Drawing & Development: A Short Guide to Children’s Art

Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Playtime Live |

Art projects are a crucial component of our Playtime Project play curriculum, because making art is critical to all aspects of children’s development. Art helps kids to:

  • build strength in their arms, hands and fingers (physical development)
  • practice hand and finger control, which helps improve writing skills (physical development)
  • practice coordination of the hands and eyes (physical development)
  • explore textures, colors, and tastes (cognitive development)
  • plan a creation and make decisions about how to create it (cognitive development)
  • explore and express their feelings (emotional development)
  • expand their creativity (emotional development)
  • work together and share (social development)
  • interact with others (social development)


Just as we monitor the development of our Playtime kids by noticing the number of words they use or how well they can throw a ball, we can also use art to make sure the children are developing as expected. As always, children develop at different rates, and there is a range of what is considered to be normal development. However, here are some useful guidelines for some things you should be looking for in children’s art (other than beauty!):

6 months – 1 year: Very young children can use art materials as a sensory experience. They aren’t quite ready to create fine art, but they can squish paint, pound playdough, and grasp crayons (all with VERY careful supervision, of course)

1 – 2 years Children this age begin scribbling! However, they can’t yet control their elbows or wrists and may not associate their movements with lines appearing on paper. They likely won’t able to sit and scribble for more than a couple of minutes at a time.


2 – 3 years: Scribbling should be more controlled as children gain control of their arms hands and finger, and their hand-eye coordination improves. You’ll see repeated motions, like a series of ovals or lines. By age 3, they should be able to sit scribbling for 10-15 minutes. They may begin to identify their scribbles as mom, a house, etc.

3 – 4 years: As children learn to control their hands and wrists, they begin to make more recognizable forms, such as circles, lines, and crosses. People are common drawings – they tend to be large heads with lines representing arms and legs growing directly from the head.  Children this age regularly name their artwork, indicating that they are learning that drawing is a way to communicate!


4 – 6 yearsDrawing begin to have more form and can be recognized by adults as people, houses, etc. They begin to add details to their people, such as feet and hair. Color becomes very exciting to children this age, but color is not used realistically and adults should allow children to choose their own colors rather than use realistic colors. By 6, art will begin to incorporate more realistic and detailed – fingers, necks, and clothing should be appearing on human figures. Children show more interest in the quality of their art, and they will often want to keep their creations. 


6-8 years:  Children start telling whole stories through their art. Art becomes more organized and children start to add baselines or representations of the ground on which to place objects. They start using realistic colors. School-age children also begin to see their work more critically and may become frustrated when they see their art does not look exactly like the object they are trying to depict. Try giving these children specific praise about what you like about their art and ask if you can hang their art up in the playroom art gallery. 


8 years to teen years!: Realism becomes increasingly important as children get older, and they will often not participate in art if they feel it is not something they are talented at. However, it is important to keep kids interested in art. In addition to being a form of expression, art helps older kids and teens with a myriad of skills that will be useful to them in school and help improve their academic performance. Art teaches kids to focus and concentrate, solve problems, think creatively, pay attention to detail, and follow through on things that are challenging. These are skills that will help in the classroom and beyond. Help older children and teens keep the avenues of creative expression open by expanding their concept of art to go beyond drawing and painting. Photography, interior design, fashion design, and architecture are areas that may appeal to teens, and allow them to have a creative outlet.


These are great resources for learning more about child development & art!:


Young in Art: a developmental look at child art
Art in Child Care
Drawing Development in Children
Art Class Benefits for High School Students

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