Scribbling Stages

Part 5 of 5 - Making Pictures

8 March 2017

childs history of scribbling part 4.5

When your preschooler has mastered basic forms, he has the ability to draw the variety of marks that will make his first picture. This is the start of the pictorial stage of art development. This stage is also called the schematic stage. This refers to the child’s ability to use their own special variety of marks, or schema. Many 4-year olds and most 5-year olds are usually in this stage.

Pictures, or first drawings, are different from scribbling in that they are not made for pure motor enjoyment. Instead, they are made for a definite purpose. The basic forms perfected in the preceding stage suggest images that stand for ideas in the child’s own mind. With the pictorial stage, a new way of drawing begins.  

From all of the basic forms your child is able to draw, only particular ones are chosen. Miscellaneous scribbling is purposefully left out. In this stage your preschooler draws his first symbols. A symbol is a visual representation of something important to the child. It may be a human figure, animal, tree, or similar figure.  

When symbols are used in art it is called representational art. Your preschooler realizes that there is a relationship between the objects they draw and the outside world. He also realizes that drawing and painting can be used to record these ideas or express feelings. This is a huge step for your preschooler-- as it was for human kind's first cave painters-- to record and communicate their ideas. This is the first form of written communication your child has before learning to write a language.

Basic forms like circles and rectangles are now put together to make symbols, which stand for real objects in the child’s mind. These early drawings may look like a controlled scribble but it now your child calls it a “man” or a “dog,” a definite shape representing something in the child’s life.

The human form is often the child’s first symbol. A human figure is usually drawn with a circle for a head and two lines for legs or body. These are often called “tadpole” figures because of their large heads on a tiny body with extended arms. Other common early childhood forms include trees, houses, flowers, and animals. Notice how their flowers and trees are combinations of spiral scribbles or circles with attached straight lines for stems or trunks. Houses, windows, doors, flags, and similar objects are simply made up of rectangles and straight lines.

Because your child’s art is now representational, tools that can be easily controlled are important. They will enhance your child’s ability to produce the desired symbols. Thinner crayons and paintbrushes as well as thicker paints can now be made available, so your child can express his ideas and feelings with greater realism. Your child may also want to be able to select representational colors, so having a variety of colors of paint, crayons, and markers available is important.  Check out our Preschool Materials Guide for even more kinds of materials to use during your preschooler's pictorial stage.

At this point, your preschooler can tell you what each symbol stands for in their drawing. They will offer the information freely or you can ask. Your child will often name and want to keep the art they've produced too. You may also notice that your preschooler starts to ask you to write down the names of their paintings or drawings. They may even tell you a story about it. Skilly-do activities, Crayon Hocus-pokus and Mixed-media Batik will be definitely be fun for your child to explore during their pictorial stage.

Now that you know about this stage, can you tell if your child has moved into the pictorial stage yet? What are some signs that he has or hasn’t? Let us what you think-- you can give us your feedback right here.  

In case you missed it, you can find the beginning of our Scribbling Stages series, Part 1 of 5 - Why Preschool Scribbles Are Important, right here!