Recommendations for elementary students

My daughter is in late elementary school and is becoming fascinated with CAD software, layouts, and photography. At this point, she is mostly exploring tools and playing with what she finds to create. What recommendations would you have for a young student on where to find intros to design that are entertaining and help inspire creativity while learning? At this point, she hasn’t studied any of the basics of color schemes, topography, balance, weighting, etc. I’d love to point her to places she can learn more without making it suddenly a dry experience, if that makes sense. That said, it doesn’t have to be video tutorials – she is an avid reader, so books are absolutely great for recommendations as well.


A book recommendation I make for all designers is “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”
It teaches hand drawing skills from the ground up (do every lesson, in order, no skipping no matter how stupid it may seem.) But more importantly it teaches the student how to “see.” How to view elements, not as a whole but as how they relate to each other. Design is all about how pieces fit together into a cohesive message. As a designer hand drawing skills are just as important as computer software.

Other than that…and I suppose it’ll be a buzzkill, but…the field of design is way oversaturated. Not sure what you mean by CAD software but if you are talking about tools like Photoshop or Illustrator or any number of the painting programs, that’s different from CAD software used for engineering, architecture, assembly drawings. Everyone and their uncle ‘knows’ photoshop and the lower end of the graphic design field right now is chock full of amateurs competing for the possibility of being paid. Then there are the Canva crowd. The upper end is cut-throat and hard to break into, even with a huge amount of talent. The studio system has all but collapsed so there aren’t many junior designer slots available. Not exactly a bright future for the field, if you get my drift. It also isn’t about ‘art.’ It’s about communication, often at expense of the designer’s inner artist. Way too many students of design find this out way too late. It comes as a sudden shock that their interest in, say, cartoon unicorns all through college did not prepare them for their first job, designing a newspaper ad for a boring fiduciary institution.

It’s early to be thinking about a career. But the drawing book is fun. Or maybe your daughter is beyond that. (shrug.) I’d do a heck of a lot of research now to see how you might get your daughter to set her sights higher. I’d be hard pressed to decide what niche of the design field will offer the best opportunities in 5-10 years, but it wouldn’t be “graphic designer” that’s for sure.

Thanks for your reply! At this point, she’s not thinking at all about a career field, and I am fine with that. But, I do want to encourage her in her interests and help her learn new skills as she goes. I really appreciate the book suggestion; that sounds exactly like the type of guide that would help her to see how different parts fit together. That type of skill can be helpful in all sorts of future fields.

In regard to “CAD software”, I was using the term to include all types of design software. She loves playing with a wide variety – from simple paint programs, to basic 3D architecture building programs, to some that require a bit of programming. She hasn’t used anything on the pro level yet. I think at this point, it’s probably better to invest in learning to “see” and understand design elements than paying for specific software packages. She understands Tinkercad really well, and she’s been asking me to show her the basics of Fusion 360 (not graphic design, I know, but it’s an area of design that does interest her – making something become real in our world that you design in software is pretty fun).

Thanks again for your thoughts and suggestions!

We actually use Fusion all the time here!
Custom fabrication. We build exhibits for science museums and crazy stuff for all kinds of other venues.
We use it to see how to realistically build some pretty crazy torsion shapes within real world constraints. Helps a lot when realizing a designer’s vision. Or making adjustments to get as close as possible. :slightly_smiling_face:

Does she game at all? There’s a cottage industry of classes, camps, books and videos that teach kids how to build games in Roblox and Minecraft. If she’s just building 3D objects, this would be a way to take it to the next level. She would be building the 3D objects and world, programming the rules then posting it online so people can play it. Obstacle courses, racing games, etc. My niece and I made some little games in Roblox. A lot of fun.

If you are in the US, talk to your school librarian, or the person that runs the computer lab. They’ve usually got some insight into what’s available, what’s age-appropriate, and what other kids are making with it. City/county recreation departments are a good place to look for camps and classes too.


She loves doing that type of thing as it combines lots of her interests (art, gaming, design, programming, etc). At this point, it’s all pretty freeform without much knowledge of how design concepts can improve her work. With LEGOs, we’ve been able to give her more pointers as to how to alter builds to give them more strength, etc. She now does that fully on her own. I’m wanting to find similar guidelines for design that might be useful to her as she creates.

Another option, for design not to become too dry at this early stage, is explore illustration with her. Perhaps encourage her to illustrate her favourite story, or a process which is part of one of her hobbies. For example, if she were into horse-riding, get her to illustrate how to put on a bridle. That may be a bit of a tedious example, but you know what I mean. Illustrate a trip somewhere. The possibilities are endless. From there she could make her own comic, illustrated magazine, book, etc. that then introduces type and layout, but in context of something fun for her to have produced.

At that age, kids seem to be taught ‘painting and pottery from a fine art perspective (or at least they did when I was at school). I wish I’d known about illustration as a real-world, practical possibility.

I’m not sure how old your daughter is, it sounds like she’s a little bit older if she’s into programming and 3D. To which extent I don’t know.

Minecraft can do some cool things with redstone, it’s like basic programming in a game. There are tons of YouTube tutorials and even books on redstone contraptions.

Lego may still also have its robotics/mindstorm line.there may be local groups that do competitions with Lego robotics.

I didn’t find out what graphic design was until much later. I also came into the field right as canva, outsourcing and contests became way more common place. A lot of companies don’t want just a graphic designer — they want a web developer, UX, UI “expert” someone who knows html and css, among traditional design skills.

It’s possible she may find interest in learning to code her own basic website, or she may find web builders fun to mess around in. She can easily build a simple “what I did this summer” blog with photos and text.