Drawing and Development

Drawing and Development in Children

Guest post from Nicole from Gateway Therapies

I once wrote a post here on handwriting, where I explained the elements of handwriting and how to help your kids get better at it. Four years later I still maintain that handwriting is terribly important, and it’s probably time we explored an essential prerequisite. Most toddlers love to scribble and draw. It’s more than just play. It’s self-expression, a form of communication and creativity. One of my favourite things ever in my job is seeing how kids express themselves on paper. 

Young children can often find it difficult to explain to us grown ups how they are feeling, and what they are thinking or wanting. Tantrums and tears are often the result of frustration and the inability to make us understand what they are trying to say. By encouraging kids of all ages to put pen to paper, we are giving them another tool in their kit, so that when words fail them, there’s an alternative.

It’s quite incredible how one or two marks on paper can represent so much to the little artist. They will usually be pleased to explain to you exactly what those special marks mean. And how proud do you feel when you are told that one of those marks is you?! Don’t be offended if you are the fattest, roundest shape on the page. It probably means you are the most important person!

The development of drawing has been well researched and documented. Kids typically follow a similarly path in terms of how these skills evolve. To become competent at drawing, there are a few essential elements. These include the following: 

Pencil grasp

Children will usually start with a cylindrical grasp. They will hold the pencil or crayon in their fist. Over time, this grasp matures and will eventually become a tripod grasp. The tripod grasp is best for handwriting. My previous post on handwriting has a great diagram that explains how pencil grasp matures at different age stages.

Hand preference

Hand dominance or hand preference is innate. This means that whether you will be either right-handed or left-handed is determined in utero. If you’ve got a lefty, it’s best to embrace it! Some kids take more time to work out which is their best hand, and will swap from one hand to the other. Once they get to preschool, it’s always good to identify which is their dominant hand and encourage them to use this hand only for drawing.

Bilateral and hand-eye coordination

While the pencil or crayon will only be held in one hand, the non-dominant hand has a very important role in stabilizing the paper. Kids who have trouble crossing the midline will have difficulty with drawing. An occupational therapist can help with this. Good coordination is required to ensure the pencil or crayon connects with the paper in the right place, and the lines and shapes are formed how the artist intends these to appear. 

Tone/ posture

Kids with low muscle tone can become easily fatigued, and may avoid tasks that require prolonged use of fine motor muscle groups. Good posture is essential for good writing, and should be encouraged during the scribbling and drawing phases. 

Drawing Development

So what should kids be drawing in the early years? Before the age of two, they will typically start with simply making random marks – whether it be on paper with a crayon, or on the wall with your very best lipstick! Once they have worked out how these various media work, they will start to attempt more meaningful marks. Lines and circular shapes are first. These lines and circles might not look much to you, but to your child, they may represent something. From there, about the age of four, children start to draw people and things, and name them. People will usually be represented by a circle for the head, from which lines will be drawn. These are the arms and legs. Child development specialists sometimes refer to this shape as a ‘mandala’.

Over time, and perhaps as you come to recognize your child’s style, it usually becomes easier to identify parts of the drawing. Suns appear in the corners of pages, and people will be more detailed. As well as the head and limbs, you will start to see eyes and mouths, hair and fingers. Depending on the artist, they may draw more detail, or they may be content to continue to represent people in this way for some time. At this stage, it’s a good idea to ask for more detail e.g. who is that? Is that Daddy? Can you draw brown hair then?

Drawing and Development

Drawing and Development

Tips for Reluctant Drawers

If you have a reluctant drawer, there are a few things you can try. Use different crayons, chalk or finger paints on different surfaces to create interest. It goes without saying, but never criticize or laugh at your child’s drawings. Encourage them to add to their pictures or give them fresh paper – a new canvas to allow them to continue their work.

My favourite tools for early scribbling (12 – 24 months) are crayon rocks and Playon Crayons. For the 3 – 6 year olds, triangular pencils are great for encouraging a tripod grasp, and wind-up pencils are good for promoting good pencil pressure.

Remember that while children tend to be similar in how their drawing develops, the rate at which these skills develop can vastly differ. If you have concerns about your child’s drawing skills however, an occupational therapist is the best person to talk to.

If you are interested in more information about the development of drawing, these are both good websites – http://www.learningdesign.com/Portfolio/DrawDev/kiddrawing.html


The following two tabs change content below.
Nicole is a privately practicing Occupational Therapist (OT) in Brisbane, Queensland and mother to 2 beautiful girls.

Latest posts by Nicole Grant (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *