child development drawing stages

The Different Drawing Stages in Child Development

As a parent, you may have heard or read about child development. Like many of us, you may have become deeply interested in children’s developmental milestones and their cognitive development. Maybe you’re just interested to know whether your child’s development is where it should be, behind or even advanced. One of these topics include the stages of drawing development in children. A child’s drawing and art skills say more than you may think it does.

Viktor Lowenfeld, a 20th century Austrian professor of art education, outlined 5 different stages of art development in children. Although there are questions regarding the cross-cultural application and gender differences regarding Lowenfeld’s theory, it is still widely used to provide structure and understanding to children’s and adolescents’ social -, emotional -, intellectual -, and kinesthetic development and expression.

Children’s and adolescents’ drawings may be used by professionals to convey information about hidden traumas, vague and conflicted emotions, fears, conflicts, and perceptions. Drawing holds multiple benefits for various spheres of development. This article will explore such benefits and describe the different stages of drawing in children, as proposed by Lowenfeld.

However, it is important to keep in mind that some children may produce drawings which portray elements of different developmental stages while others may skip a stage altogether. Never compare your child with another, they all develop at their own pace.

Drawing as a Therapeutic Tool

Professionals may analyze children’s drawings to gain insight into various emotional and psychological constructs. Drawings are a valuable tool in therapy since they portray a child’s inner thoughts and feelings without the filters or barriers that spoken or written language may place on them. However, since there is not much research regarding gender and culture differences in art development, the efficacy and reliability of using children’s drawings to identify potential problems remains limited.

The Benefits of Drawing for Children

Drawing aids multiple areas of development, including fine motor -, cognitive -, and emotional development. It serves as a critical tool used for communication and self-expression and may even contribute to developing math skills! Having to choose which colors and shapes to use, develop decision making. Using tools such as pencils, pens, crayons, and paint improve varying fine motor skills, hand-eye-coordination +, and pre-writing skills. Drawing encourages perspective taking and reflection, which leads to personal insight. All of this contributes to developing self-confidence and self-awareness. Through the different stages of drawing, it is clear to see the progression of a child’s development in various areas.

Scribble Stage (2-4 years of age)

The first stage of drawing is known as the Scribble Stage and usually emerges in the preschool years between the ages of two and four years old. Scribblings start as rough scratches and become more controlled basic shapes as toddlers gain more hand-eye coordination. Progressing further through the stage, toddlers start to draw intentional, recognizable shapes and may start to name the various aspects of their drawings. During the Scribble Stage, toddlers are unattached to their drawings since they are not as interested in the product of their exploration as they are in their ability to explore and their desire to imitate adults.

It has long been believed that the Scribble Stage is purely kinesthetic in nature and that toddlers are merely exploring the physical experience of drawing and exercising their limbs. However, recent psychological research suggests that this stage is not meaningless motor pleasure. Rather, it is suggested that these early scribblings are used by toddlers to understand and interact with the world around them.

It is hypothesized that toddlers may use scribbling to communicate their feelings and intentions, and to represent actions and relationships. Considering such hypotheses, scribbles are most often made of dynamic objects which grab toddlers’ attention. These scribbles usually don’t portray the shape of the object, but rather the actions of the object and how the toddler feels about the object. For example, it is suggested that toddlers might use dark, straight scribbles to indicate a negative perception regarding objects or actions while they may use lighter, rounder scribbles to indicate positive perceptions about objects or actions. As such, a dog is not perceived as consisting of various parts, but rather something that bites and barks and may be depicted as dark, straight scribbles.

Pre-Schematic Stage (4-7 years of age)

During the pre-schematic stage, toddlers start to draw what is important to them. Gender differences may be evident between drawings which are mainly attributed to social roles of different genders in the child’s culture. Children try to strengthen their relation between external worlds, and along with improved learning and development, produce more advanced drawings.

These drawings often include boldly colored stick men, since there is not yet an awareness of composition and color is used independent of reality. Shapes are drawn repeatedly, continuously changing. Children might start to show transparency by drawing unseen parts of things (for example, drawing a house and people inside the house). During the pre-schematic stage, drawings are often floating on the page and not grounded.

Schematic Stage (7-9 years of age)

When a child reaches the schematic stage, schemas or symbolic representations of people, objects and nature are formed in the mind. After repeatedly drawing the human figure, a link is established between the child’s own body and the mental structure of it. Drawings often exaggerate important or main parts and parts which are considered unimportant are ignored. Children may also start to draw geometrical shapes.

By this stage, space concept and perception are developed, and figures are identified as having distinct designated spaces. A baseline is also present in drawings which grounds other objects. This is thought to be representative of the child becoming less egocentric and more aware of his/her surroundings. Clear gender differences are also present during this stage. Studies suggest that boys tend to draw more violent and exciting scenes which often include weapons, sports, or vehicles. Boys are also more likely not to use color in their drawings than girls.

On the other hand, it has been found that girls often include animals and color in their drawings. Importantly, these findings are representative of a Western sample and may vary greatly across counties and cultures. It is important to take such gender differences into account when opting to use a child’s drawings for intervention purposes, since some depictions might seem problematic when they are in fact culturally appropriate.

Dawning Realism Stage/The Gang Age (9-12 years of age)

The pre-teen years are a critical period for both physical and psychological development. Pre-teens are having to deal with the realities of the world they live in. This leads to a more realistic perspective which is also evident from their drawings. Pre-teens are more self-conscious and critical of their artwork. They may strive to draw realistically, showing clear concepts of planning, perspectives and use of color and proportions.

They prefer to draw independently and may include imaginary elements in their drawings. Drawings showcase more complex relationships like overlapping objects. However, lights and shadows are not used yet. There may also be gender differences in drawings during this stage. Studies suggest that girls tend to be more aware of essential and inessential details in drawings than boys.

Pseudo-naturalistic Stage (12-14 years of age)

During this stage, teens may become interested in developing their artistic skills. They may produce realistic drawings but are often frustrated by their inability to portray the complexities of life accurately. The result takes priority over the process of creating art. Colors, shading, proportions and three-dimensional space are used realistically. They experience intensive aesthetic intuition and prioritize perspective while being more interested in concrete things. Drawings often depict emotional and dramatic scenes which include kinetic effects. Teens may also make realistic drawings of nature scenes.

The Period of Decision (14-17 years of age)

This stage of art development is only explored by those who want to continue to develop their artistic skills. Adolescents may choose to learn to draw with more detail and visual-spatial awareness and can achieve a high level of realism in their drawings. Art is still used to express inner thoughts and feelings – both conscious and unconscious. Adolescents may combine their technical skill with their personal style of self-expression to produce unique works of art.

Stage Main Points

Scribbling Stage (2-4 years of age)

  • Intrigued by the ability to draw
  • Not attached to drawings
  • Drawings are scratches and scribbles
  • May start to draw intentional/recognizable shapes
    as hand-eye-coordination improved
  • May start to name aspects of drawing
  • Drawing may be a means of communication

Pre-Schematic Stage (4-
7 years of age)

  • Improved learning leads to more advanced
  • Uses color unrealistically
  • Not aware of composition (stick men)
  • May show transparency

Schematic Stage (7-9 years of age)

  • Developed schemas for people, things and nature
  • More aware of body and have a good mental
    representation of body
  • Baseline present in drawings
  • Gender differences in objects drawn and colors
  • Draw exaggerated features if deemed important while excluding features deemed unimportant
  • May draw geometrical shapes

Dawning Realism
Stage/The Gang Age (9-
12 years of age)

  • More self-aware and critical
  • Try to draw realistically
  • Show overlapping and complex relationships
  • Doesn’t use lights and shadows

Stage (12-14 years of age)

  • Draw realistic/emotional/dramatic scenes
  • Realistic use of color, shading, and proportions
  • Focused on perspective and aesthetics
  • Very critical of own artwork

Play-based activity ideas

Puffy microwave paint recipe


  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Food dye
  • Water
  • Paper


Combine all the dry ingredients and add enough water to make a runny batter.

Divide and dye batter with colors of choice.

Place batter in plastic bags and tie the ends with rubber bands or by tying a knot (similar to a piping bag when icing a cake).

Cut one of corners of each plastic bag (VERY small piece). Use the bags to paint on the paper.

Microwave the painting for 30 to 45 seconds.

Basic playdough recipe


  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup flour
  • Few drops food dye (optional)
  • Few drops essential oil of choice (optional)
  • Glitter (optional)


Combine all ingredients except food dye and essential oil in a pot and stir over low heat until the dough pulls away from the pot.

Remove from heat and allow to cool until able to work.

Remove the dough from the pot and knead until smooth.

Add food dye and essential oil and knead to combine.

Store the playdough in airtight containers (and in the fridge during summer months).

If the playdough becomes dry or crumbly, add a few drops of warm water and knead until it is well combined. If the playdough becomes sticky, add a little bit of flour, and knead to combine.

Playdough shapes and objects can also be dried and painted.

NB: If your child is at risk of eating the playdough, make sure to exclude glitter
and only use essential oils safe to consume.

List of basic crafting supplies for children

  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Washable paint
  • Paper (plain, used, colored, textured, newspaper etc.)
  • Tape (if a child is not old enough to use scissors, masking tape is recommended)
  • Glitter
  • Glue
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Coffee filters
  • Yarn and ribbon
  • Stickers
  • Beads and buttons
  • Pom poms

Important Notes on the Development of Drawing in Children

Drawing encourages development over multiple physical and psychological areas. Studies have also shown that drawing can be a powerful tool in coping with intense and negative emotions. Drawing and other forms of art can be encouraged by providing various utensils and drawing surfaces from as young as a baby starts to show interest (usually around 8 months old).

Offering different art materials and art activities also teaches children valuable transferable skill and not just drawing skills. It can also teach them thinking skills, social skills, fine motor control, creative expression, creative thinking and it even helps develop their early writing skills. Drawing and expressing themselves freely also helps with mental growth. Most importantly, it’s about all the good times their having too. Kids do love some sensory and even messy play, it’s so good for them both developmentally and just plain old mentally.

Some research suggests that coloring books and drawing for children (or teaching children how to draw an object) may restrict children’s creativeness and independence of expression. This may leave children to use a specific image/drawing as a model, believing that for example, all parrots should look like that model. It may also deprive children of the opportunity to use art as a form of expression and communication, as it encourages drawing as they see an object and not drawing with feeling. This can lead to children feeling like they cannot achieve what is expected of them, as they try to mimic adult drawings and pictures recoloring books.

  • Professionals may use children’s drawings to look for potential issues
  • Drawing may have a positive impact on a child’s cognitive, psychological,
    social, and motor development
  • Although Lowenfeld’s stages of art development is widely used, there are
    some criticisms regarding its cross-cultural validity

Offer your child many different opportunities and various materials for creative activities that matches their skill level. Even if it’s just a piece of paper and some paint. Messy play and exploring the paint and even the smell of the paint all plays a role in the experience that your baby or child is having. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a taught lesson, let your child have fun and they will learn as they play.

Additional Information and Resources

Resimler, Ç. Ç., & Aynasıdır, O. (2015). The Pictures Which Children Drew Are Their Mirrors!. Journal of Psychiatric Nursing, 6(3), 137-142.

Alter-Muri, S. B., & Vazzano, S. (2014). Gender typicality in children’s art development: A cross-cultural study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(2), 155- 162.

Alter-Muri, S. (2002). Viktor Lowenfeld revisited: a review of Lowenfeld’s preschematic, schematic, and gang age stages. American Journal of Art Therapy, 40(3).

Longobardi, C., Quaglia, R., & Iotti, N. O. (2015). Reconsidering the scribbling stage of drawing: a new perspective on toddlers’ representational processes. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1227

Goodman, G., Dent, V. F., Tuman, D., & Lee, S. (2022). Drawings from a play-based intervention: Windows to the soul of rural Ugandan preschool children’s artistic development. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 77, 101876

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