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Stages of Drawing Development Part 1: Scribbling and Pre-Schematic Stage

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

One of the most exciting milestones in a child’s development is when they begin drawing. It’s an indication of their growing interest in exploring the world around them and expressing themselves. Understanding the stages of drawing children typically pass through can help you to appreciate and foster their creativity. Let’s talk about the stages of drawing that children typically go through, and how you can encourage their artistic development by embracing every stage as an opportunity to play and explore.

Drawing is an important art form that is seen in many cultures and can be expressed in various ways. Children often start with a circle, which is a universal symbol and relates to the Piagetian theory of increased symbolic thought. From a developmental standpoint, drawing is a process of creating visual representations of ideas and experiences. It involves the use of lines, shapes, and other visual elements to make visible the things around us. Over time, drawing becomes more sophisticated as children incorporate more complex forms and ideas into their drawings.

The stages of drawing a child goes through are scribbling, pre-schematic, schematic, transitional, and representational. Let’s discuss each of these stages in detail below and review what to expect from these stages.

Scribbling Stage

Scribbling is the first stage of drawing in which children learn to use a pencil and start drawing shapes and forms. The scribble stage is characterized by repeated marks such as open circles, diagonal, curved lines, horizontal lines, and vertical lines.

The scribble stage of drawing development is an important one, as it allows children to develop better control over their hands and muscles, allowing for more controlled scribbling. At this age, children are able to trace vertical, horizontal, and circular lines with more control. As children develop these skills, they look at the paper more often and begin to give the marks and lines they are drawing names. From 2 to 3 years of age, children develop greater visual awareness, as they are able to visualize in pictures and draw detailed narratives about their scribbles. During this stage, children learn how to use drawings to express ideas and feelings. As children develop better skills in drawing and naming their marks, they will become more confident with their drawings and be able to create more complex marks. Also, children's scribble drawings will become more detailed and accurate as they continue to practice drawing.

Pre-schematic Stage

Pre-schematic is the second stage of drawing in which children begin to draw shapes and forms using simple strokes. The preschematic stage of development is typically seen in children aged 4 to 6 years old. During this stage, children begin to develop a visual idea or ‘schema’ of the world around them. At this stage, children begin to make connections between the shapes they draw and the physical world around them. They may also begin to add details to their drawings, such as hair and clothing.

Children on average by the age of 3 at this stage are able to draw simple lines and basic shapes, such as circles and squares. In this stage, children also become familiar with various drawing instruments such as pencils, crayons, markers and pens. Children are becoming more familiar with holding a pencil with a tripod grip, which helps develop fine motor control and hand-eye coordination. At this age, children are able to tell what their scribbles represent, though it may not be clear to adults.

By 4 years of age, children’s drawings start to show more complex patterns, such as squares, circles, and rectangles. By 5 years of age, children’s drawings show more advanced structure, such as geometric shapes and scenes from the neighborhood or family. By 6 years of age, children’s drawings show an understanding of the relationship between different shapes and how they can be combined to form new images or symbols. At this stage children are also likely showing an ability to create compositions with multiple shapes and details.

In our next blog post, we will continue to review the developmental stages of drawing in children, including the schematic and pseudo-realism stages.

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