documentation,  playground

Sketching as a pedagogical method

Although the terms “drawing” and “sketching” are often used interchangingly (Hoffmann, 2019), I have chosen the word “sketching” as opposed to “drawing” to indicate the more traditional definition of sketching within an artistic practice – as work preliminary to a drawing, a draft, a visualized thinking process. This choice intended to alleviate some of the pressures of the “I can’t draw” mantra that adults often utter, and gesture towards the gerund-making intentionalities of the Common Worlds scholars (in turn, inherited from the veritable becoming (animal; woman; child; flower-becoming-bee and bee-becoming-flower) of Deleuze & Guattari), to indicate unfinished, ongoing labouring.

When proposing sketching as a method of pedagogical documentation alongside writing and videography / photography each educator was presented with a traveling notebook with its first page already filled with a sketch of my (Tatiana) own. The marking of the new notebook had the intentionality to wrestle against the fear of the blank.

While there was some reluctance, accompanied by a common claim of not knowing how to draw, sketches began to populate pages of the notebook…

With educators, we speak about sketching not as a form of realistic drawing, but as a way (akin to writing) of capturing on paper that which is being noticed. Both hand-written notes and sketches are but a build-up of small pencil lines, a practice of mark-making. Thus, sketching doesn’t need to be feared as an unfamiliar act requiring some special talent, but could be perceived as same-lines-differently-composed. Such proposition has historical roots, too, insofar as throughout the Renaissance, drawing and handwriting were considered analogous, both depending on “the manipulation of the line” (Bermingham 2000 in Hoffmann, 2019, p. 9).

Sketching as a method of pedagogical documentation is proposed not as a method of revealing the subconscious, not as a problem-solving tool or a technically-sound replication of forms and contours. It’s not even offered as a communication tool, an approach common in the field of design. Instead, the invitation to sketch is fueled by the same desires as the invitation to document: to notice, consider and narrate that which is (pedagogically) significant within curriculum-making (CECE, 2020; Delgado Vintimilla & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2021 with reference to Rinaldi, 2005).

Sketching is a process of visual response (Reason, 2018), a practice of “drawing-enhanced seeing” (Causey, 2017, p. 13) that puts educators into an embodied and intimate dynamic with both the who and the how of sketching. The ‘object’-eye-hand-material loop is all-encompassing.

Unlike a photograph that is most often viewed through the eyes of humanocentrism – that is quite literally vertical (a colonial view from a top of a mountain) and often results in a formation of an image of a Human standing upon Land, sketching may allow us to move in different directions – horizontally, diagonally, spirally, chaotically, etc. Thus,

… we are able to think that the sand and the girl are doing something to each other simultaneously. They transform as an effect of the intra-actions that emerge in between them. Thus, all bodies in the event are to be understood as causes in relation to each other (Deleuze 1990, 4).

– – Hultman & Lenz Taguchi, 2010, p.530

While manifesting itself as a physical act of paying “exquisite attention” (Lather, 2007) to the everyday ECE moments, sketching as a method of notifying offers us also the room to situate ourselves. Unlike the process of documenting by taking (digital) images or videos, sketching is not mediated by a third-party digital algorithm “veiled in proprietary codes and corporate secrecy” (Zakharova & Agarwal, in press), but by the turn of our heads, the pressure of our hands, the stance of our legs, the rigidity of our backs. Sketching argues for the same point as Donna Haraway had back in 1988: “…for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity” (p. 589).

I suggest that sketching as a pedagogical method differs significantly from sketching as a tool of design (and perhaps art, though I use design since it’s the field I am familiar with professionally). While the latter, as an instrument for thinking visually, is a reflective process involving a designer looking inwards for a solution (Hoffman, 2019), the former should be considered as a diffractive movement (Barad, 2007; also Haraway). Educators are invited to notice and capture differences, to consider traditional ECE narratives through the often-unexpected outcomes of the process of sketching or its result.

An educator shares a sketch of “Child inside the plastic tube of the climber”:

The sketch is accompanied by two paragraphs, the first considering what a child is feeling (“comfort”), the second describing child’s actions (“looked”, “shuffled”, “raised hands”, “peeked”). In a group discussion (in-person and via online message board platform) of the sketch and the small write-up, one phrase in particular captured attention: “were crouched in, arms folded over knees, back curved into the shape of the tube”.

With that phrase in mind, we return to the sketch. We note the points of connection between the body and the outline of the play tube, head, torso, lower back, feet. Despite the fact that the accompanied writing describes a wide range of physical activities that educators ‘look for’ in outdoor play, the moment captured in a sketch is deeply intimate and relational. Another educator comments about the fluidity of the situation: play takes shape of a body taking shape of a play instrument. She continues writing, returning to the sketch: “Maybe a better way to describe it would be symbiotic. There is no separation between the child and the tube”. 

While educators may return to their sketches as part of their reflective practices (Reason, 2018, notes in particular the great potentiality of “reflective contemplation” (p. 49) in drawing as a research practice), I am more interested in exploring the pedagogical potential of sketching. Some of these consequences have been captured, more broadly, by propositions of art as a source of new imaginations and untapped critical thinking in educational and curriculum building practices (see Eisner, 2009; Greene, 1995; Grumet, 1978). More specifically, through, the practice of sketching as part of pedagogical documentation may speak to the critical attention to nuance (Eisner, 2009).

The small situated and embodied particularities of sketches resist universality of development-based ECE practices and instrumentality and linearity of modernity. Sketching removes distance between a body (eye, hand) of an educator and an “object”, whether human or more-than-a, of their sketching attention. Here, detachment is no longer possible, replaced by vulnerability where own situatedness is exposed with strokes of a pencil.


Feature image: sketch “Weeds” by educator S.

Photos of sketchbook and sketches by Tatiana Zakharova

Photo collage with Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie-Denise Villers

Last image: sketch “Child inside the plastic tube of the climber” by educator K.


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