Toddlers begin experimenting first of all with mark-making; this can be chalk on flagstones, finger paints on paper or drawing in mud with sticks.
By their second birthday, toddlers are usually able to draw circles, lines and dots. By 30 months they can make a V, draw a horizontal line, a T and a rough circle. By your toddler’s third birthday she will draw the classic person with limbs coming out of the head and she may add H to her repertoire of word shapes. Your toddler also may begin to hold her crayon with the thumb, index and middle fingers in the so-called dynamic tripod grasp.
At first, toddlers are limited by their fine motor skills but in time their pincer grip will become increasingly controlled.
Art development seems to follow recognisable milestones. People are the most popular things to draw. First, they are drawn as faces, then the faces have limbs coming out of them until eventually, the people have bodies. It is lovely to see your child’s drawing develop and really worth using an app or a folder to keep examples of the stages their art goes through.
I love the unselfconscious way that children create and draw. One of my favourite stories of (education theorist) Sir Ken Robinson was his TED talk (which is perhaps the most viewed TED talk ever made and one I highly recommend) where he talks about creativity in children. He was talking to a young four-year-old in a classroom and asking her what she was drawing. She replied she was drawing a picture of God. Sir Ken said,
‘But no one knows what God looks like.’ To which the girl charmingly replied, ‘They will in a minute!’
Make time for arts, crafts and mark-making with your toddler and try not to guide or correct their creations. For toddlers, the end result really isn’t the point. They enjoy the flow, the moment and the act of creating.
As you see your child reach milestones in their art and drawing, it can be nice to note when your toddler:
You can also keep or photograph some good examples of these stages, which are lovely to look back on as your child grows.
As your toddler gets older, you can ask her to draw something she could have never seen before, such as a bicycle with triangular wheels or a man with two heads.
Your toddler will probably begin by holding a crayon or chalk in her fist and use her shoulder to guide her arm and control the drawing. This scribbling or mark-making will probably begin after her first birthday and at first, children are simply understanding that they can make marks when they manipulate a crayon in this way. Vertical lines tend to come before horizontal lines as it takes less fine motor control. For this reason there seem to be some stages to art development that are fairly consistent internationally in the way children draw.
Around your toddler’s third birthday she will begin to draw circles and around her fourth birthday, your toddler will probably be able to draw a cross, and add lots of details to her pictures of people, such as hair, eyes and a big smile.
What goes on in toddlers’ heads as they draw is equally interesting. As an adult, we can picture a horse and then draw it (or at least have a go) but toddlers can’t do this yet. Instead, they draw whatever they fancy and label it afterwards (especially when an adult asks them what the drawing is!)