Learning to Write and Draw

How Your Child’s Writing and Art Switches Over Time

Creativity is a bridge to learning. When your child is creative and nosey, she can come up with answers to the problems she encounters—like how to keep the block tower from falling. Creativity helps your child become a thoughtful, inquisitive, and certain learner later on, when she starts school.

One of the most significant ways that your toddler is tuning in to her creativity is by experimenting with art materials. As she grabs that chunky crayon and gets to work, you will see her art and writing switch and become more managed and complicated as she grows.

For very youthful children, art and early writing abilities are one and the same. At very first, it’s all about just figuring out what these cool things called crayons can do. Then your child detects the link inbetween her arm holding the crayon and the line she made on the page: Presto! She practices the power of cause-and-effect. Imagine how titillating this must be for her! She can now make a real “mark” on the world. This leap in thinking abilities is helped along by her fresh capability to hold things in her forearms and fingers. The growing control your child has over the muscles in her arms lets her stir a marker or paintbrush with purpose and with a objective in mind.

For very youthfull children, there are four stages of drawing and writing that you may see as your child grows from 15 months old to Trio years old. Note that the timetables listed below are approximate; your child may master these abilities swifter or slower and still be developing just fine. Growth doesn’t happen at the same speed for every child, but by suggesting repeated joy practices with a diversity of art and writing materials, you will see forward progress over time.

Stage 1: Random Scribbling (15 months to Two? years)

This is the period when youthfull children are just figuring out that their movements result in the lines and scribbles they see on the page. These scribbles are usually the result of large movements from the shoulder, with the crayon or marker held in the child’s knuckle. There is joy in creating art at all ages, but at this stage especially, many children relish the feedback they are getting from their senses: the way the crayon feels, the smell of the paint, the squishy-ness of the clay.

For other children, this sensory information may be too much and they may not love some art activities at this stage (like finger-painting). As they grow to tolerate more sensory input, you can incrementally re-introduce art activities into their routine.

Stage Two: Managed Scribbling (Two years to Trio years)

As children develop better control over the muscles in their forearms and fingers, their scribbles begin to switch and become more managed. Toddlers may make repeated marks on the page—open circles, diagonal, curved, horizontal, or vertical lines. Over time, children make the transition to holding the crayon or marker inbetween their thumb and pointer finger.

Stage Trio: Lines and Patterns (Two? years to Three? years)

Children now understand that writing is made up of lines, forms, and repeated patterns. They attempt to imitate this in their own writing. So while they may not write actual letters, you may see components of letters in their drawing. These might include lines, dots, and forms. This is an titillating time as your toddler realizes that his drawing conveys meaning! For example, he may write something down and then tell you what word it says. This is an significant step toward reading and writing.

Stage Four: Pictures of Objects or People (Trio years to Five years)

Many adults think of “pictures” as a picture of something. This capability to hold an pic in your mind and then represent it on the page is a thinking skill that takes some time to develop. At very first, children name their unplanned creations. This means that they finish the picture and then label their masterpiece with the names of people, animals, or objects they are familiar with. This switches over time.

Soon you will see your child clearly planning prior to drawing what he will create. You will also see more detail in the pictures, more control in the way your child treats the crayon or marker, and the use of more colors. What else to be on the lookout for? Children’s very first pictures often build off circles. So, you may see a sun—an irregular circle, with lots of stick “rays” shooting out—or a person (usually a circle with toughly recognizable human features).

Once your child has begun to purposefully draw pics, she has mastered symbolic thinking. This significant milestone in thinking abilities means that your child understands that lines on paper can be a symbol of something else, like a house, a cat, or a person. At this stage, your child also starts to understand the difference inbetween pictures and writing. So you may see him draw a picture and then scribble some “words” underneath to describe what he has drawn or to tell a story. When your child is able to share his story with you, he will be motivated to “author” more and more work as he grows.

Stage Five: Letter and Word Practice (Three to Five years)

Children have had practice with letters and print for several years now and are beginning to use letters in their own writing. Usually children commence by experimenting with the letters in their own names, as these are most familiar to them. They also make “pretend letters” by copying familiar letter shapes, and will often assume that their created letter must be real because it looks like other letters they have seen (Robertson, 2007).

During this time, children also begin to understand that some words are made of symbols that are shorter and some words are made of symbols that are longer. As a result, their scribbles switch. Rather than one long string of letters or letter-like shapes, your child’s writing now has brief and long patterns that look like words or sentences. While these letters and words are very likely not technically correct, it does not matter. This arousing milestone means that your child is beginning to understand that text and print have meaning.

What Can You Do to Encourage Art and Writing Abilities

Make art a regular part of playtime.

Suggest chunky, easy-to-grip crayons, thick pencils, and washable markers. Cut paper bags up to draw on. Sometimes it helps youthful children out if you gauze the paper down on the table so it doesn’t budge as they draw. As your child grows, you can include washable paints, child-safe scissors and glue, and homemade salt-dough as part of your child’s creative time. (For salt-dough recipes, check the Internet or your local library.) Let your child wear an old T-shirt of yours (with sleeves cut off) as a smock and lay newspaper or an old shower curtain over the table to keep it clean.

No need for instructions.

Let your child experiment and explore. Creativity means having the power to express yourself in your own way (Lagoni et al. 1989). This independence is just what a growing toddler is looking for to feel certain, competent, and clever. By sitting nearby, observing, and taking pleasure in your child’s creation, you are providing all the guidance he needs.

Notice the process, not just the product.

As parents, we often tend to compliment children on their successes: What’s that a picture of? A house? That’s fine! And sometimes we get suspended up on the fact that trees should be green, not purple. Sometimes we quiz: What’s the name of that color? But children learn more when we don’t concentrate so much on what they are drawing, but on what they are thinking about their drawing. Take a few moments to observe your child’s work: Look at the lines you are making—there are so many of them! Or, That picture is indeed interesting. Those colors make me feel blessed. Or, I see you are working truly hard on your drawing. Or just: Tell me about your picture. Then see if your child is interested in sharing more.

Experiment with a diversity of art materials as your child nears Three.

Let children paint with cotton nut sack, q-tips, sponges, string—you name it. Give your child crayons and fondle over a textured surface (like a coin or a screen). Draw with chalk outside on a sidewalk; see how water switches the color of the chalk. Add powdered paint or glitter to your child’s sand play. Or add a fresh dimension to water play by adding drops of washable food coloring to the water. What happens when you mix two different colors of water together?

Use art to help your child express strong feelings.

Is your child having a tantrum? Suggest some play-dough or set out the markers and paper and suggest she make a very, very angry picture. Creative activities can sometimes help children express and make sense of feelings that are too intense for them to share in words.

Encourage your child’s attempts to write.

If your child scribbles something and then tells you what he “wrote,” take it gravely. Let him take his “shopping list” to the supermarket or mail his (scribbled) letter to Grandma. This is how children learn that words are powerful and have meaning.

Display your child’s art and writing.

This is how your child knows her work is valued and significant.

Creative activities help children to learn how to solve problems, come up with their own answers, detect the cause-and-effect of their deeds, and feel certain about the choices they make. Art practices help children develop independence within boundaries, and gives them the chance to represent their ideas on paper or in other formats. Most significant, creative expression lets children tap into the magic of their own imaginations—which is what being a child is all about.

Resources and References

Farrell-Kirk, R. (2007 February). Tips on understanding and encouraging your child’s artistic development. Dowloaded on June Ten, 2008.

Gable, S. (2000). Creativity in youthfull children. University of Missouri Extension. Dowloaded on June Ten, 2008.

Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. (n.d.). My child is an artist! The stages of artistic development. Dowloaded on June Ten, 2008.

Lagoni, L. S. Martin, D. H. Maslin-Cole, C. Cook, A. MacIsaac, K. Parrill, G. Bigner, J. Coker, E. & Sheie, S. (1989). Good times being creative. In Good times with child care (pp. 239–253). Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Dowloaded on June Ten, 2008.

Levinger, L, & Mott, A. (n.d.). Developmental phases in art. Dowloaded on June Ten, 2008.

Robertson, R. (2007, July/August). The meaning of marks: Understanding and nurturing youthful children’s writing development. Child Care Exchange, 176. 40–44.

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Learning to Write and Draw

How Your Child’s Writing and Art Switches Over Time

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