The 6 Stages of Drawing in Early Childhood

Encouraging your child to draw freely from a young age is a great way to help them progress through the 6 main stages of drawing in early childhood.

It is amazing to watch a child develop as they transition from random scribbles to creative and expressive drawings.

In this article, we will discuss why drawing is important, how to teach your child to draw, and the 6 stages of drawing that most children will go through during early childhood.

Why Drawing is Important

There are so many amazing benefits of drawing. Not only does it allow children to freely express their ideas and feelings, but it also helps to improve hand-eye coordination, fine motor movements, pre-writing skills, and so much more!

One of the biggest benefits of drawing is the therapeutic effect it has. Many research studies have found that the simple act of drawing can greatly reduce negative emotions like anger or sadness in both kids and adults!

For children, this is a great way to teach emotional regulation skills. Kids learn to use drawing as a way to release and express any negative feelings they might be experiencing.

Little girl drawing

How to Teach a Child to Draw

Many parents are eager to teach their children how to write and draw. However, it is very important to avoid formally teaching these skills until they are developmentally ready.

The most important thing you can do is to provide your child with the right resources. Try to frequently give them access to drawing materials and allow them to start experimenting at their own pace. Over time you will see your child progress even without any intervention.

While coloring books and workbooks might seem appealing, it is best to try an limit these activities. Free drawing provides greater benefit especially when it comes to creative development.

The 6 Stages of Drawing Development

Here is a brief overview of the 6 stages of drawing development in early childhood.

While these are the developmental guidelines, it is important to remember that each child will reach the milestones at their own pace.

Some kids may be drawing detailed pictures at 4 years old while other children are still drawing stick figures. The variation in stages of drawing development is completely normal! Your child will progress when they are ready to do so.

Each stage corresponds with the age from 0-6 years old.

Stage 1: Uncontrolled Scribbles

Around 12 months of age children will begin experimenting with pencils, markers, crayons, and paper.

The lines and scribbles that are drawn during this stage are not purposeful as kids are just starting to develop their fine motor movements. You will see children use their entire arm to create the movements that cause the random marks that span across the entire page.

The grip at this age is known as cylindrical grasp. It is essentially when the child wraps all their fingers around the drawing utensil with their thumb toward the eraser side.

At this age, children do not have a very good understanding of what they are drawing. They simply draw out of a desire to experiment with different materials to see the results of their actions.

Stage 2: Controlled Scribbles

Around 2 years old, children will have enough motor skills to perform controlled lines and scribbles.

When children enter into this stage you will see them scribbling lines back and forth very repetitively. You may also notice continuous circles or loops and even some roughly written T and V letters.

The grip at this age is known as the digital grasp. The child will still wrap all their fingers around the drawing utensil but their thumb will now be pointing down toward the paper.

At this age, children begin to realize that when they put the crayon or marker down on the paper and make a movement, it will leave behind a mark. The repetitive scribbles are very purposeful since they now understand cause and effect.

Second stage of drawing

Stage 3: Simple Shapes and “Tadpole” People

When children are 3 years old, they have perfected horizontal and vertical lines and have moved on to simple shapes.

They will begin drawing squares, complete circles, and crosses. They will make these various shapes independently or combine the shapes with other lines and scribbles.

This is also the first stage where children begin to draw people. We call these “tadpole” people because they draw a head with legs coming directly off the head.

As children gain strength in their fingers and wrists they will transition to the grip known as modified tripod grasp. This is when kids hold the pencil in the correct position but use all of their fingers, rather than just 3 fingers.

Children now understand that their drawings have meaning behind them. They know that if they draw four lines and connect them at the edges, it will form a square. Sometimes you will not be able to decipher what they have drawn, but to the child it represents something. This is a good time to ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to explain what they have drawn.

Stage 4: Advanced Shapes and People

By 4 years of age, children will become more advanced in their drawing skills.

Around this time kids will start experimenting with shapes like triangles and rectangles. They will also begin drawing more formal letters like X, T, and H, even without knowing the alphabet. Stage 4 is also when kids can start connecting shapes like a square and a triangle to create a house.

When asked to draw a person, children will start to include things like facial features, arms, torso, and even fingers.

A child’s grip will begin transitioning to the adult-style grip which is known as tripod grasp. This is when kids hold their drawing utensil using just their thumb, index finger, and middle finger.

At 4 years old children begin to have intent with their creations. They think about what they will draw before starting and their drawings are more recognizable to the adult eye.

Fourth stage of drawing in early childhood

Stage 5: Pictures of Objects and People

Most children enter kindergarten around 5 years of age and this is when their creativity and imagination really comes to life.

They will advance to harder shapes like diamonds and different types of triangles. They will also begin to draw creative images like animals, houses, flowers, trees, and people. At this stage children are focusing a lot more on the details. They will start using colors, and adding things like clouds, birds, and the sun to their images.

When you ask a 5-year-old to draw a person they will begin to draw more of a portrait-style person. They will include things like hair, fingers, feet, a neck, and a body.

Children should have enough strength in their hands and fingers to be using the tripod grip.

By this age, kids have well-developed symbolic thinking skills. They understand that lines and shapes on paper can symbolize a real-life person or object.

While children progress very quickly through the stages of drawing, some things are still developing. Kids tend to draw people and objects floating in the center of paper without any ground to stand on. This is mainly due to their lack of spatial perception.

Another area of development is the colors they choose. While they can draw inside the lines, the colors tend to be very unrealistic. You might find that the color of mom’s hair matches the color of the tree leaves!

Stage 6: Experience and Interest Representation

When children are 6-7 years old they enter into the 6th and final stage of drawing in early childhood.

At this point, children have really developed their own drawing style. They have mastered all the shapes and should be drawing very detailed images. They tend to draw things that they have experienced or are interested in.

When asked to draw a person, they will draw all people the same exact way using their unique style. While the outline is the same, they will make features like height, hair, and clothes very characteristic of the person they are drawing. Parents can usually recognize who the mom, dad, and siblings are in the child’s drawing.

This is the stage where children begin drawing people, animals, plants, and other objects on some sort of solid ground. Their proportions and spatial awareness are also well-developed at this age. They will draw people smaller than the house and trees taller than the houses. The colors they choose are also very realistic.

You can really see a child’s view of the world through their drawings. They will draw things that are important to them and leave out things that are not important.

Watching children go through the stages of drawing is truly an amazing process. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the various stages. Remember, these are just guidelines. Every child will progress to the different milestones at their own pace!

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