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People in motion.

Drawing people in motion, kicking a soccer ball, running with a kite, jumping for joy, walking along the shore or doing the splits on the balance beam is much easier when students discover how and where people bend. Working with my first- and second-graders, I strive to keep the lesson, "People in Motion," simplified and full of interesting information.

Using a movable skeleton the students cut out from cardboard makes drawing and understanding the human body in motion easy and fun. To keep it simple, only the major joints are bendable (knees and elbows, hips and shoulders), allowing for simple construction by primary students. After the skeletons are cut out and assembled, they are manipulated to show various positions--get ready for some laughs and interesting comments! When the favorite position of motion is decided upon, students trace the bent skeleton lightly, remove "Mr. or Ms. Bones" from the drawing paper, and complete the person in motion to their special liking.


Other very exciting and beneficial learning experiences possible through this lesson include looking at and discussing simple anatomy, vocabulary associated with the body and the historical background of artistic knowledge of the body.

I wholeheartedly believe children, as well as adult artists, benefit from learning that artists find it very useful to know what is below the surface of their drawing subjects. Spaghetti arms are precious in young children's artwork and should never be dismissed as wrong or in need of correction. However, when a student reaches a stage when they begin questioning their environment, how things work, and "What is behind that?" or "How did you do that?", developmentally appropriate, fun exploration and manipulation can provide students with the answers and inquiry satisfaction. I find children truly enjoy learning how artists accomplish realism. Never push students away from their desire to draw expressively. Don't ignore a student's desire or excitement in learning, however, and be ready with developmentally challenging lessons that guide personal, artistic and critical-thinking growth when readiness is demonstrated.


I knew my students were interested in giving their people more realism and variety in action poses. After watching some old movies of people in motion, a few selections from some Disney movies I keep on hand, and taking a few minutes to bend ourselves, we began the lesson. My students loved bending their skeletons until they found a position that resembled their chosen motion. Legs stay the same length even when they are bent! This was one of our major discoveries.


Buy or download a basic skeleton that is separated into parts. Be sure it is copyright free if you plan to make copies of it. Torso, upper and lower leg parts, and arm parts between elbows and knees should be separate pieces. You might even purchase smaller skeletons around Halloween time at decoration stores or large department stores.

Copy the skeleton onto tag board (I used 11" x 14"). You could have a smaller skeleton, but then brads to connect the joints would need to be smaller also. To assemble the skeleton, use a small-holed paper punch and punch holes in the shoulders, hips, and tops and bottoms of all arm and leg parts.

Demonstrate the assembly to students. My students loved assembling their own skeletons using small winged brads!

Discuss the bone names, any vocabulary words, artists who work with anatomy and ideas for motions. Watch parts of movies where you can freeze shots of motion. Videotape your students ahead of time while they are at physical education class. If you don't have the time for movies you can have students get up and bend and discuss their movements.


Once you've sufficiently discussed movement, on a white sheet of drawing paper that accommodates the size of skeleton used, lightly trace around the skeleton. I remind students Mr. and Ms. Bones did not have clothes on and we did not need to be exact in our tracing because we would perfect the edges after the basic skeleton shape was in place on the paper. Emphasize not tracing too closely to the bones--just focus on getting the bended human shape right.

Once the students are finished tracing, remove the skeleton and add clothes, and refine the edges that are bulgy or lumpy. I had students redraw feet if they were not pointing in the right direction. (Our skeleton's feet and ankles did not bend, thus making for some pretty weird foot directions.) Students can add footballs, batons, dog-walking leashes, hurdles, steps, cliff tops or whatever might be needed to complete the action.

Color the skeleton drawings with crayons, watercolors, color pencils or a combination of any mediums.

Now you can display the skeletons and discuss. I asked my students to write a few complete sentences using an action verb describing their person's action. It is wonderful to use any opportunity to bring different disciplines together and children enjoy writing about their art. Be sure to support your young illustrators with spelling, writing and phonetics. They have the visual, the vocabulary words and the personal association, which contribute to stress-free and enjoyable writing. Oh yes, rhymes or short poems are the best!


Primary students will ...

* discover how the body bends at the major joints to display a human body in action, lending itself to realism.

* draw a person in motion using a skeleton as the basis for shape and movement.

* make their drawing unique through choosing the motion, clothes, location and color application.


* Visual of a skeleton, either a Halloween example or a tag-board copy

* Hole punch

* Small winged brads

* Examples of bodies in motion

* Drawing paper and pencil

* Any color media

Cynthia J. McGovern is a pre-K through fifth-grade art instructor at the Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minn. She is also adjunct professor for undergraduate and graduate education at Hamline University in St. Paul.
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Author:McGovern, Cynthia
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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