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Old 01-05-2013, 01:03 PM   #1
Jill in Chicago
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Questions for Art Teachers: Elementary aged students press so hard with their pencils

Is this a developmental challenge? This happens with both art projects and their everyday hand writing. They press so hard, that when they go to erase they can't get all the pencil erased. The younger students will then erase so hard they rip the paper.

When I teach art, I try to demonstrate a lighter hold on the pencil, but they go right back to that really hard press. Then they want a new sheet of paper because they are frustrated at the outcome.

Second question: Rulers and perfection. Even when the project is not a "perfect" type of project they really want to use rulers. Then the ruler slips and they don't like the line they drew, and again with the new piece of paper, rulering again.... With some students by the time they get their perfect line drawn the project time is just about up. I understand that some projects need a ruler and perfect lines. What do you say to get them to give up that straight line.

Thanks so much!!! And I truly wish every school had a full time Art Teacher!
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:09 PM   #2
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What ages... Just the youngest kids?

I can't fully answer your question.
But, I did want to just throw this in.
My son has some disabilities that involve visual spatial processing, which can involve dexterity, etc... And, it is well known that with kids like this, excess pressure is the norm, as they are using this a way to try to get more control.

Perhaps if you are talking about the very youngest students. And they are being assigned work that requires some very real control and abilities (be careful that assignments/expectations are age appropriate) then this could be an issue, as they are probably still developing and learning these skills. From your post, I am wondering if the assignments/expectations are not quite age-appropriate. And this could be leading the students to use these approaches?

Again, just throwing this out here...
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:25 PM   #3
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I'm not an art teacher, but I am a K-2 reading teacher and many of my students need OT for handwriting. Young children sometimes do press too hard on their pencil because they are still struggling to control their grip and accuracy in their handwriting. Students who press too hard often complain that their hands hurt when they write and therefore, tend to shy away from writing, so it becomes a vicious cycle of frustration. I give those students mechanical pencils to use. If they press too hard, the pencil point will break. Eventually, they learn to control the pressure needed to write. It doesn't happen overnight, but often by the end of first grade the problem is corrected.

As for using rulers, I'm not sure which grade level you are referring to, but second grade students are notorious for being perfectionists. They tend to erase over an over to produce what they see as a perfect product. I suspect that this spills over to using a ruler to make the "perfect" line. At this age, they are starting to recognize what "looks right" and want to produce that. It's developmental. It's interesting to watch my students go through the developmental phases of their learning knowing that in just a short time they'll be moving on.
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:33 PM   #4
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I am an art teacher. Nice to meet a fellow one! I teach in a special education K-12 school.

Most of my hard pressers aren't too perfectionistic but I like the idea of using mechanical pencils. I think you could also practice with painting because those same students tend to mash the paintbrush onto the paper. Having them practice 'tickling' their palm with the paintbrush and how light it needs to be to tickle is how light they should press on their paper.

I have perfectionists of every age (I teach K-12 and there are some in every age group in my school!). I try to encourage students to make their own artwork and that it's okay if it doesn't turn out like they planned.

If a ruler isn't needed for a particular project, I would put the rulers away and tell them that you aren't using rulers. Maybe try some projects that use wavy or zigzag lines.

I also have a limit on paper. If I feel that they are wasting paper I will tell them that THAT is their last sheet of paper and to please ask for help.
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:35 PM   #5
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This pencil pressure pertains to grades 2nd through 5th. I have worked many hours with Kindergartners and I completely see this as developmental. It is the older students I was curious about. What a great idea with the mechanical pencil.

The ruler is with students ages 2nd all the way to junior high.

I am extremely careful that the projects are geared and appropriate to specific age groups. Also the small motor skills in one classroom are extremely varied, just like with adults.

I am also all about encouraging, positive behavior encouragement.... I encourage art for enjoyment and learning how to make imperfections work within a project.

Not an art teacher, but I get to teach art in class and I LOVE it! I work it into many different lessons, such as "scientific drawing" ..... which I found completely erased many students need for perfection since it was all about them learning to identify plant parts.
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Old 01-05-2013, 03:03 PM   #6
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My son is in 2nd grade and has fine motor skill delays. He still struggles with pressing down too hard with his pencil sometimes. One strategy his OT uses from time to time is to break his pencils and crayons down to very short lengths. The length is enough for him to control the lines, but not enough length that he can press down as hard. And it forces him to slow down as well.

I teach special ed (3rd grade) too. I have some students that are "hard-writers". I also have one "perfectionist". We draw some of her lines for her, otherwise, we would be waiting for hours.
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Old 01-05-2013, 11:29 PM   #7
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My DS10 has that same problem. one thing that I read on the Internet is thar sometimes kids press that hard because they want the darker line for some reason. i know that is not true for all kids, but it might be true for so e. the site suggested using a pencil that is darker than a #2. I have tried this at home with my DS just for drawing and playing tic tak toe. He does use less pressure with the special pencil but I don't know if that will ever transfer to using lighter pressure with a standard pencil.
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Old 01-05-2013, 11:54 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jill in Chicago View Post
Is this a developmental challenge? This happens with both art projects and their everyday hand writing. They press so hard, that when they go to erase they can't get all the pencil erased. The younger students will then erase so hard they rip the paper.

When I teach art, I try to demonstrate a lighter hold on the pencil, but they go right back to that really hard press. Then they want a new sheet of paper because they are frustrated at the outcome.

Second question: Rulers and perfection. Even when the project is not a "perfect" type of project they really want to use rulers. Then the ruler slips and they don't like the line they drew, and again with the new piece of paper, rulering again.... With some students by the time they get their perfect line drawn the project time is just about up. I understand that some projects need a ruler and perfect lines. What do you say to get them to give up that straight line.

Thanks so much!!! And I truly wish every school had a full time Art Teacher!
Try changing the graphite number of the pencils they use. Are they all using #2 pencils? I find #1 pencils to have graphite that is too hard and in order to write a darker line, I had to press harder. Also cheap, dollar store pencils may do this too, as they have a cheaper mix of graphite. If they are using #2 pencils now, try switching to #3, which should be softer and write easier.

Also, you might try really soft colored pencils. Some brands are really creamy, especially the watercolor pencils. Once they start writing or coloring with them, they may automatically ease off on the pressure when they realize they are pushing down too hard and smooshing the tip of the pencils.

This exercise will really work: Have them deliberately push down and write with all their might. Use cheap crayons so they can really press down and smoosh down HARD. Put a piece of cardboard underneath their work. Do it for 5-10 minutes. Almost till their fingers cramp up.

Then quickly make them switch right away to the pencil. The harder they pressed, when they switch back to a light pencil, they will actually write lighter than before because the effort is gone. It's tricking the hand muscles & the brain. Using less pressure will be automatic and feel EASY! You were trying to get them to go the other way, but it felt weird to them. They need to do the opposite - bear down hard, and then pressing lightly will feel like a breeze.


Other things to try: Have them change their hand or finger position. The way they are holding pencil may be what makes them press down too hard.
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Old 01-05-2013, 11:57 PM   #9
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As for the rulering, try going to the extreme other direction for this too: projects that have NO straight lines at all. They need to learn there is a far spectrum of lines & shapes and get practice and get comfortable with all of them. Make them draw trees & plants. Nature does not have straight lines. Keep them away from man-made mechanical subjects which would have straight lines, for a while. As they get comfortable with no-straight lines, they may have relaxed their perfectionism.

An exercise may be to just make them draw straight lines across the page freehand. Drawing is practice and gaining control of the pencil. Some may find short, choppy strokes work better for getting the straight line they want. Others may find drawing it backwards, from right to left, may get them a straighter line, or drawing it with their whole hand above the line, with the pencil facing toward themselves and pulling their whole arm across the page. There is no wrong way if it gets them the result they want.

And some may never get a straight line. So have them practice using the ruler a lot. The few times they use a ruler shouldn't be just when they need the line. It is an instrument that needs practice being held down.


There are a few mixed media art bloggers that embrace being messy and playful that I like to read. You won't find very many straight lines or perfection in their work. In fact, they include the loose messiness as part of their style. It's very freeing & inspiring to just read their blogs & see their process.

Take a look at these artists. Even if their style isn't what you are going for, their way of working may inspire some ideas on how you on how to loosen up those perfectionistic students.

Alisa, right in this blog post she points out the imperfect areas and how she incorporates it into her work:
http://alisaburke.blogspot.com/2012/...ed-fabric.html


Read the preview of Traci Bautista's book, Doodles Unleashed. She did a free workshop of it last year, and while I don't care for her 'grafitti style', I got so much more free & spontaneous by taking the techniques that I was drawn to.
http://www.amazon.com/Doodles-Unleas...dles+Unleashed

Some of her videos:
http://www.youtube.com/results?searc...Traci+Bautista

Traci's blog: http://kollaj.typepad.com/
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Old 01-06-2013, 09:01 AM   #10
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DS10 was in OT for years when he was younger and press hard when he wrote to get the feedback in his hand.

I have also noticed that many of their workbooks (like his Math WB) require you press harder so it shows up, so they may be getting mixed signals about when it is to press hard and when not to.

I think they also might be getting mixed signals about the rulers. I know in 2nd grade they had they kids underline lost of things, spelling words in sentences etc. They are not allowed to freehand the line, the teacher is really strict about the lines to keep it neat. So once again we have mixed signals from one teacher to the next.

Just my observations
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Old 01-06-2013, 11:13 AM   #11
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Hello!!

I have been teaching art for 19 years. I have taught K-12. The pencil thing is absolutely developmental. It is a concept that most kids don't grasp until 7th grade. I sometimes see an understanding in 6th grade. This is a concept that I am always reminding them of.

I have a two sheet of paper limit and only allow rulers for measuring projects. The ruler thing is due to a desire for perfection and lack of confidence.

At the beginning of each school year I always ask my 6th graders, "Who in here considers themselves an artist?" Very few raise their hands. I find they are very critical of themselves. My goal is to encourage and build their confidence.

I also have a "no stick people" rule.
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Old 01-06-2013, 09:58 PM   #12
Jill in Chicago
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Thank you all so much for your thoughtful answers. This was so helpful to me!
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