Colored pencils were easily the material that were used most in my classroom. Waldorf pencils are a staple that enter the classroom as early as grade 1. This post on pencils is the latest in my series on main lesson supplies — see my other posts on crayons and main lesson books.
Beginning in grade one you should give your children pencils to use for their writing. It is not recommended to cultivate a habit of writing with crayons, so in these early grades crayons are for drawing, pencils are for writing. I would recommend having a collection of blue or red pencils, one for each student, that the teacher holds onto and hands out when it is time to write. This way respect for the materials is cultivated and the children receive the writing pencil with reverence. Handing out a set of pencils to each student at this age would not only inspire them to begin drawing with colored pencils instead of crayons, but it would be passing up an opportunity to cultivate true respect and care for the materials. Over the course of 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade the children can receive all of the colors so that they’re ready to draw primarily with colored pencils by 4th grade.
Most teachers begin with the Lyra Super Ferby pencils. These pencils have a nice triangular barrel that encourages proper pencil grip. My students loved these pencils, and some of them use their set right through eighth grade. The other option would be the Lyra Color Giants which have a rounder shape (more octagonal, actually.) These pencils are also just fine to use. One year I bought myself a set of the Mercurius brand Art Makes Sense pencils. I loved these pencils! The pigment was incredibly vibrant and they drew so smoothly. I recall that they were more affordable than the Lyras, too. I have not tried this brand of pencil since, so I’m inclined to recommend the tried-and-true Lyras, but if you’re ordering an extra set, try the Mercurius pencils.
One other thing — if you’re ordering for a class of students it definitely makes sense to order boxes of individual colors rather than a set for each student. I loved being able to choose the colors (rather than using the ones that happened to come in the set, which usually included white, which had limited usefulness, and I remember one set of pencils I considered did not include a purple — imagine!). We also found that certain colors needed to be replaced much more frequently than others — especially the red, which seems to have unusually crumbly pigment. This approach also ensured that I did not have to purchase a set of replacement pencils for every student at the beginning of every year. At the end of the school year we went through our pencils, replaced the ones needing replacing and then I collected them for the summer. In September they were ready to go. Not ordering a tin for each student meant that I needed to order a pencil case for them, but I preferred this anyway. Those pencil tins drove me crazy and I was always waiting for the next time a tin would fall with an enormous, distracting clatter. If you’re homeschooling it probably is best to order a set for each child, but still parcel the colors out as suggested above. While homeschooling I still found it best to have a pencil pouch. We have some pencils in a basket at our house, but the pouch is so much more portable and it’s nice to know that there’s a complete set, with every color, rather than the hodge-podge that finds its way into the basket.
Grades 4 and 5
In these grades colored pencils are being used primarily for drawing, while graphite pencils are used for writing. Students in these grades need a full set of colored pencils, along with a collection of graphite pencils for writing. Keeping a basket of crayons in the room is recommended, as some students do like using them in combination with their pencils at this age. Be careful, though, that students are not looking to their block crayons as an easy to way to make a border.
During these grades it is also nice to have a set of skin tone pencils for communal use in the classroom.
The Super Ferbys are still the colored pencils to use. They also make a graphite that made a nice transition to using graphite pencils. My students used the Super Ferby graphite during 4th grade and then in 5th grade we used regular graphite pencils. The only brand of regular graphite pencil that is worth spending money on at all is Ticonderoga. They truly are “the World’s best pencil.”
In Grade 6 the students began using thinner colored pencils. This was a huge adjustment and though the students were so excited to begin using them, they often felt quite small compared to the large page of the main lesson book. It is appropriate, then, to switch to using smaller main lesson books at this age (see my post on main lesson books). I know some teachers who have continued to use Super Ferbys through grade 6 and even beyond, and they are so lovely to work with that I considered it myself, but generally, my students were happy to use the thinner pencils.
The pencils to use are the Rembrandt Polycolors. Do not make the mistake I did and order the Rembrandt Aquarelles for regular drawing. These are watercolor pencils and though it would be quite lovely to have a set in the room for communal use in 7th and 8th grade, they don’t hold up for regular, everyday use.
One word of caution — this is the age when students start to get excited about bringing in their own materials to work with (oh, the dreaded gel pen!). I recommend not allowing the students to use other materials in their main lesson books. I always held a hard line on this — the only materials they could use in their MLB’s were ones I had given them.
One last thing that would be nice to have is a set of drawing pencils of varying hardnesses. I did not purchase a set of drawing pencils for each of my students, but instead had a collection in the room for them to use. Some teachers do order their students an entire set, I suppose it depends on how intensively you enter into the art curriculum.