Life: Drawing Conclusions

Kristie Hayden explores the developmental stages of drawing and discovers what is in the picture isn’t always what we see.


Rainbow-pencil poised, my nephew circumnavigates the blank page with beady eyes; where to begin and what to draw? At two-and-a-half, drawing’s an efficient business where he begins with a scribble, continues thoughtfully with a bit more scribble and precisely four seconds later, ends with a scribble. Voila. A “big scary truck.” Of course it is.

For children, doodling is a creative form of play. Kids draw for sensory exploration, for praise, for relaxation, to tell a story or express a feeling. What they produce is important to them but often appears abstract to the adult eye.

Clinical Psychologist, Marnie Holden of Geelong’s Growth Psychology, says we can’t take children’s drawings too literally. “You can’t look at what’s in a child’s picture, or what isn’t, how big or small things are, how heavy or light the drawing is, how many colours were used, and know what they’re thinking or feeling,” she says. “Children’s drawings are just too complex and ambiguous; influenced by age, development, skill, attention levels and interest in drawing. And just their spontaneity and imagination.”

They key to gaining insight into their world through art lies partly in conversation. Discussing illustrations encourages them to feel secure in communicating their ideas to adults.

“I use drawing in a variety of ways,” Marnie says. “To help build my relationship with a child or to help children tell their stories and express their feelings when they may not yet have the words… (Drawing) can be a comfort or way to express themselves while we’re talking about difficult things.”

It’s also more a question of ‘how’ they draw than ‘what’. Marnie observes whether the child waits for instructions or dives in impulsively. Is he confident or easily upset by mistakes? How much help does she need? Is he able to concentrate and follow instructions? Is she proud of her work?

For parents, sitting with children as they draw might be a planned and structured exercise, like; ‘draw me a picture about what happened with your friend today’, or just doodling for fun. Marnie says: “Let your child take the lead and respond to questions, but try not to talk unless they want to. When they’re finished, ask open questions like, ‘tell me what this person is doing? What’s happening here? What was this person feeling?’ – and listen.”

Good communication over a colourful “scribble” helps build trust and a stronger parent-child relationship.


Stages of Drawing


Kaz McGlynn, director of Ocean Grove’s art’sKool, encourages children of all ages to express themselves through art.

During the Developmental Stage, Kaz says toddlers scribble large movement lines, aiding muscle development. “They use language by labelling the shapes and having conversations about it,” she says. “Usually the toddler will finish their artwork and say its mummy or daddy or their pet while viewing them with very little resemblance.”

At three to four years old, the Pre-Schematic Stage, planning and experimenting becomes more complex. “Tadpole people with large heads,” Kaz says. “ Very simple with few features and extended arms.”

Between ages five and eight, proportion is more accurate and colours stereotypical. “Grass is green, sky is blue,” Kaz says. “Skyline and ground lines start to show. Children have a schema about a way of drawing. For example, a house will be drawn the same way in many drawings.”

The Preteen Stage shows more detail and spatial perspective. “I often see at this stage, children may become very frustrated if they’re unable to create a realistic picture, and start to need encouragement and sometimes assistance,” Kaz says.

“The Transition Stage, around ten, is where it gets interesting. Children attempt to produce artwork that meets adult standards. They give a lot of attention to details, sex roles, clothing styles and linear perspective.” At this stage, some children will plateau and not progress any further.

Realism is the final developmental stage where children begin producing artwork at an adult level. “In general they are twelve years and older,” Kaz says. “They have control over the content and media they use. The figures become natural in appearance or are intentionally stylized.”

At all stages, praise builds confidence and independence. “When you display their art in the home, it shows you value what they create,” Kaz says. “Drawing helps them switch off from all the technology information they take in. This is one way they can express themselves and have some fun.”