the items on hand!

  2. Your encouragement to give statements of observation, to describe rather than judge, and to ask questions that bring out the thought processes were all very helpful. These suggestions would also apply to fostering creative writing and even being a good listener.
    In answer to your question as to when I have been stifled or encouraged, I believe most of the stifling was self-imposed. However, I was encouraged by a high school English teacher who ended the semester by stating an observation about each student that he shared with the whole class. He mentioned that he felt I had a good eye for the use of color as evidenced in the clothes I wore. I’m not sure what that had to do with English class but I have remembered that and do love color. I have come to realize the different emotions color evokes in me, especially in home decor.
    I am ordering some of Susan Strikers books for my grandchildren to enjoy over the summer!

    1. You’re right, Nancy. The same advice can definitely apply to creative writing and listening when we’re trying to draw someone out rather than shut them down. “Describe, don’t judge.”

      I’m guessing that with your eye for color, you probably have a lot of people asking for fashion or decor advice!

  3. Do you think children’s responses to this could be as varied as their learning styles?

    I think one of my kids might appreciate the acknowledgement of what’s in the picture, but I think the others would all be frustrated–not necessarily because they are looking for validation, but because they feel that art should be felt.

    I guess I would liken it to having someone read something I’ve written and then hand me a rubric stating different aspects of the piece. It would drive me nuts not knowing if it spoke to them at all.

    Could there be a cross here of not saying, “Great job. I liked it” And not just listing the components, But saying, “I like how the thick lines counter the thin ones. and how the circles stand out from the squares” ??

    Just a thought for some open discussion 🙂

    1. “It would drive me nuts not knowing if it spoke to them at all.”

      Elizabeth, I think this statement of yours is profound. Isn’t this what art is all about, anyway? Doesn’t an artist want it to speak to people! So, maybe children’s responses can be extremely varied. Maybe there are times when it is “okay” for students to simple say, “Great job” or “I like it.” Those types of responses can lead to some very meaningful conversations with young minds. Maybe some students will respond to artist’s style while others students may have an emotional or personal reaction to the piece. I think going down either or both paths are excellent journeys worth taking!

    2. Elizabeth,

      I agree that children’s responses may be as varied as their individuality. The trick of all great instructors is knowing what will inspire each individual student and then applying it.

      1. Yes, Wendy, if instructors can figure out how to inspire each student, the rest comes much easier.

        And Brad, like you say, that’s not an easy task.

        I also think it’s important for the children themselves to figure out the response they are looking for. I wonder, Laura, was your son ever able to verbalize why he crashed the blocks the first time?
        Hopefully as a student realizes how he responds to different encouragement, he can recognize that others may not be meaning to hurt him with their responses. They just don’t realize how he hears it.
        So there’s your next book, Laura! You know 5 Love Languages and the 5 Languages of Apology? You can write the next one: 5 Languages of Encouragement 🙂

        1. No, he was not able to verbalize it. But in the context of knowing him and having years of teaching experiences and raising kids, I figured it out. His example exemplifies (to a more drastic degree) the need for proper feedback.

          The 5 Languages of Encouragement . . . that does sounds like a great idea for a book! I hope somebody else writes it. I have enough irons in the fire.

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