Children and Their Art: Stages of Development

 - by Sarah Lipoff

 

© Sarah Lipoff 2010

Your child just spent five minutes scribbling on a sheet of paper and then proceeded to tell you about the amazing picture she created. As you nod your head in mock understanding while she explains the dragon, castle, and trees in her scribbling, you wonder what IS really going on, and if your child ever will actually draw the things she is describing. Have no fear, scribbling is an actual stage of development in art, and in no time, your budding artist will be creating amazing abstract artworks and eventually realistic representations of the world around her.

A child’s first foray into the world of art is called the scribbling phase, because she scribbles lots – and lots. While scribbling, she is mastering the fine motor skill of holding her marking instrument of choice, whether it is a crayon, pencil, or that permanent marker you left out by mistake. Offer your budding Rembrandt lots of coloring implements along with many, many sheets of paper to help hone her skills.

Along with developing fine motor skills through scribbles, young children are making large hand and arm movements while making their marks. Children are also learning they can express themselves through lines, shapes, squiggles, and lots and lots of nothings. These short bits of coloring are allowing your little one to learn about herself, what she likes, and how making marks feel –  sometimes before she can tell you about her creations!

Once the scribbling gets old (for you and your babe), youngsters move onto the preschematic stage, or the stage of making symbols. The scribbling stage moves into the preschematic stage when children are around three years of age, but that isn’t set in stone. Some hit it earlier or later – so don’t freak if your child is still scribbling away at five. Those random marks and scribbles start meaning something – and your young artist is insistent on telling you all about it. Many times the preschematic stage evolves along with language development. Those crazy shapes become mom, dad, the dog, your neigbor… Make sure to listen carefully and ask lots of questions about your child’s artwork – she has so much to share!

After the preschematic stage, children move into the schematic stage where artwork begins to become more representational. Children around the age of six or seven start drawing objects that look like what they are, and shapes that begin to correlate with the desired outcome. But, don’t make the mistake of assuming what your child has created before she tells you!  This is a special stage of art, and young artists can easily have their delicate butterfly wings stepped on. Allow your child to lead you through the story of her art and encourage her to continue down the path she’s heading.

Most of us remember when we hit the stage of realism, or the “I can’t draw” stage, around the age of 10. This is when many children decide either they are, or are not, an artist. We remember that time someone said to us, “that doesn’t look like a ______!” and had our heart sink. Young children are going through many things during these dramatic years of their life (puberty), which can make encouraging talented artists challenging. Offer praise to your young adult and find ways to show your appreciation of her artistic skills. Showing how to praise positively will encourage her to do the same of others.

And then, your small child has progressed through her artistic development and is off to college – well, not really. But, it does seem to go by in the blink of an eye, doesn’t it? Spend time sharing your love of the arts with your child, and how proud you are of her artistic talents (whether you are super-excited about her interest in art or not). Creating positive appreciation for the visual arts helps create a well-rounded adult, with a respect and understanding of the world around her.

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