Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Drawing Infants and Toddlers Theory and Resources

How Young Children Draw People I

Meghan Burch

I have a 4-month-old at home, so I’m experiencing up close and personally how engaged babies are with faces, especially human faces. My baby is constantly reaching for and touching the face of whomever is holding her. Its no surprise to me then, that “With rare exceptions, children draw people before they draw animals, houses, vehicles, or vegetation… (Rhoda Kellogg, Children’s Drawings Children’s Minds, 1979, p. 25) 

circle with legs and eyes

Not all early childhood/educational experts agree with Kellogg’s theory, but in her opinion “Children teach themselves to draw by a long process that begins when first scribbling movements leave some kind of visual record of interest to the child. The human figures they draw in early childhood are not a first effort to draw a living person. They are an outgrowth of much previous work…But these figures are often the first ones to interest the adult who is unaware of what has gone before (Kellogg, p.1) 

face and body

Her idea is that children move themselves (without instruction) through four stages of drawing. The pattern stage, starting at 2 years or younger, includes Basic Scribbles and Placement Patterns. The shape stage, starting around 2-3 yrs., is followed closely by efforts to combine shapes. Around 3-4 years, the design stage is marked by balanced combinations of lines and shapes such as Mandalas, Suns, and Radials. By about age 5, children are likely to have started creating pictorial work such as humans, animals, plants and buildings. (Analyzing Children’s Art, 1969, p. 39) So I’m curious. At what age did your child start scribbling? Did they move through Kellogg’s stages of scribbling development? When did they start drawing humans? Did you encourage their scribbling at home? How?

The drawings above were left behind by visitors to the studio this week. I didn’t meet their creators, but If I had to guess their ages based on Kellogg’s theory I think the top one was done by a 3 yr old, and the bottom by a 5 year old.


Meghan, smiling and wearing a grey shirt with a blue background.

Meghan Burch

Art Educator from 2003-2016, Meghan has a BFA in Illustration from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She tries to think with materials and work with her hands every day.