At a yard sale last weekend I picked up a light box for $3 and knew exactly what it'd be for. It's a flourescent-lit box about 12 x 16 x 2" that's got translucent white plastic on the top. It's intended for photographers to use when examining and sorting their 35 mm slides or negatives. But I'd always wanted one for the kids to use when tracing.
Mona Brookes (of "Drawing With Children" and 'Monart' fame) mentions the usefulness of tracing when kids are beginning to work on realistic drawing techniques, especially if they're perfectionists. The idea is to start with a stack of drawing paper, setting one sheet aside for the final product. You then work on a drawing until you're not happy with part of it, at which point you trace the 'good parts' onto a new sheet and continue from there. And so on, until you're happy with an entire picture ... and then you take your reserved sheet of paper and trace your drawing onto that. The tracing gives plenty of chance to feel and repeat the execution of certain line shapes, and mistakes aren't some awful dead end, just another step along the way.
The kids gravitated right to the light box. They threw magazine photos onto it and traced out the contours. They're having to make decisions like how far to extend the line that defines the nose, where the contour becomes just a blend of shades. The subject matter has been somewhat bizarre, to say the least. Erin especially is choosing head shots of fashion models in ads from the throwaway waiting room magazines we get. She generally mocks anything of this ilk, having coined the word "beautyish" for "aspiring to the aesthetic standards of the shallow and ridiculous fashion industry". But she's always been fascinated with drawing faces, though she's not been particularly adept at them and hasn't wanted any help to improve. Now, I can only imagine that by repeatedly creating line drawings from large-format facial photographs that she's discovering things about the lines and shapes and proportions that make up the human face. I'll be really interested to see where this goes.