It is important to remember that when we discuss any type of developmental milestones, we are looking at a “range of normalcy.” There, I said it again, that term, and if you are just joining us, the “range of normalcy” is a term used to describe an average age range when a child develops a skill or reaches a milestone.
With art, as with all milestones, a child may fall before or after the range of normalcy. I have seen 5 year olds that are only beginning to grasp the ability to form simple shapes; a skill generally developed between 3 to 4 years and I have also seen 3 year olds using symbolic representation, a skill usually developed at 4 or 5.
Today, however; I’m going to discuss the first stage of art: Scribbling.
I probably don’t need to explain scribbling to you since everyone has watched a child sitting with a paper and crayon; her arms making large movements as a line slashes back and forth on the paper. To many parents, this doesn’t really look like art but it is.
In the scribbling stage, children are experimenting and exploring. They are figuring out cause and effect since their actions are creating a reaction; a big splash of color on the page. They are also learning about colors, textures and the many materials that they can use.
As they age, and ultimately practice using the materials and not eating them, they begin to develop fine motor skills that enables them to control the scribbles. This fine motor training will set into place the building blocks for printing in the future.
The drawings progress from being random scribbles to being representative of objects. They may look like scribbles to you but to your 3 year old, they are rainbows or cars or even family portraits.
When my youngest son was 2, he became enamored with the milky way. Every time he would sit down with a marker or crayon, he would draw these swirling scribbles and then label the picture for me. “This is the milky way, mom. See here is the central bulge and here are the four arms…”
The picture always looked like a confused knot of scribbles to me but to him each scribble opened up a world of wonder, a universe to explore.
And that is what scribbling is. A means to open up a universe of creative expression. Without scribbling none of the other art stages would develop and it would be like trying to learn how to talk without being able to babble first.
So if you haven’t started drawing with your young toddler, run out to the store and invest in some paper, paint, markers and any other art mediums that you feel are safe for your child.