Child Development: Drawing Stages

Updated April 17, 2017

As children learn to draw, their pictures generally go through a number of stages, from the first infant scrawls to the more realistic and detailed images produced by older children. Child development scholars have loosely defined these stages and discussed the developmental phenomena behind the changes, including perceptual development and improvements in motor skills. Key researchers include Betty Edwards and Viktor Lowenfeld, who identify broadly similar stages. (See References 1, 2 & 3.)

The Scribble Stage

The "scribble" or "scribbling" stage is the very earliest stage, when the child is just beginning to make marks on paper (around 14 months to two years). The scribbles are formless and don't really represent anything. The first marks are random and uncontrolled, becoming more structured as the child's motor control improves. As the child's understanding grows, the scribbles may acquire names, although they don't yet resemble their subject. (See References 1, 2 & 3.)

Preschematic/Symbol Stage

Around the ages of three and four, children's drawings progress beyond the scribble stage. Viktor Lowenfeld identifies this stage as the "preschematic stage"; starting around the age of three, children begin to develop an awareness of form and their drawings become more representational. Humans, for example, are represented with "tadpole" images: a circular head with one or two lines for legs. Betty Edwards divides this stage into the stage of symbols and a narrative stage, where pictures begin to tell stories. (See References 1, 2 & 3.)

The Schematic/Landscape Stage

Viktor Lowenfeld characterises the next stage in drawing development as the "schematic stage," noting that children develop a "schema," a pattern for representing objects and people that includes form, size and orientation in space. This typically happens when the child is around six. Betty Edwards notes that children at this age generally develop a repetitive style of landscape drawing, often with a green line for the ground and a blue line for the sky. (See References 1.)

Complexity and Realism

Edwards notes that around nine years old children develop more realistic styles of drawing, with more complexity of detail and attempts to capture qualities such as perspective. Lowenfeld calls the stage that children enter around the age of eight "the gang stage," or "the dawning realism," noting that children grow dissatisfied with existing schema and try to develop new ways of drawing the world around them. (See References 1 & 2.)

The Pseudo-Naturalistic Stage, or Crisis Period

At the age of around 12, the initial spontaneity of children's drawings gives way to a more naturalistic style, where the child is striving harder and harder to get images "right." Lowenfeld calls this the "pseudo-naturalistic stage." In his model, it is followed by a period of decision, where 14- to 16-year-old children either embrace art and try to develop their own style, or abandon it. Edwards calls this the "crisis period," arguing that with support and guidance most young artists will continue to develop rather than give up in frustration. (See References 1 & 2.)

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About the Author

Clare Edwards has been providing Internet content since 1998. She has written and translated for a variety of markets: everything from technical articles to short fiction and essays on alternative spirituality. She holds a certificate of higher education in electronics and audio arts from Middlesex University.