We’ve been thinking a lot about pencils lately because our November 2021 box is all about Leonardo da Vinci! We are fans of kids drawing anywhere, anytime with any pencil, or any pen, for that matter. Drawing and doodling are always a good idea, no matter what pen or pencil you have available and can be done on almost any piece of scrap paper. However, your child will have an even better experience drawing with the right pencils! So let’s talk about drawing pencils for kids. Fun fact: Did you know that pencil lead isn’t made from lead? Most pencils are made from a form of carbon called graphite, which is non-toxic, unlike lead! The graphite is mixed with clay and formed into what we have traditionally called pencil lead. In fact, contrary to what you may have grown up thinking, lead pencils were never made with lead. I was under the impression that kids used to get lead poisoning from chewing on their pencils, and it appears that this may be true, but it wasn’t from the graphite, it was from the paint on the outside of the pencils. Lead used to be a common additive in paints. So if kids chewed on the ends of their pencils with lead paint, this could have caused lead poisoning. About 75% of pencils in the United States are painted yellow. The yellow color originated in China. American pencil manufacturers adopted the color yellow because they wanted to show that their pencils contained Chinese graphite, which was considered the best graphite in the world in the 1800s. Here’s a video on how pencils are made – going all the way back to the start of our universe and carbon atoms. The numbers and letters of the different leads can be super confusing, so let’s clear up all of the confusion. The more clay in a pencil lead, the harder it will be and the lighter and cleaner its marks will be. Pencil leads range from 9H to 9B. The H stands for hard. H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H, and 9H are considered hard leads. They contain more clay. The higher the H number, the lighter it will be, but all of them are considered hard. Many of us, adults, grew up using #2 pencils to mark the boxes on voting sheets and tests. If you look at pencils manufactured today, the HB is probably the closest to what we called a #2 pencil. If your kids want to sketch lightly. Let’s say they’re drawing a design that they will then watercolor over. Then any of the higher numbered hard leads will work great: 5H – 9H. The higher the number, the lighter, so 9H is the lightest. All of the H, hard, leads will produce clean smear free lines. H through 4H leads will of course, produce pretty clean smear free lines and will be a little darker. H is the darkest. One of the problems with giving kids hard lead pencils is that they will often press really hard to try and create darker lines. When kids press really hard their hands cramp, pencil tips break, and paper rips. All of these things can quickly result in frustration! An HB lead is right in the middle of the H leads and the B leads. This is a good middle of the road, multi-purpose pencil. We love using the B lead pencils. B stands for black. The B leads are soft and get progressively darker and blacker as the number increases (so opposite of the H leads!) They go from B to 9B. They create luscious dark velvety lines and will smear easily. We particularly enjoy the 5B and 6B leads because they are easy to use to make dark lines without pressing very hard and easy to shade by smudging with fingers. We particularly enjoy this General Pencil, Carbon Sketch Pencil. Today, there are many varieties of pencils. We enjoy using charcoal pencils instead of sticks of charcoal when we create our kids boxes. Sticks of charcoal can be over the top messy for kids. Some pencils are more sustainably produced than others. Some have erasers on the ends and others don’t. Most drawing pencils do not have erasers on the ends. There are lots of different colored pencils available today. We enjoy the graphite pencils that smear for shading and are also water soluble, like these Sketch & Wash Pencils. That means that when you shade an area, you can then use a wet paint brush on the area and it will liquify! This makes it super easy for kids to get shading effects that look like pen & pencil drawings. There are many water soluble pencils these days. There are also monolith pencils. These just have a protective coating on the lead and no wood casing around it. They’re cool looking, but we don’t see any functional reason to use them. If you’re looking for good overall drawing pencils for your kids, we recommend an HB for fine lines and detail and a 5B or 6B for darker easy lines and smudging. However, if your child hates getting his hands dirty and will be frustrated by smeared drawings, and doesn’t want to create shading by smudging, then the darker B leads may not be the best for him, so maybe stick with an H or HB and a 2 or 3B. The possibilities are endless! Note: the links to products are affiliate links. We receive a very small commission if you purchase through them but it does NOT change your price at all!