Drawing With Children



What Drawings Can Tell

A poignant scene from the film “Taare Zameen Par” would possibly be imprinted in the mind of every parent. Young Ishaan, agonized at being banished to boarding school, uses a simple flip book to demonstrate his feelings, each page in succession showing a drawing of his moving away from his family.

The movie was an eye opener for many parents who wonder if a child’s drawings are usually so revealing. Do kids really speak through their drawings?

Yes they do.

balloonfamily_july10Before children have mastered the use of spoken language, it’s only natural that they will try to express themselves by drawing. However, even once they do begin talking, feelings that they cannot put into words can perhaps be more easily expressed through art.

Analyzing a child’s artwork allows even the busiest parents and caregivers to monitor a child’s emotional well-being over time.




Some details to take note of include:

-Unusual content. Do monsters, ghosts or weapons start to become a constant theme? Sometimes this can be indicative of a child’s inner turmoil.

-Use of color. Is a child using lots of dark colors, black and red? Calmer colors such as blues and pinks and greens point to a happy outlook, while dark colors and turbulent color schemes can indicate a child is feeling depressed or angry or constricted in some way.

-Depiction of family members. Observe how a child draws the members of their family. Who does it seem like they are relating to? Who is figured most prominently? How does the child include themselves in the piece?

-Self-representation. How does a child draw themselves in relation to the whole composition? How do they choose to portray themselves?

Classic Stages In Children’s Art Development

During the 1970s Viktor Lowenfeld, an art education professor at Pennsylvania State University, began to work on a comprehensive theory of artistic development based on systematic creative and cognitive states in children.  Although the stages are inter-dependent with a child’s exposure to art and artistic media, as well as their fine motor skills development, they can serve as a rough guide to the “milestones” in a child’s artistic development.

The Scribbling Stage

horse_aug10The scribbling stage usually begins around 2 years of age and lasts until a child is about 4.  It can begin as soon as a child has the ability to grasp a fat crayon and move it around on paper.  At first, just the simple act of creating color on the page will be the most fascinating to the child.  They are effecting a measurable change on something in their environment, even if it is only the coffee table or bedroom wall.

After about 6 months of practice, a child will be more deliberate and may start drawing shapes such as circles.  The next step is trying to draw real or imagined objects and people.

Pre-Schematic Stage

Also known as the pre-symbolic stage, this typically begins around 4 years, or so, depending on a child’s cultural experience and exposure to art.  Now when they draw people they try to include faces, hands and toes, but usually no bodies since at this stage of development, the head is probably the most important aspect of a person to the child.

Color choices are arbitrary and the child is not really concerned with accuracy.  Figures appear all over the page as the child may turn it this way and that, involved in filling up the space instead of creating the illusion of space.  If they include a self-portrait, it’s usually the biggest figure on the page

Schematic Stage

This usually begins at about 7 years of age and goes until a child is around 9.  By now, a child may very well have developed specific schema, or symbols for people and objects from their surroundings and will draw them over and over, for example, horses or rockets.  Human figures start to show recognizable arms and legs, since the child at this age is more aware of their own body.  Horizon lines appear in landscapes and drawings of houses and frequently there are drawings that show a sequence of events.

Realistic or Gang Stage

Around 9 or 10, children tend to develop more detail in their drawings of people and also include perspective.  Shapes now have form with shadow and shading.  People’s faces have varying expressions, and the use of color becomes more realistic.  More complex art materials such as watercolors, oils or acrylics can be utilized.

Children at this stage want to conform with a group and can be very sensitive to teasing or being made to feel like an “outsider”.  They can also become stuck in a cycle of self-criticizing and despair that their artwork isn’t “good enough”.  This is a good age to introduce quality art instruction, where they can be introduced to technical ideas such as perspective, figure drawing and rendering (shading).

Starting at about the age of puberty, many children face a crisis in their artistic development where they worry about having the talent to continue creating art.  If they have shown an inclination toward a particular medium, this is a great time to find them instruction that is more geared toward what they truly enjoy doing.  It might not even be “art” such as drawing or painting but something else that will require skill and creative thinking such as auto detailing, sewing, cooking or fly-tying.

When To Call A Doctor

Not every drawing of a vampire or ghost is a cry for help, sometimes it’s just looking forward to Halloween!  Instead, a pattern over time of violent imagery or dark compositions can be a cause for concern, especially when it’s accompanied by changes in behavior.  Drawings where a particular object is much larger than the child’s self-representation may indicate a child is feeling overwhelmed by something.  Other warning signs could be a figure drawn with dis-jointed parts or incomplete or hesitant lines, showing signs of insecurity over something in the child’s life.

How To Draw With Children