How do you know if your toddler is ready for drawing, and what do you do next?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with lots of information about the stages of drawing, tips and ideas for toddler drawing.
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At around 15-18 months or age, young children stop putting absolutely everything in their mouths, and their fine motor skills are developing. It’s at around this time that a toddler might start being interested in making marks and drawing.
Early Stages of Drawing in Children.
It’s important to remember that children all develop at there on pace, so the age ranges given here are just a rough guide. Some children will be start drawing early, where as others won’t be all that interested at all until much later, there is not right or wrong. What is interesting though is that almost all children move through stages of drawing.
Stages of Drawing for 1 – 2 Year Olds
At around a year old, the first stage of drawing is all about cause and effect, and learning control.
In these early days, drawing is all about the joy of movement and making marks on the paper, colours are not important to kids at this age. At this stage children usually hold the crayon or marker with a ‘fisted grasp’ using their whole hand with their thumb up. They often drawing with their whole body, swinging their whole arm in large strokes over and over.
Drawing Ideas for 1-2 Year Olds.
At this stage try offering BIG sheets of paper taped to the table or floor (so they don’t have to worry about the paper moving about), fat, soft crayons that make marks easily, and lots of room so they can draw with their whole body.
Stages of Drawing for 2 – 3 Year Olds
At around 2 years old children enter the stage of controlled scribbling.
At this age a child’s drawings become more controlled as they develop better control of the muscles in their hand, better eye-hand co-ordination, and a better understanding that they control the marks being made on the paper. At this stage toddlers often make purposeful lines, shapes and patterns on the page, and the marks are often smaller and more deliberate. This is an important pre-writing skill. They still hold the crayon or marker with their whole hand, but now with the thumb down in a ‘digital pronate grasp’.
Drawing Ideas for 2- 3 year olds
At this stage big sheets of paper are still good, but you might need to have lots of them, as toddlers in this stage often want to draw, a LOT! Large, fat, drawing implements are still a good idea, but toddlers at this age may be able to manage fat markers if shown how to put the lids back on and keep them on the paper.
Stages of Drawing for 2.5 – 3.5 Year Olds
By the age of three, and often a little earlier, children usually enter the stage of drawing called ‘named scribbling and then they move into the stage of ‘basic forms’.
Toddlers move from drawing being all about making marks and they begin to understand that drawings can convey meaning/. They begin to refine their scribbles and they begin to label them. While their drawings may have very specific meanings to them, you probably won’t recognise what they are describing.
After children turn three they begin to draw more recognisable images as their imagination and skills increase. They may start drawing with a definite idea of what they want to draw, and tell elaborate stories about their pictures.
At this stage child begin to use their thumb and fingers to control the crayon or marker in a four finger grasp which later develops into the refined pincer grasp. This grasp is important for learning to write later on.
Drawing Ideas for 2.5-3.5 Year olds
A three year old who likes drawing will want to draw with all kinds of implements and on all kids of surfaces. Having lots of options for drawing always available is a great way to encourage kids of this age to draw and practice all those important pre-writing skills.
Tips for Drawing with Toddlers
When your toddler shows an interest in drawing here are some simple tips to make drawing with toddlers fun and stress-free.
- For young toddlers use large, thick crayons or markers that are easy to hold. Choose markers with strong tips that can cope with the force of toddler scribbles and crayons that have lots of pigment so they make strong vibrant marks on the paper without much effort.
- Offer older toddlers a variety to drawing tools in all different shapes and sizes. Try pencils, crayons, markers, chalk, oil pastels, or pens.
- Make sure whatever drawing tool you offer is non-toxic and safe because toddlers still sometimes put things in their mouths.
- Be prepared for drawing to end up in places other than the paper. Supervise your toddler when they are drawing and gently remind them to keep the drawing on the paper, and stick to washable options just in case!
- Use BIG pieces of paper. The usual rule is – the younger the child the larger the paper. Buying a big roll of paper is a great option as you can cut whatever size you want.
- For young toddlers, tape the paper to the table or floor so they don’t have to worry about it sliding around.
- For younger toddlers make sure they have a lot of space to move around while they are drawing. Taping paper to the floor is a great option for this age.
- Once your toddler starts engaging in drawing they will probably want to do a LOT of drawings, so be prepared with a good supply of paper, and teach them early that it is ok to draw on both sides, or use recycled paper.
- Don’t be surprised if your toddler makes one mark on a piece of paper and then moves on to the next one. It’s hard not to think of the waste of paper, but this is a normal stage, and you may be able to reuse the paper later, or maybe not!
- Drawing on a vertical surface is great for developing fine and gross motor skills, so try taping some paper to the wall, or using an easel.
Should I Teach my Toddler to Draw?
Young children don’t need to be ‘taught’ to draw. All you need to do is offer your toddler safe drawing materials and lots of time and space for drawing.
Don’t worry about the finished product, or ask what they have drawn a picture of, instead focus on the process of drawing. For young children art is all about the ‘doing’. They are practicing and refining so many skills as they draw, and that is the important part, not how it looks in the end.
For young toddlers you can talk to your child about the lines they are making, the colours they are using and how much they seem to be enjoying drawing. As your child gets older and they begin labelling their own drawings, simply asking them to tell you about their drawings is a great way to encourage them and build their confidence.
Try to resits drawing pictures for your child as that can often make kids feel like their drawings are not ‘good enough’. Instead, draw with your child – grab your own piece of paper and drawing next to them, mimicking the stage of drawing they are at. You’ll be surprised how fun it is to use your whole arm to scribbling in big wide arcs!
What if My Toddler Doesn’t Want to Draw?
Children move through developmental stages in their own time, so just because your child is two, it doesn’t mean they will automatically be ready to draw or interested in drawing, and that’s perfectly fine.
Having drawing materials available to use any time is the perfect way to encourage drawing when your child is ready. So pop a big pad of paper and some crayons on the shelf next to their favourite toys and let them explore it at their own pace.
Letting your toddlers see you drawing and/or writing is also a great way to encourage an interest in drawing. Children of this age often want to do the things they see adults doing, so sit next to your child when you write the shopping list and offer them some paper to write their own and see what happens.
If your child is 3-5 years old still not interested in drawing, these ideas for encouraging a reluctant drawer will definitely help you get started in the right direction and probably stop you worrying too!
Easy Toddler Drawing Ideas
You don’t need to do any fancy drawing activities with toddlers, especially when they are just starting to draw. The best toddler drawing activity is simply to give your child something to draw with and lots of paper to draw on!
Here are some of our favourite toddler drawing supplies:
- A roll of paper
- A large pad of drawing paper
- Fat, chunky crayons – we like Honey Sticks or Triangular Crayons
- Large markers – we like these tripod grip markers.
- Chunky coloured pencils
- An easel
If your toddler has moved past the early stages of drawing and is ready for more than a simple crayon and paper activity, you might like to try one of these easy toddler drawing activities:
This HUGE list of awesome drawing ideas and activities for kids of all ages might also be useful!
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
We’ve started drawing with Emily now too, she loves her crayons, and her chalk for using outside – we have a BIG undercover concreted area and it’s covered in blue, pink and yellow squiggles I can’t bear to wash off LOL
I brought a big slip in display book for each of my kids… its great to look back and see their progress. Oh and a tip, pencil the date on the back :)
Can’t wait until I can do this with my kid. He’s just starting to get interested in drawing and painting. I’m just now starting to trust him with crayons, instead of Color Wonders – a few months ago he gave me a masterpiece in the kitchen walls…
I am so glad you wrote about drawing as I was going to ask you next time we saw you. I remember at the last MCHN visit for E she insisted we start the pincer grip and I had found myself getting annoyed that E wouldn’t do it, he can do it just prefers not to. It doesn’t feel right to push it on him yet I found myself doing it anyway.
We have been drawing heaps around here as K is loving it too and they have a ball together
on the pincer grasp.. there are things you can do to encouragae it.. drawing at at easel or vertical surface rather than flat on a table.. using fat crayons or really fat triangluar, or fat markers or fat chalks.. rather than skinny ones…. stuff like that. But at this stage, the best way to encourage it is just to let them draw. I don’t think either my girls or E have any issues with fine motor development in general so the correct grasp will come with time.
Drawing and creativity are fascinating for sure.
Love their drawings!
We actually do work on Jordan’s grip gently, just because he sees an OT for his sensory stuff, she just very gently guides him a little, upright or angled surface to start with and now just a little hand over hand when he begins. Does help.
But yeah, drawing for the fun of it is the way to go.
We love drawing here :)
Oh yes, we love our drawing here too! Pencils, Textas, crayons, we love painting, even outside on the footpath with a brush and water.
Ah my dad was bemoaning Audrey’s lack of pincher grip the other day – “she holds the pencil like you do!’ he said LOL I don’t hold the pen “correctly” – instead of it resting on my middle finger, it rests on the next one so two fingers are on top of the pen. They tried to correct me in primary school but I had very neat handwriting (then) and didn’t pursue it for long. I’m not sure if that’s what Audrey is doing or not, I think it’s less a modified and pincher and more just a grab grasp LOL
He cares about the grip because he is an artist and technique is all important, but also said it doesn’t seem to be hampering her at all. I don’t think my grip does either, all I know is writing any other way cramps my hand. Which may lessen if I persevered, but to what purpose?
Anyway, all very interesting. Drawing really draws (haha!) on many many skills … observation, hand eye coord, memory (my dad would say this can be a bad thing, when we draw what we remember instead of what we really see), creativity, and on it goes.
Lauren has only just started getting back into drawing. She has always had her paper/pens available when she wants them.
Her latest thing is faces. Should really take a photo of them!
Its amazing how different kids develop these things isnt it, Lauren has had the pincer grasp down for ages. One day she just picked up a pencil and held it ‘properly’ quite surprised me! (I think it was around 18months or so . .not100%)
I have just in the past 10 days noticed that my daughter’s drawings are real things now, she draws people really quite well. My son’s drawings are still quite simple. We do drawing everyday with chucnky pencils or crayons but Scar is getting a pretty good grip now.