Drawing a person is an important aspect and indicator of child development.
As with other benchmarks, all kids do not necessarily master skills at the same exact ages.
Based on research, however, we do see similarities in how children draw people at various stages and periods in their formative years.
The Developmental Stages of Drawing a Person
There are various names and terms that are used when referring to the progressive stages of children’s drawing.
These can be organized by typical age, drawing characteristics, or artistic development stages. Keep in mind, of course, that these are only generalities and often overlap.
You might notice that your child’s drawings of people include features from several of the categories below, and that is perfectly normal. Each child’s development is unique.
Let’s take a look at the typical stages.
From the age of one to two years old, the first scribbles appear as little ones hold a crayon in their fists.
This leads to more controlled scribbles and could even end up looking somewhat like a person.
This is usually accidental and often surprising, but intentionally drawing a person usually happens at around age three.
2. Tadpole or Amoeba Forms
Around age three or four, children start drawing people who resemble tadpoles or amoebas.
These involve a circle-type shape for a head with legs sprouting directly from that form. Sometimes kids also add arms or even eyes.
These shapes typically float in space, with no type of baseline for the ground.
3. Basic Forms with Added Features
Around age four, kids add arms with fingers at the ends, more elaborate faces, and sometimes the trunks of bodies.
During this pre-symbolic period, the heads are typically much larger than other body parts. Many of the central things that kids experience are related to the head: eating, drinking, hearing, smelling, seeing, talking, crying and laughing.
They often depict smiles on the faces they draw.
4. Human Forms
By age five, children have typically added even more details to their drawings of people, such as hair, hands with fingers, the trunks of bodies, and feet with toes.
This is often a time of many self-portraits, in which children explore their self-image. Around this age, children start paying more attention to the colours they use in their drawings, as well.
5. Groups and Families in Action
Between the ages of six and seven, kids often start to draw groups of people, such as families. All the bodies usually look much the same but could have differences in hair and clothing to express gender.
During this schematic stage, children begin to fill out the limbs, moving past mere stick figures. They draw the people in action, showing them using their limbs to accomplish work and play.
What does a Child’s Drawing Tell Us about Development?
A child’s drawing reflects the development of their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.
Their drawings mature as they develop their pencil grasp and learn to control the movement of pencils, crayons, markers and paintbrushes.
Inborn artistic talent can also be detected, along with a child’s prior experiences with art.
Drawings also tell us about cognitive development, such as whether children have gained an understanding of using symbols for people and objects that surround them.
They can only draw things that they know or have experienced.
Their pictures also reflect body awareness, such as what the various parts of the body can accomplish and how they bend and move.
Drawings can even show if children feel uncomfortable with something about their own bodies. Art therapists use children’s drawings of people and their surroundings to help explore emotional development.
Should You Teach Children to Draw People?
Drawing is a natural, developmental process that does not need to be taught. However, children need opportunities to draw frequently in order to reap the many benefits of drawing.
Children don’t learn to draw a person by being shown by an adult. Rather, their increased cognitive understanding and body awareness is reflected in the way their drawings develop.
Activities such as colouring books, therefore, do little to stimulate creativity and aren’t necessary for “teaching” a child to draw.
Teaching the mechanics of drawing people is not suggested because children draw them when they are developmentally ready.
However, there are things you can do to help ensure your child has all the rich background experiences needed to ensure success when the time is right.
20 Activity Ideas to Help Prepare Kids to Draw People
Although you need not give your child art lessons with the steps for drawing people, you can offer many types of life experiences, such as the following, to help get them started in the right direction:
- Read and discuss picture books that portray illustrations of people.
- Offer many opportunities for painting and drawing with no set product outcomes.
- Rotate art materials to keep interest high.
- Draw and paint alongside your child.
- Model how to tell a story with illustrations.
- Visit art museums.
- Encourage using and talking about all the senses.
- Talk about everyday life with your child.
- Go on outings, small and large; visit local landmarks.
- Encourage unstructured, free play.
- Teach your child to ride a bike.
- Plant a garden together.
- Cook or make snacks together.
- Plan a nature scavenger hunt.
- Offer open-ended materials for your child to build projects.
- Encourage time with family and friends…young, old and in-between.
- Go bird watching.
- Introduce children to new vocabulary.
- Visit the library.
- Celebrate holidays.
20 Activity Ideas to Help Develop Positive Body Awareness in Children
For children to successfully draw people, they need to be aware of the various body parts and what they can do.
In addition, for kids to enjoy drawing pictures of people, holding a positive view of bodies in general, and of their own bodies, in particular, is certainly a plus and encouraged by the activities below.
- Sing songs about the body (“Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” for example).
- Point to and name body parts.
- Play games such as “Simon Says”.
- Imitate animal movements.
- Introduce your child to yoga.
- Encourage daily physical activity.
- Offer healthy eating choices.
- Accentuate the positive and avoid talking about body weight as a negative.
- Encourage shadow mimic play.
- Play dress-up.
- Make people with play dough.
- Move and dance to music.
- Play hand-clapping games.
- Share mirroring/copying movement games.
- Play flashlight game (shine on body parts and name them).
- Make paper/cardboard dolls.
- Play with dolls.
- Make foot/handprints in wet sand.
- Play with figurines of people.
- Sort laundry clothing by size; match socks.
- Try these body parts activities.
In child development, drawing a person is a major accomplishment.
From the time they are infants, kids take in the world around them to eventually put pencil to paper and express their wide range of knowledge.
You undoubtedly have some wonderful examples of this artistic journey to frame and treasure for years to come!
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