Stages of Children’s Art Development

“My child is already 5 years old and still draws stick figures. Is there something wrong?”

“My child does not seem too talented in art. Should we stop wasting time in this area?”

“My child scribbles all the time and colours outside of the lines. Should we stop him?”

Parents often have questions and doubts about their child’s involvement in art, but some concerns may be misconceptions that can discourage their natural development in art.

Timeline of Children’s Stages of Art Development

Art is often children’s first language, as they may learn visually before verbally or textually. Each child develops at their own pace.
The exhibition timeline shows some of the developmental characteristics of children’s art from toddlers to teens observed by our art mentors over the years. The terminology for the different stages is based on Austrian art educator Viktor Lowenfeld’s research*. The timeline with brief descriptions illustrated by CreativeKids students’ art and design works serve as a reference to help adults understand children’s different stages of art development.

*Adapted from Lowenfeld, V., & Brittain, W., Lambert (Ed.) (1987). Creative and mental growth (8th ed.).
New York: London: Macmillan; Collier Macmillan.

Scribbling Stage (Aged 1.5-3)

Scribbles are records of children’s kinaesthetic arm movements over surfaces. Research* reveals that scribbling is a medium through which children express emotions and experiences with the external world through a process developing from random scribbles (age 1.5) to named scribbles (age 2). Scribbling is more than learning motor control and coordination, but also a tool of communication that transforms into drawings, words, and stories in later stages.

* Longobardi, C., Quaglia, R., & Lotti, N. (2015). “Reconsidering the scribbling stage of drawing: a new perspective on toddlers’ representational processes”. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from

Pre-schematic Stage (Aged 4-5)

With improved eye-hand coordination, children turn curved lines into conscious creation of forms, providing a tangible record of their thinking process. They discover that a drawn symbol can stand for something in their picture. Extending lines from circles, they draw typical ‘tadpole figures’ to represent humans or animals. Objects and symbols float randomly on paper and change meaning with children’s observation and experiences. At age 4 or 5, children begin to tell stories and work out problems in their drawings. This is a good time to enter their world through ‘listening’ to their pictures.

Schematic Stage (Aged 6-9)

Children use symbols (known as schemas), to represent their active knowledge of a subject. They use a set of symbols, usually with geometric shapes, to identify familiar physical objects or scenes, typically a landscape. A sense of spatial relationship and hierarchy of importance gradually emerges. Objects are placed on a baseline in order of sizes to symbolize the degree of importance the child places on them. Colours are used relating to the real objects.

Stage of Transition (Aged 9-12)

Children find that schematic generalization can no longer adequately express reality and replace it with increased efforts for visual details of objects. Some children experience a ‘Creativity Slump’ when they are discouraged by their artworks not matching up with the expectations of adults and peers. With greater awareness of proportion, form and perspective, drawings become smaller and more rigid. They discover space and depict overlapping objects with a horizontal line, rather than a baseline, defining sky and ground. They struggle with perspective, foreshortening and other spatial issues, and achieving realism is a prized goal. Children’s understanding gradually moves away from the concrete to more abstract concepts.

Creativity Slumps

“My 9-year-old son has lost interest and confidence in drawing. He used to be very creative when he
was a young boy. What should we do?” Between the ages of 9 to 12, many tweens (between teenagers and children) experience a decline in confidence and interest in drawing, which is common and often referred to as a creativity slump. This is due to growing pressure to conform to peers and self-consciousness, leading to erasing more than drawing and struggling with lifelike depictions. This can stunt their creative development.

Secrets to Skills-building
The secret to building solid drawing skills is to observe and analyze real objects instead of imitating adult artwork. This helps them to understand structure and relationships in objects and scenes and develop long-term skills. Playful projects can help them hone their ability to depict shapes, forms, perspective, proportion, edges, space, values, and types of lines. Consistent practice is also essential for developing
a steady hand and confidence in drawing.

Essential Skills in Sketching


Obstacles to Seeing

To help children build confidence in drawing, it’s important to identify obstacles in their ability to see and observe. The following are some examples of obstacles.

Draw what ‘I know’ versus what ‘I see’
One obstacle is drawing what they subjectively “know” rather than what they actually and objectively see. For example, drawing a chair with four equal-length legs instead of using perspective to show the trapezoidal shape of the seat and two longer legs that are closer to the viewer.

‘All leaves are green’
Children’s preconceived notion that ‘all leaves are green’ can hinder their ability to see the subtle variations in the colours of leaves, such as different hues, shades, tints of green.

Cylinders and Ellipses
Drawing a cylinder such as a bottle or a cup as an object sitting on a surface can be demanding for children, and even adults. To help children draw cylinders, show them how to imagine the object as transparent with a series of ellipses that vary in size and shape based on perspective. This will help them understand how a circle turns into an ellipse when turned away from the eye at different angles.

Habit of Using Bold-Outline
Children who habitually use bold outlines in their drawings may struggle to depict objects realistically, as this does not reflect how objects appear in real life. Objects are three-dimensional and defined by edges, not black outlines.

Fear and discouragement
Fear of ridicule can be a significant obstacle to drawing. As children grow older, they experience growing pressure to draw lifelike, to colour within the lines and to please adults. This can undermine their confidence in their own abilities and lead to a reliance on adult instruction, leaving little room for individual interpretation.

Click here to read more about Essential Skills Program

Period of Naturalism (Aged 12-18)

The adolescent stage marks the end of art as a spontaneous activity by children. Teenagers focus at achieving adult-like naturalism of drawing objectively what is seen, rather than what is subjectively known. They rapidly develop skills in observation, sketching, painting, designing, sculpting and constructing. Teenagers are critically aware of their inadequacy in art. Those who decide to pursue and persist will develop a degree of mastery over media and techniques in communicating ideas.

Secrets of Thinking with Hands

Research* has found that children often think with not only their heads but also their hands – forming ideas while tinkering with  tangible materials. Since1996, CreativeKids created a children’s design program for ages 8 –  18called KiDesign which later expanded to include the Young Architects Program and Design Foundation Program. This design program caters to children who prefer to create by making and building, and children who are discouraged in the Creativity Slump transitional stage. Their creative development continues as they learn to think and express in a 3-dimensional mode.
Our design mentors have discovered that children are more motivated to learn when they have access to a variety of upcycled materials, rather than being limited to pencil and paper. By placing drawing and sketching at the end of the creative process, children are less likely to struggle with the initial stages of the design process.

Constructive Creativity through Design Education
CreativeKids advocates design education for children from a young age. We live in a world with either designs in nature or man-made designs. Through design education, children and teens are introduced to seeing the world in basic design language, elements, and principles. Through design thinking, older children and teens learn to apply creativity constructively to solve problems, meet human needs and fulfill practical purposes.

Design Foundation Program
A program specifically created to introduce older children (aged 8 to 12) to a spectrum of design and architectural knowledge (product and process), principles, history, aesthetics and disciplines. For students ages 12 to 18, they can decide to focus on KiDesign and/or Young Architects Program.

* Lo, K. Y. A. (2020). How Children Design: Observational Study of Children’s Design Process (PhD thesis).
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design, Hong Kong.

Click here to read more about Design Foundation Program

Building an Art Portfolio

Some parents are concerned with the prospect of pursuing art and design as an educational goal and career path. Art and design careers offer creative and financial prospect through various industries such as advertising, animation, architecture, graphic design, fashion, film, and many other fields. Entrepreneurial opportunities exist through freelance work and online business. Many top colleges and universities offer strong programs in art and design, and value students who demonstrate creativity and originality in their
portfolios. Success in these industries requires effort, networking, skills, education, and determination. It is important for parents to support their children’s passions and encourage them to pursue their dreams by starting to build a portfolio.

An impressive art portfolio involves four areas:
• Product (the body of artwork),
• Process (the exploratory journey of idea development),
• Person (the student’s unique perspective), and
• Presentation (the visual organization and story appeal).

The portfolio should showcase the individual’s best potential as an art/design/architecture student, reflect their creativity and versatility, and communicate their individuality and value. It is important to start early,
manage time well, and meet specific requirements and submission deadlines. Parental and professional guidance can be a valuable compass in navigating through the process.

Click here to read more about the Portfolio Building Program

📲 For enquiry:
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