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Childhood Stages of Creative Growth and Self Expression

Updated on October 15, 2017
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise homeschooled her 4 children and has stories. She provided art lessons for many children in the homeschool community for many years.

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Childhood development of creativity

Children need creativity and outlets for self-expression to grow into healthy. Well-rounded adults. Studies done on children reveal that those exposed to and encouraged to experience different forms of creative expression at an early age will reflect more “mature” expressions of creative development. Creative development can exhibit itself in a number of ways; visual arts and painting, dance, drama and theater, music, and creative writing. Inspiring and promoting imagination and creative thought are so important to a child’s growth that it still amazes me when the arts are the first things cut in economic depressions.

The following are some of the findings of studies for the normal development of creative expression and grown in children. Keep in mind that those exposed to a number of artistic disciplines early will exhibit an advanced maturity in self-expression.

Scribble

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The Disordered Stage, Scribbling, 2 to 4 years

This age expresses itself in lines formed by undirected movements, using no control of motor activity. Color is used for pure enjoyment and no real conscious approach is taken in choosing them.

Encourage activity by providing materials including large primary crayons and large smooth paper. Use dark colors so they are easily seen and enjoyed rather than the lighter yellows, which have to be pressed hard to get satisfying results. Occasionally provide finger paint and paper with supervision, of course, to add to the enjoyment of movement and color. Younger children are very tactile and love getting their hands into the colors.

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Do you notice creative development in your children.

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Longitudinal or Controlled Stage, Scribble, 2 to 4 years

This stage allows for more repetition of lines drawn consciously up and down or left and right. More motor skill and visual control is being employed at this stage and the child is gaining confidence in each experimented page. The colors and the organization are still at a disordered stage but are gaining in control and eye to hand coordination. Pure enjoyment is gained from the kinesthetic sensation, although no discernable realism is present. Do not discourage this activity and experimentation.

On top of the large crayons and finger paint from the previous stage, provide more outlets for this building of creativity, such as clay, play-dough, sand, water, blocks, Legos, tinker toys, etc. All of these provide sensory stimulation and encourage exploration, even if the child has no creative intentions at this stage.

Circular Scribble

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Circular Stage, Scribble, 2 to 4 years

At this stage the child is experimenting and developing more complex motions, specifically circular lines through movement of the whole arm. This is still a disordered and unorganized movement, but contains more development of certain motor skills.

Continue to encourage self-expression through providing a variety of materials and some supervision. Allow the creativity to flow and avoid saying “no, no,” or “do it like this.” Allow the child to reach his own conclusions and development.

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Name of Scribbling Stage

This stage is the beginning of imaginative things and putting things together that tells stories and usually connects shapes to experiences. The child may scribble shapes they are calling mommy and daddy but which bear little resemblance. Colors are chosen more deliberately and add to the meanings of the scribbled story.

Ask the child questions, stimulating responses in the motions and expressions. Encourage imaginative thinking rather than drawing recognizable objects and shapes. Remember to praise the child often for their good ideas and expressions. Continue to provide opportunities for manipulations of clay and paper.

Materials at this stage include color crayons, paint, finger paint, easel, blackboard and chalk or dry erase board and markers, clay, construction paper. You can add cutting, arranging and pasting of shapes to the list of materials already provided.

At just over two years old my oldest daughter toddled up to me with a piece of paper she had been drawing on. A large oval and six smaller ovals had been drawn on the paper. I asked what it was and she said, “turtle.” Sure enough, it was a turtle. I was amazed because I had no idea where she had seen a turtle before until I realized that my sister had embroidered a stylized turtle for her when she was a baby and it was in her crib during her first year. She remembered it and drew it. This is the naming stage where the child knows what they are trying to depict and can name it.

Printmaking, student age 7.
Printmaking, student age 7. | Source

Messy play

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Preschematic Stage, 4 to 7 years

At this time the child is gaining in small motor skills, is probably able to write his name and possibly the alphabet. With each year and each experience the creative expression grows. The child converts scribbling into casual relationship of body movements. Representation of objects is becoming clearer and symbols are forming. The child is developing conscious creation and searching for new concepts through change in forms of symbols. Color still has a purely emotional appeal but is often used in relationship to known things, such as yellow for the sun and blue for the sky, although not always. This is where stick figures with lollypop heads develop to represent human form. Often in the beginning complex forms like hands and feet are left off or drawn as circles.

Stimulate expression by asking “where,” “when,” “what,” and “how” of the experiences drawn. Most drawing will be about the immediate family or the child’s most intimate circle of acquaintances. Encourage creative depiction of the child’s day or family activities. Provide materials such as crayon, chalk, tempera paint, finger paint, easel, large brushes, clay, felt markers, colored paper, paste, scissors, wood scraps, glue, fabric. Allow for drawing, painting, modeling, cut and torn paper and paste.


Creative Art Develpment

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Printmaking, student age 9.
Printmaking, student age 9. | Source
My son's self-portrait.
My son's self-portrait. | Source

Schematic Achievement of Form Stage, 7 to 9 years

During this stage the child has developed and discovered his own concept of humans and his relationship to his environment. He has gained self-assurance in his expression of concepts through repletion of form symbols: “Schema.” In pure schema, no intentional experience is expressed, only the thing. The thing can be a tree, a person, a house, etc. The child may express deviations from scheme using exaggeration of important parts, omission of unimportant parts and change of symbols for emotionally significant parts.

The human figure has developed from a stick figure into a more distinguishable form with hands and feet. The child has arrived at a definite knowledge and has emotionally connected with the expression of mankind. Beyond this the child has now developed another sphere of consciousness beyond his immediate family. He has developed the concept of space, relates himself to his environment by use of a base line. This base line represents his solid hold on the ground and nature. Deviations from the base line show experience. He is able to mix forms, planes and elevations, x-ray pictures, and space-time representations.

At this time the child develops a definite relationship between color and objects. No longer picking colors for pure emotional enjoyment, but mastering the individual color relations based on experience. Deviations occur if a special experience of emotion arises.

I began developing an aversion to green at the age of 9. I was unaware that I had done it for many years, but I refused to wear clothes that were green, owning furniture or appliances that were green or even talking on a green phone. Later I discovered the source of my aversion stemmed with long weekend trips taken in a green car with green upholstery. I was small and couldn’t see out the windows and always got carsick during those long drives. Week after week, throwing up on every trip to the lake made me associate green and getting sick. Colors are very powerful.

Stimulate the child’s approach by helping him be aware of his environment and his part in it. Take trips, see events, visit museums, go to concerts. A wide array of visual and auditory stimulation should be available for the child to experience at this stage.

Provide activities and materials for freedom of expression: color crayon, colored pencils, chalk, tempura paint, watercolor, large paper, large paint brushes, clay, construction paper, scissors, clay, yarn and weaving fibers. Often children will begin noodling or drawing very small. Not to discourage noodling, but also encourage drawing on a larger scale. Encourage drawing and painting experiences in pictures and murals. Also allow for modeling with clay and weaving with fiber arts.

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Printmaking, student age 10.
Printmaking, student age 10. | Source
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A student's self portrait.
A student's self portrait. | Source
A student's self portrait.
A student's self portrait. | Source
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Drawing Realism Stage, 9 to 11 years

At this stage the child has developed more of a relationship with nature and space. The child’s drawing will begin to reflect principles of evaluation rather than just visual observation. This is the stage where a child will abandon creative expression if he feels it isn’t perfect enough. He is seeing more and will become shaken by the fact that his work does not reflect the “realistic” environment he sees.

One of my favorite books to pull out at this stage is Ish by Peter Reynolds. In the story, boy is unhappy with his drawing because they are not exactly like the thing he wishes to draw. However he finds his sister had stolen all his thrown away papers only to proudly display in her room. He asks why she has put all his trash on her walls; even his bouquet doesn’t look like a bouquet. She says it is bouquet-ish. And he decides not to try to draw perfect but instead to draw-ish. This is the heart of the matter. Once the child is okay with making it more impressionistic than realistic, a great hurtle will have been achieved.

The child will begin to distinguish human figure by sex and express male and female more exactly. The child will gain meaning through color and detail and less feeling for action. The sky should begin to approach the baseline and the child is more aware of the background plane. He will emphasize clothes and more detailed decoration, seeing rhythm and repetition in patterns. He sees that different materials allow for different designs and different designs can be made through using different materials.

Stress the newly discovered social independence. Provide opportunities to express new feelings for the different materials and design methods. Less crayon is used now because the child is moving away from line and toward more completely filling the paper with color. Allow expression through more markers, tempura paint, flat color, chalk, clay, paper mache, watercolor, wood, metal, etc. Provide group projects, murals, sculpture, exhibitions, drama/puppetry, design concepts, printing.

At this stage create an atmosphere where the child feels safe to express himself. Any siblings or peers that make fun of or deride a child’s creativity at this stage can be detrimental. I met an awesome young man in a middle school who wanted to be an artist. His peers were merciless and persecuted him habitually. The teachers knew and tried to prevent his constant persecution but the boys didn’t stop. Before the end of the school year, that boy committed suicide. Our children’s safety should be a priority but this precious child fell through the cracks. It’s a tragedy that such a creative soul was lost to us.

Paper Mache whale with little fish hanging.
Paper Mache whale with little fish hanging. | Source
My daughter's self portrait, age 13.
My daughter's self portrait, age 13. | Source
Self portrait of hand, age 12.
Self portrait of hand, age 12. | Source
Student age 12.
Student age 12. | Source
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Pseudo-Realistic Stage of Reasoning, 11-13 years

By this stage, the child has developed enough intelligence to tackle most any problem, but is still a child in his reasoning. He approaches art in the realistic style for the most part unconsciously. At this stage he will tend toward visual as he sees it and nonvisual as an emotional expression. He will develop a love for action and dramatization at this stage. Imaginative activity is changing from unconscious to critically aware. He will be able to conjure up more in the area of sci-fi and fantasy, fiction vs. non-fiction.

Drawing the human form has developed joints at this stage and the child is more conscious of details and correct proportions. Exaggeration becomes less frequent unless he is imagining fantasy-type humanoids. He is unconsciously aware of the third dimension and changing effects of light and shadow. The horizon line and distance is more apparent in his drawings. Colors are adjusted to visual impressions, distance and mood. The child will also be more aware of the aesthetic function of rhythm and balance in design and details.

Provide creative stimulation such as models and more advance materials to explore. Try activities with 3-dimensional design, mobiles, pottery, weaving and printmaking using a variety of techniques.

One technique to try using inexpensive materials for printmaking uses Styrofoam plates for the print block. Cut off the rim and using bamboo skewers as tools, press a design into the Styrofoam. Roll regular printmakers ink over the Styrofoam block and print it onto T-shirts or paper. The lines will appear white and the parts not pressed into the plate/block will have the ink color.

Materials for this age group are painting supplies, watercolor, tempura paint, modeling and sculpture clay, plaster of Paris, drawing and sketching supplies, watercolor paper, tissue paper, construction paper.

Construction paper collage, student age 13.
Construction paper collage, student age 13. | Source
Colored pencil rose, student age 13.
Colored pencil rose, student age 13. | Source
Printmaking, student age 11.
Printmaking, student age 11. | Source

Finally

These are just guidelines for the development and encouragement of skills developed by children at different stages. Regular visits to museums and theaters, concerts and galleries help immensely in the further development and enrichment of children. I loved taking my children to the library and the few museums our town had to offer, and I loved seeing the displays as much or maybe more than they did. Since then, one of my daughters has gotten a degree in art and designs for a gaming company, my son has written 4 sci-fi/fantasy novels and is working on another. The two older daughters have gone into professions, one is an attorney and the other a nurse, but they are both creative with their families, sewing clothes and playing music at their church. I’m glad I exposed them all to as much creative expression as I could and hope they will do the same with their families.

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Creative Comments welcome

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Gypsy Rose Lee,

      That is so awesome. I never thought of it before (having been raised with 2 sisters and a brother) but that makes perfect sense that an only child would have to make their own games and fun. I'm happy for you because so many people never get the correlation that imagination is the key to expanding our lives and our technology. Thanks for commenting and visiting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      3 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      At times I was not happy being an only child but then again it was the reason I got such a great imagination. I created different things for myself to do. I loved drawing, painting, coloring and playing with paper dolls. I became a book worm and that also fired up my imagination. Now many things keep me inspired as I created poetry and come up with different writing ideas. I wish that my mom had saved some of my artwork.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      FlourishAnyway,

      I hope you kept them... or at least some of them. My daughters drew so much that I would be swimming in art projects if I had kept them all but I did keep some. And they are sweet memories to me. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed the analysis of the progression. I have such sweet memories of my daughter's early art projects.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      florypaula,

      Thank you so much. I know that some parents are encouraging and some aren't. I feel like regardless the teaching community aught to have creative experiences available for children. My parents weren't too encouraging (dad thought art was not a viable profession) but they still allowed a number of experiences to be available to me, including ceramics, painting, and ballet. Still whenever I got serious about any creative expression as something I wanted to dedicate my life too, they became scared. Oh well. They tried to take me out of the ballet and painting but my heart remained there so that today I am still painting ballerinas! Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • florypaula profile image

      Paula 

      3 years ago

      I drew my own portrait when I was around 11 and to this day I am amazed it turned out that good. I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me no matter what form of creativity I was expressing that year. You are right, art is very important and children should be encouraged to follow their creativity.

      Great hub Denise. Have a nice day.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      BlossomSB,

      You may be right for some of us. The truth is many of us don't grow up and don't want to. My mother used to tell me to stop playing with my food and to this day, I like to make art with my food... bread, mashed potatoes, etc. I've never grown up, but I love it.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Shyron E Shenko,

      Thank you very much. I'm glad you were able to be exposed to creative writing.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      You mean that the 'Disordered Stage' ends at age 4?? I have a feeling that some of us never progress any further! Interesting article.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      3 years ago from Texas

      Denise, this is so interesting, I see so many things that parallel what my mom taught. She was an artist and poet and her poems I love. I love your son's self portrait.

      Thumb -up UABI and shared.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      MsDora,

      I hope your grandchildren are able to enjoy crafts and art.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Rachel L Alba,

      I'm glad you liked my hub. Encouraging the creativity in your children and grandchildren is the next step. Too often kids will give up art because it isn't "cool" or popular. Just make as much art materials available as you can and let them take it or leave it.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Rankin,

      Thank you very much. I used these guidelines when talking to parents about their child's creative development and whether they were "advanced" or not. It's hard to pin down "advancement" in chldren because they are basically raw, but some just love what they are doing more than others and want to ply their attentions to that craft. I think also, I was presented once with a child whom the teacher pointed out as a "trouble maker". I was the guest art teacher. She was saying that he doesn't follow directions well, and he colors outside the lines, and he is always out of his seat, and basically, she thought he was incorrigible. However, I had to point out that he was the one person in the class that allowed his imagination and creative expression to flow. She had been trying to direct the academic side of his brain when he was engaged in the creative side of the brain. I think kids who don't behave like the "norm" are more creative than academic, but that's just my thinking,

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this very informative article on child development. Interested because I started having grands a few years ago. Will forward this to their parents.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Denise. I'm not a teacher but I found this all very interesting. Those were some really good drawing for children so young. Two of my granddaughters love to draw and do it very well. Both my daughters love to draw, so I guess their children got it from them. Thanks for sharing. I voted up and awesome.

      Blessings to you.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful analysis of child development through art.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      billybuc,

      Absolutely right, the second childhood stage. I should list that, when coloring all morning followed by peanut butter sandwich for lunch and a nap happens. Thanks for reminding me.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      As a former teacher I of course found this interesting. Unfortunately, I think I somehow skipped some of those creative stages. LOL Then I woke up in my fifties and the creativity was back. :)

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