3 Steps from Scribbling to Spelling

An age-by-age guide to how your child's art and writing abilities develop.




From your wee one's sweeping scribbles to your new elementary schooler's representational drawings, our age-by-age guide can help you understand how your child's art and writing skills may be developing. Take a look:

Age 1 to 2: The Random-Scribbling Stage
During this stage, kids:

  • Take great pleasure in feeling the movement of their arm and the crayon
  • Often don't even look at the page as they are creating
  • Eventually become interested in the page when they notice the cause and effect of their movements and the drawings that result
  • By age 2, may start to label or “name” their scribbles

Age 3 to 4: The Pre-symbolism Stage
During this stage, kids:

  • Explore and manipulate materials with a more purposeful action, as in “controlled scribbling”
  • Enjoy the result of repetitive actions — creating shapes, such as circles, spirals, and lines. (Help your child practice with this fun color-the-shapes printable!)
  • May expand their shape repertoire to include ovals, squares, rectangles, as well as wiggly and jagged lines. Work is less by chance and more by design
  • Attempt to represent the human form with simple figures that are mostly heads with legs and arms!
  • May also start experimenting with simple shapes that represent letters to them, and may also make a few familiar letters repeatedly and “read” them to you

Age 5 to 6: The Symbolism Stage
During this stage, kids:

  • Begin experimenting with simple representational drawings (self-portraits, family, house, pets, vehicles, and nature are favorites)
  • May start including more detail in their drawings (figures have clothes, expressions, and are placed in settings that have “ground” at the bottom of the page)
  • Have more control over the direction and size of the lines they draw and pay attention to where they place them on the page
  • Use art to communicate feelings and ideas
  • May use the letters of their name (or other letters they know) repeatedly to write a message
  • Some may experiment with spelling in their own (often semiphonetic) way; others are showing interest in “real” spelling and writing

Shop Books to Practice Writing

Stages & Milestones
Hand-Eye Coordination
Fine Motor Skills
Age 1
Age 6
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Age 2
Early Writing
Child Development and Behavior
Learning and Cognitive Development
Arts and Crafts