Scribbling and Drawing for Children: Milestones and Importance
The first word that Pablo Picasso spoke was “piz”, which translates into English as “pencil”. While our child may or may not be a prodigy in the field of art, drawing and writing are essential skills to be learnt. Scribbling and drawing are the basic skills for that gradually transforms into various higher order skills and arts such as writing and painting. A toddler drawing or scribbling on a piece of paper, requires fairly mature motor skills. Even early scribbling and drawing skills involve a complex motor effort. Writing involves motor planning, visual-motor integration, awareness of position, feedback and response from sensory organs and in-hand manipulation. Executive functioning skills also contribute to writing proficiency. These skills take time to reach a certain stage where children could combine them to produce a meaningful drawing. Till then, a lot of what happens is essentially scribbling.
In this blog we focus on early childhood drawing. We look at the drawing stages for toddlers from a milestones point of view and also look at latest scientific research on why is drawing important for children.
Drawing for Children: Milestones & Stages of Drawing for Toddlers
Scribble Milestones: 15-18 Months
Scribbling is the basic foundation of your child’s later drawing skills. A scribble is to art is what the child’s first burbling sounds are to speech. According to research studies, a child usually starts scribbling by the age of 15-18 months. By this age, they are able to sit upright and hold objects in a fist (not fingers). Therefore, it is the apt time to introduce them to scribbling. This answers the question that many parents wish to know: When to give baby crayons? In the beginning, a toddler is not concerned about “what” he is drawing. It is generally more about “how” his hands can hold an object and strike a surface to leave a mark. He is overjoyed to discover what these amazing things called “crayons” can do. He finds out the link between holding them and striking it on paper to leave a mark. Eureka! He suddenly unlocks a secret new realm of life. He can leave a mark on the world, literally. This answers an important question: why do children scribble? His thinking abilities take a major leap too. He comes to know that he can control his fingers and can cause an ‘effect’. It is also the stage where we can make initial observations on our child’s tendency to be right-handed or left.
Scribble Milestones: 18-24 Months
For a toddler who is 18-24 months old, it is generally all about enjoying the feedback from his senses rather than conveying a meaning from his artworks. There are random, exaggerated movements with little or no precision. The movement basically comes from the shoulder, and fingers and wrist are used to control the crayon. The artwork many times goes beyond the limits of the sheet. They may not even look at the page as they draw. Therefore it is advisable that the sheet if used, be put on the floor rather than a table. It is also advisable to use a sheet big enough to prevent the toddler from feeling restricted.
As the toddler grows older and reaches the two-year mark, he becomes well aware of the early causes of scribbling. He realizes that he can reflect his desires on paper. For the next few months, his scribbling becomes controlled. A toddler gets thrilled by his latest experience of making his scribbles go in the direction that he wants. This coordination between thinking and doing is an important milestone. Because of this, he is encouraged to explore new movements. By now, he is aware of a few elementary shapes and tries to reproduce them in his drawings. There will be some random open circles, zig-zag lines, diagonals and curves. The movements are often repeated, to display the improving control of the child over his muscles.
Warning: Avoid color pencils and crayons that are toxic and have sharp edges !
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Scribble Milestones: 24-36 Months
The scribbling at this stage may not seem any different to us from the previous ones, but they carry a great importance to the child. Although it is not likely that they are trying to imitate an object, their drawings may sometimes remind them of some things, just as we see shapes and objects in clouds. This is also the stage where there is the beginning of a transition in the child’s grip. He slowly starts to imitate his peers by switching from a fist grip to that of the thumb and index finger.
The latter half of the third year is essentially a transition phase from scribbling to writing and drawing. The child, by now, knows about lines, curves and shapes. This is the time when he becomes aware that drawings and writings are another way to convey messages. He has learnt initial letters of the alphabet, and tries to pen them down, though not very clearly. There may be components of letters or “squiggles”, i.e. some mock letters, if not actual letters, like lines, curves and dots. For example, the child may write something and tell you what he wishes to say through it. It is an important phase in the development of reading and writing, so do encourage the child even if they seem to signify nothing. The drawings slowly begin to get more organized. It is the right stage to add a few more colours to the child’s palette. As the knowledge of colours becomes better, children around this age tend to show a bit more autonomy in their choice of colours. They may prefer to use their favourite colour rather than the actual ones.
The Importance of Drawing in Early Childhood
“It is unfortunate that the very word “scribble” has negative connotations for adults.” – Viktor Lowenfeld.
Importance of scribbling for toddlers can be understood by looking at the numerous benefits of drawing for preschoolers. Scribbling not only lays the foundation of your child’s artistic development, it has many other benefits too.
- It gradually develops hand-eye coordination in a child.
- It boosts gross and fine muscle development.
- It helps in hand manipulation skills.
- Drawing been shown to have a direct correlation with the skill writing the letters of the alphabet.
- Drawing has also been linked to enhanced speaking skills.
- It cultivates naming capability in children (like letters of the alphabet)
- It exposes the child to the cause and effects of stroking.
- It improves finger dexterity of a child.
- Helps in the development of executive functioning skills
We hope parents appreciate the importance of drawing and painting in child development.
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A note for parents:
The instructions here are simple: Sit, Watch and Listen. It may seem passive, but believe us, the best thing you could do here is to provide controlled freedom. Let the child discover his instincts, and encourage him while he does that. We provide you with a list of do’s and don’ts to complement the toddler’s enthusiasm.
- Positive feedback: It is necessary to focus on the effort rather than the outcome. Words like: “You’ve been working hard.”, “Is it fun to move the crayon round and round?” or “We’ll put this in the hall, so everyone can see it!” can work wonders to your toddler’s enthusiasm.
- Providing the right tools: As a parent, it is our duty to provide the right tool to the child. In the initial stage, he is still having the see-it-and-eat-it tendency, so it is better to provide non-toxic crayons or markers, which are big and easy to handle. Sharp objects such as pencils and pens must be avoided till he is 26-28 months of age. Though colors don’t matter much, there must a striking contrast between the crayon and the sheet. Sheets provided must be big enough to allow unrestricted movement.
- Guard, not interfere: A parent must understand that he is there only to prevent the toddler from causing himself a harm, such as eating a crayon or falling from a chair. Parents must not interfere with the activity of the child until it is too necessary.
- Talking while he draws: Talking to a child while he draws can boost his enjoyment level. Asking him to read back his writings and involving him in further conversations, are good ways to make him understand that he can convey a message through them. For instance, if the toddler says, “This is daddy,” ask questions like “Is your daddy tall? Does he drink milk? Do you love your daddy?” You can also comment on his movements and actions.
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- Negative Feedback: Frowning at meaningless scribbles, or asking questions like “What’s this?” must be avoided. They can cause your child to lose interest in drawing. Always remember, you are his first and most important audience.
- Comparison: Comparing the toddler’s drawings with others may make him imitate the other one’s work. This will lead to a lack of creativity.
- Hurrying up: “Rome was not built in a day!” Your toddler will not create a Monalisa at the age of three. Be patient and always have realistic expectations.
Mayank Mishra contributed towards the research for this article.