Expressive Arts & Design

Back to the magnetic drawing board

There are few things more exciting for a grandparent than buying and presenting a toy to a beloved grandchild, and watching it being incorporated into their imaginative play.

As an educator, I find it especially interesting to observe which toys ‘catch on’ with a child, and crucially when they catch on. Sometimes a toy doesn’t arrive at quite the right time, or its appeal is crowded out by an avalanche of other spoils. But being overlooked initially doesn’t mean a toy won’t ‘go viral’ with your grandchild at a later date.

In recent weeks, Daisy’s magnetic drawing board has rarely been far from her lap. Whether she’s on a car journey, having dinner, watching television, or even sitting on the loo, she likes to have it propped on her lap, ready so that she can start doodling. 

A confident creator

The drawing board isn’t a recent addition to Daisy’s toy box, and she was certainly happy to scribble on it when it first appeared, more than a year ago. What has changed is that she’s improved her pencil control significantly since I last wrote about it, defaulting to a three-finger ‘tripod’ grip without needing to be prompted, and correspondingly she’s gained confidence in her drawing. 

A child's drawing of a person, rendered on a magnetic drawing board
Daisy has graduated to drawing human figures

At this point, she’s able to render some of the basic shapes and arrangements of human faces, torsos and legs, building on her previous efforts, so now she can take satisfaction in her ability to create recognisable figures.

Pencil control is an important part of a child’s physical development. It requires plenty of practise, and drawing is one of many activities that give opportunities to improve and develop those manipulative fine motor skills. Being creative on the drawing board allows Daisy to hone her abilities, and gain confidence, ready to transfer those talents to writing and onto other media.

A child's using a three-finger pencil grip on a magnetic drawing board
Daisy has become confident with her tripod pencil grip

These new skills and the simplicity of the drawing board (it has a tethered stylus, three stamps and a sliding eraser bar), has made its reintroduction becoming an unexpected success.

The board is light and durable, so Daisy is able to carry it around with her, and she sometimes refers to it as ‘her iPad’. In these instances, she often says she’s going to ‘send her picture’ to someone (like her Mummy or her cousin) and then slides the eraser bar to make the slate go blank as the image is ‘broadcast’ into the Cloud.

This is hardly surprising – Daisy is a digital native, just like the rest of her peers!

Exploring independently

This role play gives Daisy a feeling of independence and freedom. She’s allowed to use the family’s real iPad to watch children’s television, but she can’t carry it around, nor is she old enough to use her parents’ Apple Pencil.

So it’s no surprise that having her own robust tablet is a source of enjoyment. It’s even supplanted the real iPad on some car journeys!

In addition to using the stylus to create recognisable drawings of human figures, Daisy also uses it to draw numbers. This activity even prompted her to request a viewing of a Numberblocks song focused on number formation; she likes drawing 1, 2 and 4 (her age) in particular, as well as the letters of her name.

Daisy’s board comes with stamps in the shape of a circle, flower and heart, and she’s found several creative uses for these, including using them in combination with the stylus to add eyes, nose and lips to a large drawing of a face, filling in the details of the teeth with the stylus. 

A child's draws a face on a magnetic drawing board, rendering the eyes and lips using a circular stamps and the teeth with her stylus
Mix and match mark-making: Daisy uses stamps and the stylus to draw a face

On another occasion Daisy even took the heart-shaped stamp and, unprompted, overlapped one impression on top of another to make the shape that she recognised: a butterfly! Beginning to use these shapes to design and represent objects is a critical element of a child’s development in expressive art and design.

A child's overlays two heart-shaped stamps to create an image of a butterfly on a magnetic drawing board
Two hearts make a butterfly

Daisy has even used the board to practice her counting, by making blocks out of rows and columns of stamps (again, the influence of Numberblocks is evident) and counting aloud as she goes, or sometimes counting the impressions out in a line.

I think another compelling reason for the sudden popularity of the magnetic drawing board is that it doesn’t require any prep, supervision or post-activity cleanup. Daisy has a huge selection of mark-making options available in her craft box: pens, paints, pastels, crayons, chalks and glue pens to name a few. She enjoys drawing and scribbling, and knows that her Mummy and Daddy both take pleasure in drawing too.  

But this magnetic board means she can practice and explore colourful mark-making with some privacy and independence; crucially, she can experiment without a grownup assessing her work, and there isn’t the rigmarole of cleaning up afterwards: she simply swipes the bar over when she’s finished.

Anyway, her best creations often become permanent because Daddy wants to photograph and share them!

Wipe-clean wonders

The magnetic board gives Daisy the freedom to be creative in a different way to her other mark-making kits, which rely on flat surfaces to lean on, and are not as mobile as the board. The board can go places that papers and crayons can’t, and is perfect for car journeys.

There are lots of affordable options for magnetic doodle boards available online in different shapes and colours (Daisy’s is the AiTuiTui Magnetic Drawing Doodle Board), and if you want to consider further easy cleanup solutions for budding writers, there are a number of wipe-clean letter workbooks available. Daisy regularly uses these with her childminder to practice letter formation by tracing dotted letters and writing freehand, with a non-permanent marker. 

Recently, Daisy even received a wipe-clean Dinosaur paint playbook with a set of paint-squirting pens. This didn’t quite live up to its tagline of ‘Paint, Wipe and Redesign’, proving difficult to clean up after use – especially as Daisy wanted to paint on all of the pages before the end of the art session!

It’s not difficult to imagine Daisy playing with another iconic toy in the coming years – based on her current progress it can’t be long until she’s ready to get behind the dials of an Etch A Sketch.

Granny Smith says

  • Young children enjoy any opportunity to develop their drawing skills, using whatever media and materials are available. Some pencils can be hard for small fingers to grip and I would recommend chunky crayons or triangular pencils and crayons initially –these encourage a child to draw using a tripod grip.
  • Be ready with some paper for your young ‘artist’ to work on. Although young children are happy to draw on whatever is available – on her last visit, Daisy decided to draw on some envelopes I’d left on the table. A supply of children’s all-purpose art paper is ideal. 
A child sits on a sofa in her dressing gown, with a magnetic drawing board propped on her knees
Whatever the time of day, Daisy is rarely far from her magnetic drawing board

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