WRPA top banner
Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
> return to archived articles >

Archived Article

Children's Art

November brings Fall colors, Halloween just past, and Thanksgiving. Pumpkins, witches, Pilgrims, and goblins fill our thoughts. It is also a time when coloring contests abound in family restaurants, some schools, and kindergartens.

Let's take a brief look at the development of artistic endeavor in children. It follows, in general, a series of stages much like the developmental stages described by Piaget.

In the beginning, at about age eighteen months, children tend to scribble in an uncontrolled, random fashion. They simply enjoy the motion of crayon on paper. Soon, the scribbles become controlled, in circles, up-and-down or sideways motions - this represents children's general attempts to control their muscular development and has little to do with attempts to represent anything. At this stage, for an adult to ask, "what is that?" is meaningless to the child. A little later, children will name their scribbles, and this shows a change in their orientation from emphasizing muscular control to thinking in representational terms. In general, children's art productions are all about enabling and expressing growth -social, emotional, intellectual. They are not about producing artistically beautiful or realistic representations of things as adults may see them. As artistic development continues, we see that as attempts at representation begin to emerge, they are determined by their emotional meaning rather than being accurate or realistic representation. Thus, things of emotional importance are exaggerated while emotionally unimportant things are minimized or omitted altogether. Adult attempts to get children at this stage to draw realistically only stifle their development and convey the message that the children "can't draw" well enough.

These stages last until about age nine or ten, when more accurate (by adult standards) representational attempts begin to emerge.

The important thing to remember is that the imposition of adult standards on young children's art merely impedes rather than encourages their creative and mental growth. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in controlled studies in art education, and the results generalize to creativity in the sciences as well, as demonstrated by the research of Guilford and others.

Back to coloring contests, and coloring books in general. Usually, an adult generated picture of something (a pumpkin, turkey, Pilgrim, etc.) is put before the child, who is enjoined to color it with crayon. The message is, "be careful, stay within the lines, and make it as (aesthetically) pretty as you can". There is little that is creative in this process, and the message that the picture put before the child is better than what the child could draw is quite discouraging. No wonder some kids claim they, "can't draw!" So, my friends, encourage children to draw, but don't show them how to do it: let them express themselves in their own creative ways and stay away from coloring contests! Have a great Thanksgiving!

John Lowenfeld, Ph.D. ABPP
Clinical Psychologist



  1. Guilford, J.P. Intelligence, Creativity, and their Educational Implications San Diego, Robert R. Knapp, 1968

  2. Lowenfeld, V. Your Child and His Art. New York, Macmillan, 1956

  3. Lowenfeld, V. Creative and Mental Growth, 3rd edition. New York, Macmillan, 1957

  4. Piaget, J. The Language and Thought of the Child. New York, Meridian, 1955

  5. Read, H. Education Through Art. New York, Pantheon Books, 1958

> return to archived articles >