Switching to Colored Pencils

I had a dear friend of mine email me to ask about when to switch to colored pencils; what brand, and the ins and outs of pencils!  So I thought I would just share our experiences over the years as we have been through many colored pencil experiments at this point.

First of all, the timing to switch to colored pencils is rather individual, so do observe the child in front of you in the homeschooling environment.  Many do switch to colored pencil for writing only (with the drawings in Main Lesson Books still in block and stick crayons) in the second half of second grade or the beginning of third grade and the pictures/drawings in third grade are usually a combination of pencil and crayon.  By fourth grade all the drawings are typically in pencil with perhaps block or stick crayons for special parts of drawings or occasional drawings.  You will discover which picture calls for what as you teach!   

To be honest,  my  soon to be eighth grader is still using colored pencils to write.  We never switched to fountain pens, (GASP! the horror!) except for calligraphy work on certain assignments, because we both love the color and the ease of pencils.  I will try to take pictures of some of the really amazing work our daughter did in seventh grade and show  the differences between things written in calligraphy versus pencil.  It brings forth different aesthetics and feelings. This year,  in eighth grade, our daughter’s Main Lesson Book work will include colored pencils, graphite pencil, calligraphy pen, perhaps we will try our  fountain pen for some of the history summaries.  I know some Waldorf Schools use even some regular pens but to me, they really are not pretty and don’t appeal to either of the sanguine pieces of myself or my daughter though – just being honest! We will do a few pieces that are typed (typing typically comes in during ninth grade in the Waldorf Schools but we are home and will probably do some typing this year).  We are also unorthodox in that we never switched to using a regular sized three ring binder for seventh and eighth grades like most Waldorf School classes do…because neither one of us liked the aesthetics of it so we just continued to use the main lesson book style we loved…..but that is another post!

So what brand of  pencils??

The gold standard in Waldorf Schools seems to be the Lyra pencils.  We have used both Lyra and Primsacolor over the years.  At first, we didn’t like the Primsacolor as much as they seemed to break easier, but recent batches we have bought didn’t seem to have these problems (or maybe they just work well with middle school aged children??).  Now we pretty much only buy Primsacolor, but certainly have a HUGE stock of Lyras in varying shapes and colors from over the year, and we use both brands readily and for different things. You will get to know the hues of your pencils!

This post was very, very helpful to me when we were starting out:  Lyra versus Primsacolor  You can compare the hues of the colors by viewing this post.

Here are a few more of my suggestions regarding writing utensils:

  • Remember, that in the early grades, no matter what utensil you use for writing, you are working in tiny increments with lots of aids for borders, lines, spacing, etc…Remember those golden paths, golden stars between letters, using a three pronged sky-earth-water line for cursive, etc.  In the middle years of grades three through six is when most people switch to writing in cursive with fountain pens.    So it doesn’t have to come in third.  Fourth is the most typical grade to move from writing in crayon to fountain pen.
  • You can start out writing with the giant triangular shaped Lyra pencils in the second half of second grade or beginning of third grade.    They can really help grip.
  • Do NOT buy the giant boxes of 24 to 100 colors for small children!  More is NOT better!  They really need nothing more than red, blue, yellow and green, sometimes purple,  for second grade.  You can add in one color at a time, which can be very sweet!  The writing typically is more stick crayon and moving into pencil in second grade, so it is a gradual process.
  • Fingerplays throughout first through third grades are important, as is writing with the feet.  That really has nothing to do with pencils, but thought I would throw that in there!   And remember, probably one of the peaks in fine motor control for these earlier grades is actually in FIFTH grade, so don’t expect too much in second or third, especially out of those poor, eager little first born girls!  It can be easy to push but please don’t!
  • The triangular giant Ferbys can help a child get a good grip, but I think also look carefully at hand strength, core strength, posture…some children seem to need the weight of a colored stick  crayon to hold them back and drag along the paper so they make careful letters and some really need to move to a colored pencil.  Observe your child!
  • Cursive writing is usually practiced in second grade, but not used in writing things in the Main Lesson Book until third grade or even beginning of fourth grade, depending upon the child and the fluency and ease with which they write in cursive. 
  • Third graders can be pretty careless with writing in general, no matter if you use colored crayons or pencils..so think about how much you are asking for, if you are setting good boundaries about the work being done in a careful way..but don’t ask for so much! Not everything needs a summary, and pick and choose what blocks you are going to require writing for…
  • Grade Four is typically when the child has 12 colored pencils plus stick and block crayons.  Sometimes you really need those block crayons,even in the upper grades, for something where it is just right.  Middle school grades is where one can expand into even more colors.

Hope that helps some of you in your planning,


4 thoughts on “Switching to Colored Pencils

  1. This is perfect!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for making this into a post with such detail. You are amazing, Carrie!!

  2. Pingback: Free Lesson Block Plans and Ideas for Grades 4-6 | The Parenting Passageway

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