Pick and Draw is a simple, fun drawing game for kids. All you need is the Pick and Draw deck of cards, a drawing tool, and a drawing surface. That’s it! I’ve been using this game at home with my preschooler as well as in my occupational therapy sessions ever since the game’s creator sent me a free deck to review and have been loving it!
Pick and Draw is literally the size of a deck of cards, so it’s compact and easy to transport from site to site (a must when working as a school-based OT). It’s simple to set up and takes up barely any space, so you can use it practically anywhere. And it’s picture-based rather than language-based, so it’s easy to use with children who speak a different language or who have difficulty understanding and/or responding to spoken language (such as kids with Autism, receptive language delays, etc.).
All you do is PICK one of each type of card (face, nose, eyes, mouth, hair), then you DRAW whatever is on each card in order to create your very own silly cartoon face. See, told you, simple and straightforward!
The thing I like most about Pick and Draw is that it can be used to work on so many different developmental and therapeutic skills, which makes it extremely versatile. And it doesn’t have to be used only by occupational therapists. This little ol’ deck o’ cards can be picked up and used by parents, classroom teachers, art docents, volunteers, physical and speech therapists, and even counselors and psychologists.
You know what else is cool?
Even though Pick and Draw has some pretty great therapeutic and developmental benefits, it actually wasn’t even designed for therapy. It was originally designed by a professional children’s book illustrator named Rich Davis simply to help spark kids’ interest in drawing. In addition to his work as an illustrator for children’s books, Rich works with children of all ages in schools and libraries. He loves introducing drawing to kids and shared, “I wanted to help kids to continue developing their creativity and imagination. I saw they loved to draw and they love cartoons and they loved games. I combined all three into a very simple drawing game called Pick and Draw. That was 5 years ago and what I have seen since that time with the game has been amazing.”
Rich has received numerous emails from people in a variety of professional who have excitedly shared with him how they are using Pick and Draw to help the kids in their lives. He shared with me that he has been contacted by occupational therapists, physical therapists, grief counselors, school guidance counselors, and even an international clinic that helps children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Down Syndrome, all of whom have shared with him how they are using Pick and Draw to help the kids they support.
Rich shared with me that he once had the opportunity to sit in on an OT session where Pick and Draw was used as part of therapy. He reported he was able to observe a teenage patient who had some hand and arm deformities. Knowing that practicing writing words was not going to be very interesting for the girl, the OT reportedly used Pick and Draw to work on fine motor skills. The drawing that the girl did accomplished the fine motor activity but, according to Rich, “Because the girl enjoyed it so much, she wanted to do it more. There was laughter in the midst of therapy as all three of us made a cartoon face at the same time using the cards. And, we all named our cartoon characters and told something they were good at and something they were scared of. This often leads to stories about their character which can reveal some inner struggles the patient is having and the activity allows them a ‘light-hearted’ doorway to talk about those struggles where it feels safe to them. The girl was so pleased with her accomplishment, as was the OT, as was I, due to getting to see the game being used to help someone who struggles in life from a physical limitation.”
Pick and Draw is not only being used in therapy; it is literally being used in schools and organizations worldwide. In addition to being used in its country of origin (USA), Rich has been told stories of his simple drawing game being used all over Europe and South America and in countries such as Canada, Australia, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Afghanistan. Stories have been shared of Compassion International using Pick and Draw in Tanzania by drawing in the dirt with sticks, and Operation Mobilization using it in India in schools that support survivors of prostitution and human trafficking. Wow.
Taking all this information info consideration, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that Pick and Draw was awarded the “Seal of Approval“ in 2013 by the National Parenting Center, after a rigorous two-week reviewing process with many different groups testing the game.
So how can you use this simple drawing game for therapeutic benefit?
Here are 10 ways I have found you can use Pick and Draw in therapy:
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1. Work on Pencil Grasp: Probably a no-brainer that a drawing game could help kids work on their pencil grasp, but think about the wide variety of fine motor tools other than pencils that kids could use. Some example include short crayons (why short crayons?), markers, chalk, paintbrushes, colored pencils, dry erase markers, or dry erase crayons. Tweak the writing surface so it’s slanted or vertical (such as on an easel, big whiteboard/chalkboard, or paper taped to the wall) to support an even better pencil grasp (how?).
2. Work on Pre-Writing and Pre-Math Concepts: Work on learning to draw a person (or a face) to help build the foundation for learning to write letters. Emphasize basic spatial concepts that will eventually help kids understand where to place lines and curves in their letters. This type of spatial reasoning is also connected to the later development of math skills. Examples of these basic spatial concepts include: top, middle, bottom, left, right, bigger, smaller, outside, inside.
3. Work on Pre-Writing Strokes: Before kids learn to write letters and words, they first must develop the ability to form certain pre-writing strokes (i.e., lines and shapes) in order to support the ability to easily combine them all together to create written language. From simplest to most complex, these pre-writing strokes develop from approximately ages 2-5 and include vertical line, horizontal line, circle, cross, square, single diagonal lines, “X”, and triangle. Pick and Draw includes many of these pre-writing strokes as part of the silly face parts. This has been one of my favorite reasons to use Pick and Draw — to work on pre-writing strokes with preschoolers in a way that’s WAY more fun than drawing random lines or completing worksheets! If you’re a therapist, you can rig the deck to target certain cards so they match the pre-writing strokes your kiddos are working on to make the activity developmentally appropriate.
4. Work on Visual Memory Skills: Flash one card for a few seconds and then flip it back over and have them draw it from their visual memory. Make it more fun by taking turns and also having them flash you the cards so they have a turn to be the “teacher”. Kids love to tell others when they’re wrong (especially grown ups), so you can sneak in some extra therapy practice by “accidentally” drawing it the wrong way and then letting them catch your mistake. When they do catch it, be dramatic! “What?! No way, you’re right! Good thing I have you here to help me, you’re so smart!” (Or “great”, “fast”, “observant”, or whatever word you want to use.)
5. Work on Visual Scanning and Discrimination Skills: Spread the cards around the table face-up and call out which body part to draw. The child will have to visually scan around the table to find the targeted body part. Make it even more fun and challenging by spreading the cards further around the room and having them walk, run, hop, skip, crawl, roll, wheelbarrow walk, or propel themselves on a scooter board (either in sitting or while laying on their tummy) to go get the targeted card (or just look at it if you also want to work on visual memory) and bring it back to the drawing area. Or you could have them lay tummy-down (prone) over a therapy ball in order to get targeted cards (roll over ball, get card, come up off ball, take to the drawing area and draw it, return to ball and repeat). If you don’t have enough room to incorporate these types of gross motor activities (or just don’t want to), you could also tape the cards up on the walls or big whiteboard in order to work on visual scanning across a larger space (much like copying from the board while at school).
6. Make It a Multisensory Activity: Draw the faces with fine motor tools or fingers in shaving cream, Kinetic Sand, or fingerpaint. Or build the face parts with play dough or Wikki Stix. Whatever you do, make it fun!
7. Do a Pre-Handwriting Warm-Up: Draw a Pick and Draw face as a motor warm-up for handwriting practice (both in therapy sessions as well as in the bigger classroom — hint hint teachers!), as well as a brain warm-up for generating ideas on what to write about. Since OTs often work on handwriting, this gives kids a fun way to come up with their own ideas on what to write about during their OT session, rather than just writing random sentences about a random topic.
8. Work on Breaking Down Complex Tasks: If you present this activity to a student who struggles with visual motor tasks or with breaking down complex tasks into smaller parts, they might initially respond by saying something like, “But I don’t know how to draw.” That’s par for the course for a lot of OT kiddos. This game gives you the chance to address that difficulty. You can start out by presenting the cards just one at a time in order to “chunk” it for them. Then, once they become more comfortable with the concept, you can slowly increase the number of cards you present until they have worked up to being able to tolerate having all five cards showing at once. What a confidence boost!
9. Work on Identifying Emotions: I like using Pick and Draw in combination with the Zones of Regulation program (what’s that?) to help kids who struggle with understanding and/or controlling their emotions. After having introduced the Zones to them and knowing that they understand the basic Zones terminology (a few lessons into the curriculum), it has been fun to use Pick and Draw as a kind of “warm up” activity. After the child draws their cartoon face, we talk about whether we think it’s a boy or girl, what his or her name might be, and what zone he or she might be in. After the child has identified a zone, they share what specific emotion from that zone they think the person might be feeling (I offer a cheat sheet of emotion names from the book if needed), and what specific clues on the person’s face makes them think it’s that particular emotion.
This is a great, non-threatening way to practice identifying the zones and emotions because there isn’t a pre-set answer; the face is created right in front of the child’s eyes, and they get to interpret what they see, rather than trying to guess what the “right” answer is. This opens up doors for further conversation about how the same picture or expression can be interpreted differently by different people.
10. Work on Flexible Thinking: Different people can come up with different faces using the same exact same cards (as shown above). They may place the body parts in slightly different places, or make certain body parts smaller while others are larger (which completely changes the look of the face!). This is great practice for kids who struggle with flexible thinking, such as children with Autism. It may be helpful to show a few finished drawings before you begin the activity so they can see some examples of what a finished product looks like. You could also do a live demonstration of picking and drawing the cards so they can see how the process works. Then you can do it together. Pick and draw one card at a time and comment on similarities and differences between your drawing (or a peer’s drawing) and theirs — not in a judgmental way, but in an interested, observant way.
After completing the drawing together, you can do it again and vary some of the factors to encourage flexible thinking (i.e., coping with doing things differently) such as changing the order in which you draw the body parts, drawing the same face multiple times but with all the body parts being different sizes in each, having one person pick cards for the other person to draw, making a “collaborative face” by taking turns picking and drawing parts, coming up with a list of names for the character and then deciding together on what the name should be, drawing faces with an atypical number of features (two sets of eyes, three noses, etc.), drawing a body based on what the face looks like, or even creating your own cards to be drawn (such as on index cards). These ideas and more can be found in “The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities“.
If you are excited about this simple drawing game, then guess what…Rich Davis is working on additional versions of this game to expand to additional uses such as understanding emotions and learning to create multi-step drawings. Follow Mama OT on Facebook so I can let you know the minute I hear about new versions being released!
The Pick and Draw deck of cards is available at pickanddraw.com for $10 (accurate at the time of publication). Additionally, “The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities” is available for purchase in paperback or as an ebook on Kindle from Amazon. Learn more from Rich about how to draw on his blog.
I hope this review was helpful and that you get a chance to try out Pick and Draw to help the kid(s) in your life!
*Disclosure: I received compensation in order to review this product. However, all positive opinions expressed are my own, as I truly do believe in the value of this product and its ability to help individuals around the world. Learn more about my policy for product reviews.
**Note: Some of the introduction cards in the Pick and Draw deck contain faith-based vocabulary. These cards can easily be removed from the deck if this presents a conflict of interest or violates a professional policy (such as in a public school setting, etc.).