Arty mementoes for the fridge door or do they have a deeper meaning? Scientists have long studied children’s drawings and artwork to try and better understand child development and self-expression. As a parent, how can you encourage your child to draw and what, if anything, should you look for in your little one’s doodles?
Why Do Children Draw and What Are the Benefits?
Children love to draw and create pictures. From scribbles to messy fingers prints done in paint, making a mark on paper is one of the earliest ways a child can communicate and express themselves.
Starting at around 18 months old, your child will start to make marks on paper in some form; up until around 3 years of age, these drawing will mostly be random scribbles but will move from uncontrolled to controlled movements as they develop their hand-eye coordination. Your child will grip art materials such as pencil or crayon, establishing whether they are left or right-handed, and will develop several mental skills, such as self-confidence and initiative.
These scribbles progress as your child ages – before 4 years old drawings might become more complex but will still be unrealistic. It’s not until what is known as the ‘schematic stage’, between ages 5-8 that drawings become realistic – object and people will be drawn in scale and colours chosen that represent the subject best; green for grass etc.
These stages of progression are crucial for a child’s development; as mentioned, drawing helps with several areas of physical development, including hand-eye coordination, fine and gross muscle development and hand manipulation. Language arts are also developed, including naming or labelling, and conversation.
Your child will mostly draw for the sheer enjoyment of the process – feeling the art materials in their hands and recognising that they can make a mark on the paper. But a degree of self-expression is involved as children start to draw before their language skills are fully developed.
The area is quite complex, and scientists have made many attempts to fully theorise why children draw and what the benefits are. If you fancy a long but interesting read, have a look at this research paper.
How to Encourage Drawing
Encouraging your child to draw is as simple as putting the right materials in front of them and letting them explore. Like any activity, you will initially need to guide your child by showing them how to make a mark on the paper.
When children are very young, they first need to make the connection between the crayon held in their hand and what is on the paper – a child discovering that they made that mark is a huge leap in their cognitive development and is an exciting moment for a child.
“Make art a regularly scheduled activity with your child and a routine part of playtime”
Make art a regularly scheduled activity with your child and a routine part of playtime. Sitting and observing, offering feedback and encouragement is also an important part of the process; rather than ‘judging’ the final product, comment on the process and ask questions.
To encourage and make drawing easier for young children, provide them with age-appropriate materials; chunky easy grip crayon for younger children for example. It may also help if you tape down the edges of the paper for toddlers so that it doesn’t move about so much.
As your child progresses, introduce a wider range of materials, including paint and felt tips. The Early Learning Centre has a great range of essentials for younger children, such as these easy-grip crayons and finger paints.
During playtime, it’s best to not give specific instructions for drawing – let your child express themselves and develop their imagination.
You might be hoping to find some meaning in your child’s drawings, but keep in mind that children will draw for many different reasons; sometimes they’re just meaningless scribbles done for the enjoyment of it. Other times they can offer insight into what your child is thinking and feeling.
Instead of analysing a final piece of work, ask your child about their drawing – what is it? what does it mean to them? What are they thinking about? Asking questions can reveal things that you may not even see yourself – younger children especially are not concerned with realism.
Drawing is really about the process for children so don’t put too much focus on a deeper meaning or the finished result. That said, keeping and displaying some of your child’s art is an important part of the process. Praise and feedback, plus a sense that you value what they have done is vital in confidence-building for your child.
So stick that scribble on the fridge and tell your kiddy how much you love it!