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4 Key Child Development Drawing Stages: When to Reach Them

Understanding the four primary drawing stages for children and what age to reach them.

If you’re curious when your little one is going to start drawing coherent images, or you’re wondering if your older child is hitting their artistic milestones, we’re here to help.

There are four basic child development drawing stages. We will break them down for you, explain what’s included in each, and when the child should be able to accomplish each stage.

We’ll also walk through the importance of art to a child’s development and how parents and teachers can encourage their children to draw and hone these crucial skills.

Chart of a Child’s Drawing Development

(Something like the above, but maybe you want to make your own?)

4 Key Stages In Drawing

There are four main stages in a child’s artistic development between 0-8 years. We’ll explain what the child should accomplish during each stage and the average age for each skill.

Basic Marks and Scribbles

Age: 0-2

The first of the child development drawing stages is the marking and scribbling stage, also known as disordered scribbling. This can begin before a child’s first birthday and last as long as they are two years old. Disordered scribbling consists of large gestures, usually involving the child swinging their whole arm. The child often scribbles across the whole page and even off the page, simply enjoying the movements involved.

Controlled Scribbles

Age: 1-3

Controlled scribbling happens after the child notices that their arm movements are linked to the marks they make. The child might look at their scribbles, experiment with different shapes and colors, and branch out to different types of scribbles, such as making lines or swirls. The scribbles also become smaller, more deliberate, and often repeated.

‘Named scribbling’ is a step up from controlled scribbling. During ‘named scribbling,’ the child is very intentional with their drawing utensils, paying close attention to where they draw and how they scribble. They may also start naming their scribbles — ‘that’s a cat!’ — even if it looks nothing like the object named. Children also learn how to differentiate between different types of lines, sizes, and colors.

Simple Shapes, Lines, and Patterns

Age: 2.5-4

Once your child has made the progression from controlled and named scribbling, so begins the subsequent children’s drawing developmental stage. Between the ages of 2.5 and four, kids begin drawing simple shapes, lines, and patterns. They have made the connection that writing and drawing consist of lines, shapes, and repeated patterns, so they begin attempting this.

Now, the child begins drawing with lines, dots, curves, swirls, circles, triangles, and more. This new development allows the child to express themselves better through drawing. They may start trying to write letters or words. Even if they don’t look accurate, the child often knows exactly what it is they wrote down.

You might also notice that the child begins to draw ‘people’ at this stage. Usually, it’s just a head with legs, but it’s the foundation for some cute family portraits!

Recognizable Objects and People

Age: 4-8

Everyone hits this milestone at different times, but generally, children should be able to draw recognizable objects and people between the ages of four and eight. Others should be able to identify what they’ve drawn without them explaining it.

Drawing objects and people allows children to be much more creative with their drawings. In terms of people, the drawing generally emerges from the head-and-leg type drawing, and the people begin having more features, such as hair, eyes, a body, and shoes.

During this part of the children’s drawing developmental stages, the child becomes more controlled over the drawing utensil. This allows them more freedom and intentionality with their drawing. They can plan what they want to draw and implement it. This milestone is labeled “symbolic thinking,” meaning the child understands that lines and patterns can symbolize a particular object or a person.

While the sketches still might be a bit unrealistic with little understanding of spatial awareness, there are still many more years ahead to keep developing their drawing skills.

Why Is Art Important In a Child’s Development?

Exposing children to art is important because it can help them express themselves, build confidence, and work on creative skills. Art also links to other subjects like history, science, and technology. Art lessons, projects, and understanding of art teaches invaluable skills that children can use lifelong, such as fine motor skills, emotional understanding, and respect for other cultures.

Art also develops language skills in early childhood, as art projects give children an opportunity to learn the names of colors and shapes. Drawing and naming the objects on the page also allows children to work on their vocabulary skills. When a child draws an image, it opens up conversations about the image, which hones a child’s ability to discuss certain topics and use words to express themselves.

It’s important to remember that it’s not the final product that matters — it’s the process of art. Allowing a child to explore and experiment is vital to honing essential skills like self-expression, focus, creativity, and motor skills.

How to Encourage Children to Draw

What happens if you have a child who isn’t interested in drawing? We can’t force these things, but there are some things you can do as a parent or teacher to encourage drawing. These ten tips are fantastic for encouraging art at home, in preschool, or in art classes.

  • Provide the right tools: Give quality and fun tools to kids, such as colored pencils, crayons, watercolor paints, and sketchbooks. Ensure you give your child age-appropriate tools so they aren’t too challenged or bored.
  • Enroll in art class: Consider enrolling your child in an art class to give them a new opportunity to explore their skills. You can opt for an online or in-person class, whatever works for you. There are many options for art classes, even for young kids, like 3-year-olds.
  • Show confidence: Get side by side with your kids and draw with them without critiquing your own skills. Kids who see confidence learn to express confidence, so don’t get in the habit of saying, “Oh, that’s not very good” or “I can’t draw” in front of them.
  • Get creative with tools: Try drawing with different tools and things to draw on. Instead of always drawing on paper, use chalk to draw on the ground, draw on a balloon, or draw inside a big cardboard box. Other fun tools include an Aqua Doodle Mat or Magnetic Drawing Board. These are great for 2-year-olds and up.
  • Go to art museums: Take your child on a fun trip to an art museum to expose them to different types and styles of artwork.
  • Let them have fun: Don’t restrict them with drawings. Let them draw whatever they want, in any way they like. This can include drawing with paper and pencil, drawing on an app such as ProCreate, or testing drawing with both hands.
  • Praise their drawings: Encourage your child’s drawings and always praise their effort, even if the drawing doesn’t look like something you’d hang in the Smithsonian!
  • Try new techniques: Work on different techniques such as splatter painting, shaving cream marbling, crayon melting, and more.
  • No pressure: Don’t pressure your child to draw or push them in a certain direction. Even if you want to do an arts and crafts themed around Easter, for example, don’t pressure them to draw a certain thing. They might come up with something that doesn’t relate to Easter at all, but that’s okay!
  • Check out coloring books: Head to your local bookstore and investigate the art section. Look for books together to encourage coloring skills. Perhaps you’ll find some that include drawings of your child’s favorite characters or activity! Drawing something they already love can help encourage their art skills.


At What Age Should Children Begin Painting?

Children as young as one year old can work on their painting skills. There are many ways you can modify painting for babies and toddlers to avoid a huge mess.

For example, you can do bagged painting for babies. Put a few dots of paint on a piece of cardboard and then put it in a ziplock bag. Give it to the baby and let them move their fingers across the bag, smearing and swirling the paint. Once they’re done, take the cardboard out, and voila — you have an abstract masterpiece!

Paint sticks are brilliant for toddlers who tend to make a big mess. We bought these for my son’s second birthday and gave him a big cardboard box, which he sat inside all summer, drawing all over the interior. Paint sticks are mess-free and washable.

As for regular painting with a brush and paint pots, children as young as 18-months can have a go. But they might only grasp the concept once they are three, four, or five years old.

During Which Stage of Development Do Children Begin to Draw Recognizable Pictures?

In the context of child development drawing stages, don’t expect children to draw recognizable pictures until they are between the ages of four and eight. However, some children may start younger, and most 4-year-olds are starting to hone this skill. Everyone develops at a different pace. Keep encouraging art skills to ensure your child hits their milestones.

Should I Be Worried if My Child Doesn’t Draw?

Drawing skills are not a definitive measure of a child’s developmental success. If your child is hitting the basic drawing milestones, even if they’re in a phase of not wanting to draw, then I wouldn’t worry. However, if your child still isn’t scribbling by age two and not hitting other fine motor milestones, then it’s worth letting your healthcare provider know in case there are some developmental delays.

If your child isn’t drawing but is hitting all their other developmental milestones and generally thriving, try not to worry. Drawing doesn’t determine a child’s intelligence, and naturally, not everyone is a good drawer. I’m certainly not! But if you ever have any concerns about your children’s drawing developmental stages, it’s worth bringing up with your child’s teachers or healthcare provider.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a Scottish freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. She is a mum to a young boy, and believes that it truly takes a village. When she’s not parenting, writing about parenting, or working, she can be found reading, working on her novel, taking photos, playing board games or wandering through the countryside with her family.