Setting your child up for handwriting success: The developmental stages of drawing

Drawing is a big part of child development in the pre-school years.  It is a necessary foundation skill that allows children to develop their visual and fine motor skills prior to writing letters and numbers.  Every child develops at their own rate, however there is a general developmental sequence that all children follow.

Stages of drawing development:

Stage 1:  Exploration and Scribbling (15 months- 2 ½ years)

At this stage you can expect your child to make dots and scribbles on the page.  They will likely use a cylindrical or fisted grasp and use large whole arm movements when making pencil strokes.  Helpful activities include drawing with thick crayons on large pieces of butcher’s paper, painting at an easel, using thick chalk on driveway or using stamps on a Magna Doodle.

pencil grasp Erhardt 1982

Erhardt, 1982

Stage 2: Lines and Patterns (2 ½ – 3 ½ years)

At this stage you can expect your child to start making more controlled strokes such as circles, horizontal, vertical and curved lines.  They will now have the hand strength to start to transition to grasping the pencil between their fingertips and thumb, however their pencil strokes are still generated using large arm movements.  Activity ideas for this stage include simple colouring in books, drawing through large pathways and adding missing parts to pictures (e.g. put the legs on a caterpillar or the wheels on a car).


Stage 3: Representational Drawings (3 ½ -5 years)

At this stage you can expect your child to start using basic shapes and lines to form recognisable pictures.  Drawing recognisable pictures develops their cognitive planning and spatial skills. They will now have the ability to use a refined tripod grasp and gain increased control over their pencil strokes, keeping their shoulder and forearm steady whilst making small movements with their hands and fingers.  This additional pencil control will allow them to develop skills for colouring neatly within the lines.  Activity ideas at this stage include using stencils, completing dot-to-dots, copying pictures step by step and decorating paper craft creations.

drawing person

Stage 4: Letters and numbers (4 ½ – 6 years)

Once children have been practising their drawing skills for a number of years, their planning and pencil control are at a level that is supportive of learning number and letter formations!kate headshot

-Kate Kleinau, Occupational Therapist

Please feel free to ask questions or give me your feedback.  I am always more than happy to answer any emails personally.

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