During the preschool years children make incredible advances in their ability to create a self or family-portrait. Awareness of self and others, as well as more skillful fine motor development allow children to progress from a controlled scribble to a figure with a head and limbs with details being added as their ideas develop. The following are stages of artistic development to look for in your child’s art work.

We do portraits such as these multiple times per year to see how children’s perceptions and abilities change!

Scribble Stage

  • around the age of 2
  • more demanding lines, angles, zigzags and crosses
  • use of arm, wrist, and finger muscles
  • challenges to perception, memory and co-ordination of hand and eye movement
  • building a store of knowledge about motions and products with varying results
  • can continue alongside gradual increasing skill in formal, recognizable pictures

Beginning of Precision

  • more restricted – doesn’t spread across the page, isolated lines
  • a circular form and line may be named “a flower”

Pre-Schematic Stage

  • around age 3
  • announced by the appearance of circular images and lines which seem to suggest a human or animal figure
  • the schema (visual idea) is developed during this stage
  • drawings show what the child perceives as most important about the subject
  • little understanding of space – objects are placed haphazardly throughout the picture
  • the use of color is more emotional than logical

Two ways toward realism

  • Observation – watching others, copying movements (not the drawings)
  • Experimentation – haphazard, similarity is recognized rather than planned, successes are repeated
  • most children will use a mix of both but have an inclination towards one or the other

Human Figures

  • primitive and tentative, head and body only (tadpole figure)
  • full face
  • parts added as skill and perception increase – feet, noses, eyes, mouth, feet, arms, body, and head
  • animals, particularly pets, may look the same as humans

Symbolism and Schema Stage

  • around age 4
  • regular repetition of schema (this becomes very individual and will make it so adults can tell just who drew that particular sun)
  • circles used for heads and tops of trees
  • use conceptual understanding rather than visual observation
  • close attention to detail, as well as distortion and exaggeration
  • simple geometric forms

Human Figures

  • begin as consistent shapes
  • children will draw hundreds of them
  • eventually the shape will be given a label – self/mother/father/sibling/friend/teacher
  • very individual and may vary considerably
  • figures in the child’s experience which impress will determine the subject matter
  • drawing people is a part of the socializing process
  • lines are used to represent arms and legs