Talking To Your Children About their Art

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” - Pablo Picasso

Drawing plays a wonderful role in the development of a child.   I feel giving children blank paper and drawing material daily is very essential to their growth.   It allows them to articulate emotions, express themselves without the help of a parent, and learn confidence.  In college I learned about children going through different art stages of development.  Unfortunately my college books have been lost in the many moves throughout my marriage.  I desperately wanted to look up the information I learned. This chart on came close to summarizing some of the information I remember.

Every person goes through different stages of developement while they learn to draw. Each stage is important.  Although a scribbling may not be impressive to an adult, a child is doing a lot of learning in that scribble art piece.  Also something that I have noted with my children is they jump forwards and backwards at time with the stages.  And that the ages are a guideline and going faster does not necessarily mean your child is more artistic.  James is probably my most artistic child.  Ally went forward fast through the stages while James tended to stay behind longer.  This is one area in life, as are probably all, NOT to compare your child to another's and wish they were doing more.  It is more important that they do it all on their own and go at their own pace. I know this through watching James and how beautiful even his scribbles are to me.

I simplified the stages into four parts:

Stage one = Exploring Stage.  This starts when a child is about 14 months old.  During this stage a child typically does not intend to draw something literal, but they may interpret after the drawing is made.  During this stage children develop muscle control as well as the ability to express themselves outside of crying.  Children will explore the art through other means than just coloring.  They will often taste the markers, eat the crayons, and suck on the paper.

Stage two = The scribble stage.  This is starts at about two or three.  During this stage a child will still scribble, but soon these lines will cross or form together.  Primitive circles will soon become people in a sense.  Generally a circle with lines coming out for bodies.
James age 3
James age 4
"The Piano Player"
Stage three = representational drawing.  This stage starts when a child is about four or five.  During this time children typically add more symbols to their art work.  Things like a sun, building or dog.  Children will typically draw what they know about the world and not a mirror of what they see.  It is also very normal for a child in this stage to label their art work with words.  Children at this stage often tell a story in their artwork and not necessary draw something.

James age 4
James age 4
"All of Us on an Adventure"
James age 4.5
"Thanksgiving Turkey"
James age 5
"Upside-down and Upside-Up"
Stage four = realistic representation.  This stage extends from six or seven on.  During this time a child starts to think more concretely and as a result their drawings become much more factual.  At this stage children want their drawing to look real.
age 4.5
"Gum Ball Machine"
When we talk to our children about their art we don't want to push them into stages they are not ready for and we also don't want to hold them back from going forward.  Wow!  How do we do that?  I found many many helpful resources along with some of my own ideas for this list.

What not to do:
  • Don't tell them to draw something in particular.  (I am guilty of this!) This is hard especially for adults who think of a purpose to everything.  Sometimes we are making cards for someone and I want the kids to draw a picture for that person so I will say draw a picture of grandma and you instead of draw something for grandma. 
  • Don't ask them if they are finished yet
  • Don't ask "What is this?" or "What are you drawing?" -- it may not even be a thing!
  • Don't tell them what their drawing was (example telling a child you really liked her drawing of a person, when in fact it may not have been a person at all)
  • Don't draw, paint or write on your child's artwork.
  • Don't show a child how to draw.
  • Don't praise, judge, or place a value on the work.
  • Don't use words like pretty, beautiful, wonderful, perfect, etc.
  • I even read in several places not to give them coloring books!  They should be doing their own artwork!     

What to do:
  • Have an area for them to draw with lots of art material available, keep it out so they can explore often and not just when a parent wants them to. 
  • While they are drawing be silent, watch, observe, say nothing.
  • Call your child an artist.
  • Wait to respond.  Sometimes just the silence will cue your child to tell you everything that was on their mind.
  • Do ask them if they want to tell you about their artwork.  Be ok if the answer is no.  
  • Do ask them how they felt while they were working
  • Talk about the elements of art you see in their work -- the elements of art are color, line, form, shape, space, design, and materials.  An example of this is "I see you used a lot of black in this drawing" or "I see you used a lot of circles." or "Wow, you made both dark green and light green horizontal lines!"
  • Do relate their art back to the world.  If they used a lot of blue in their art work say something like "Wow, you used a lot of blue in your art work. Do you see any green in this room?" 
  • Do ask which art piece from today they like most and why
  • Do write on the back which child did the art, the date, and have them make a title to their drawing (trying not to judge or to place a value on it through the title.)
  • Do display your children's artwork in the house --particularly have them chose the piece they want to show so as not to place value of one piece of work over another.
What are some of your do's and dont's for talking or helping your children with their art?


  1. I really have a hard time letting loose and let the kids make a mess. I don't mind it in a "controlled" environment, but I'm finding it harder to a) have the time for it, and b) motivation to let the kids make a mess. I did get them a dry erase folding table last year and we haven't used it much. I really should set it up out on the porch and let the kids go nuts. You inspire me to be a more "artful" parent!

  2. These are great and ones I try to do, but I am guilty of often saying "Thank you so much, this is beautiful / wonderful!" etc when they bring me something saying, Mommy I made this for you. Can you explain more on why not to say this? I don't want to be inadvertently discouraging them... am I encouraging them to draw just for the praise, perhaps that's the thought behind it? thanks so much, for the help and the really great post!

  3. What great tips!! Instead of asking "What is this?" I try to say something like, "Tell me about your drawing." Kids are so creative, aren't they??

  4. Amazing post. Thanks for sharing this. I remember learning this in my art education course for teaching. Fabulous information to share!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing this at my For the Kids Friday Link Party! I appreciate you stopping by. I will be posting this week's link party shortly. I'd love to see what you have to share this week!

    Hope to see you soon!
    :)rachel @ http://SunScholars.blogspot.com


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