The Visual/Creative Developmental Stages

by Daunna Yanoviak, introduction and edited by Karen Kiefer


We seek to promote a world where all people are able to actualize their inherent artistic abilities. In this quest, it is vital to understand how our artist within, our creative, visual, tactile selves develop from infancy to adulthood, a study referred to as the developmental stages.  Within this discipline we would like to emphasize the fluid nature of the human experience. We do not develop by walking from one room to the next, shutting the door in between. Rather, growth is flowing, where waters from the different stages intermix like eddies in a river. On the cusp of change, we often dance back and forth while finding our footing. One thing that is universal to all people is individuality. Although there are definite stages that we all go through on our journey to adulthood, how and when we experience these stages is only somewhat predictable. To hold fast to a static idea of what is normal, especially in art education, is a recipe for alienation and disappointment.


As important as it is to understand the developmental stages, so is it vital to celebrate each individual’s journey as absolutely right where they are. Too often parents are prone to get excited about early development. Our culture often perpetuates this need to be a winner, or overachiever. An early bloomer is often accredited with great talent, and the area of “talent” can often be over emphasized and overshadow development in other areas in a way that can ultimately hold a child back.  We all know the classic story of the child progeny who was not allowed to freely play because he or she had to practice. Developmental limitations like this can turn to real unhappiness later in life, when under developed skills can feel insurmountable. This impulse can be taken to the extreme of trying to speed up a child’s development unnaturally by demanding advanced lessons that skip over earlier, less understood, developmental stages. Mimicry is often the result and can be misinterpreted as genius ,denying the child’s real creativity simply because so many vital forms of creativity are overlooked as unimportant. Sadly, these kinds of misguided actions so often serve to negatively impact a child’s experience even with parent who are acting with the best of intentions. It is our goal to help parents and teachers to avoid these pit falls


Parents should strive to support interests, and always keep an eye on the goal of a broad reaching foundation for their child to experience the world with. Likewise, a child that is a late bloomer is often overlooked and considered untalented. Because our culture holds dear to the idea that art is a matter of talent, this child might never be exposed to the joys of artistic discovery that is within everyone’s capacity. As a society, we tend to look for labels. Rather than using the developmental stages as a way to define, they should be looked at sequentially simply to gain a greater appreciation of how we develop our visual vocabulary.  The practice of proclaiming one as more talented than another is exclusionary and only serves to divide us and define us as different from each other. In truth, every child is talented because every child holds within an inherent ability to develop a visual language just as we have come to understand the nature of verbal, literacy, and mathematical skills.


This Chapter will serve to shine light on how we grow and relate to our visual world. It will inspire you to celebrate every stage of development and give you guidance on how to encourage joy and self confidence throughout a child’s formative years. We have written this section in a very approachable style so that you may all learn the kinds of language and thinking that will ultimately help create joyous artists in everyone. It will also serve to help you understand your own experience as a child artist growing up.  Through this chapter you may discover times in your life where adults actively shut down your creativity. It is our hope that these realizations will help you understand why you might no longer do art. You may have strong memories of times when an art teacher said certain things that buried your love for art deep down inside.  For many, learning the truth is painful because our art is a most precious gift that we all hold close to our hearts. It is our goal to help raise future generations in a way that serves to open doors rather than shut them.



I am Two years old!


I’m going through a stage where I can test my space, my limits, myself, as I relate to the world! I am becoming independent, and I am discovering myself.


I can hold a pen and most times, I draw on the paper, but maybe sometimes I miss. I love to move the pen. I love all the colors, and I am discovering their names. I don’t use the colors that you think define the object I am drawing, I just enjoy the colors.


I just love the motion I can make, it reminds me of when you rocked me. I can make a rhythm of it.  You call it scribbling. It’s pure motion to me and I CAN DO IT! You don’t have to do anything but give me the paper and crayon or pen or pencil. Please let me have this opportunity to move.


At first, I had no real control of my motions. But now, I can repeat my motions, I can go back and forth, I can also go round in circles, I can even stop and start and make all kinds of things happen. Do you see my eyes? I am following my drawing. I know what I am doing. I’ve made eye contact! This is an important step in my development. I know what I am doing!


Please don’t expect me to make a recognizable object. I might name it, but I don’t have the visual memory yet to make a concept. I know how to scribble now and I need to do it and I love doing it so just let me do it! Thank you!

When I am through you might put it up on the wall to admire, but don’t be surprised if I don’t think its important or even interesting anymore. When I made it I was expressing my experience in the moment and now that it’s over its not relative to what’s going on.  I’m two, I could be one and a half, or three or four, and it’s still ok.



I’m four years old!



I can draw real pictures! They may not look like what you thing they should look like, but please don’t draw for me and tell what it should look like according to you. I am developing my own images of the visual world. I am now thinking in terms of mental pictures that I must come up with on my own, because I can, and this very important to my minds development. I can now make a drawing and I am in the process of making a memory.

This is as far back as you adults can remember. I can do this as early as 3 or as late as 5 or 6 years old.


I am also just really learning about special relationships. This will help me in the world to always know where I am in relationship to the rest of the world. I am thinking imaginatively.


When you draw something for me to copy, even if you think you are helping me learn to draw, you are really telling me that my newly discovered images are not good. I just don’t have the control to make my images look like yours and I will stop drawing, because you just taught me that I’m not as good as you are. That makes me sad and it does not give me any confidence. The best think for you to do is just give me paper and something to draw with and let me discover my own concepts of the real world. Because I am in the process of naming my own work, please don’t ruin it by asking me what it is that I am I’m drawing. I’ll tell you gladly, if you give me a chance.


You can show me letters to copy, even my name – because I will write soon. I’m even able to copy a square now but NOT DURING MY DRAWING TIME! I am learning special relationships. Please help me discover my own visual images and symbols by learning about the world thorough my senses.  Expand my awareness of things I experience when we are out in the garden or are playing with our toes, but not when I am working making my pictures.  When we are exploring the world together, let me touch let me smell, let me hear what you know, let me taste, let me see. Let’s talk story and I’ll amaze you later on with what I can draw! And when I do so, let me draw for as long or as short as I want.


Please don’t expect me to use colors the way you do. I may know the sun is yellow, but green may look better to me today. Thank you! I’m 3, 4, 5, or 6 years old.



I’m five years old!


I’m in the pre-schematic stage of cognitive developmental growth.  A schema is a way of perceiving and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli. This means that I am beginning to organize my thoughts about the world and how I fit in.  I could be as young as 4 years old or as old as 7 and still be in this stage.  MY BIG DISCOVERY , THAT I MADE ON MY VERY OWN, IS THAT THERE IS A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MY DRAWING, WHAT I AM THINKING, AND WHAT SEEMS REAL TO ME !


I relate to my immediate environment very emotionally; sometimes objects that are around me seem like me! You might call this body space.


I’m constantly trying new ways to draw a person like me. Sometimes, I just draw a head and legs. Sometimes I remember that under my head, I have a body and arms, sometimes my arms are coming out of my head. If you can talk story to help me be more aware of how we are put together, eventually I’ll put them together in the right sequence, but, they will still be drawn from my own point of view. I’m getting it all together. I’m almost ready to read, through my drawing I am beginning to establish some sort of conceptual organization.  My intellectual development at this age is infused with an intermixing of fantasy and  reality

I can put a lot of details in my drawings. They will be all over the page and arranged by their importance to me. I can also exaggerate and over-exaggerate parts that I am thinking about mostly. I still think and talk about myself mostly. It is hard for me to understand your point of view. Please motivate me to draw about experiences that I have had recently. I can use clay too. I can follow rules like four no more and I can make a ball and make it hollow. Then I can make something fun.  I could be 4, 5, 6, or 7 years old!


Ask me about what I am making and listen to the story I have to tell. Ask me who is there and what they are doing. And listen ! Don’t feel the need to fill a quiet time when I am thinking. Let my story unfold at it’s own pace. Please don’t ask me why something is one way or another, because I probably won’t have an answer and I might start second guessing my process this way.  You could ask if a character would like to have a friend and what kind of a friend it might be and what they might do together. I might not be interested, but it might be a fun idea to explore. Follow my lead! And when I am done I would be so proud if you put up my picture so I can see it and remember making it.


Author note- expand on biological response statement




I’m seven years old!


Guess what? I can draw a person now over and over again, because I know how a person looks to me.  I’m in the SCHEMATIC stage now! I still exaggerate important parts and I still forget unimportant parts as they relate to the drawing I am doing at this moment. I can still change my symbols. I know I am in this world and about the environment around me like never before. I use geometric lines a lot.


The best part is in my spatial relationships. I know that the ground is under me and my house and my dog and my tree. It’s called the base line and I put it in every drawing. The sky is on the top and I usually paint it blue and we live in the space in between. In my paintings, I can make that space any color I want. Mostly, I leave it white. I always paint the sun yellow now. All my colors relate to what I am drawing.


I am gaining confidence like never before because I know that my world looks this way. Sometimes I show both the plan view and the elevation view. Sometimes, I fold over the base line. Sometimes I can see through my subjects and things in my picture can happen at different times. As I become more aware of the things I draw, I can change them and make them better. I like to discover these things on my own though, please don’t ask my why something is missing or different from how you see it, that might make me like my work less. I love it when you notice the details of my work. I love that you know how my art is like a story and how you want to listen to me tell my story.  I also love it when you put my work up to see. It reminds me of how important my art is, and that you value what I make.  I will keep making art as long as you give me the materials and time to do so. Please, do so as much as possible because I love my art!




I no longer think of myself as the center of my environment. I view myself in relationship to others. I’m growing in all ways. I’m 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 years old.


I’m nine years old!!


I’m so excited! This is the age that my friends and I do so much together. We have so much fun, and sometimes we even do things we know we’re not supposed to do when we’re together. I know that my parents want me to stay home with them, but its fun to go over to my friend’s houses and share our experiences of the world, through games and creativity. But, we don’t let the members of the opposite sex play with us. We have too much to talk about. We are about to begin becoming adults, and what is important to us is starting to change. We are starting to think about who we are in relationship to our peers rather than our parents and teachers.


In my drawing and painting, I still draw what I know, but what I know is growing everyday. I am starting to see the world not from an emotional point of view, but with perspective, and I am beginning to value how others see too. I’m starting to see planes and depth in space, and that symbols of things do not really look like the things in real life. I have always loved making art before, but now, if my drawings don’t look like the things in the real world I am trying to create, I can feel unsuccessful about my work.. At this age, I really want you, the teacher, to show me how to make things better.  It’s time for me to learn how to see that objects in the world are made out of simple shapes that I already know.  Please guide in me in this new way of seeing as it is part of the new language of realism I am learning. If I don’t learn how to make things look real, I will start liking art less and less, the older I get because I will feel that I don’t have talent when really, there are skills I need to be taught. Most grownups who no longer make art will remember a time around now where they stopped enjoying it; when they stopped thinking they were good.


I figured some of this stuff out on my own and also that there are lessons just right for my age for the things I can’t figure out.  I am excited to learn methods to support my ideas and things that are important to me. For instance, now I know that the ground beneath me does not have to be drawn flat the way I always have before. It goes all the way to the horizon line which can be way above my head sometimes. In Hawaii, we can see the horizon line everyday. It’s where the sky meets the sea. And, all the lines of our world meet somewhere on the horizon like in a point called the vanishing point. And the horizon like is always at the eye level unless we are in outer space. It’s fascinating, and I can do the blending lessons if I want, because I noticed that the sky changes colors and I can blend now to make that happen in my pictures. I can also learn how to blend so that objects, both alive and inanimate look more real.


I am starting to understand about design too. I can understand how when you repeat something, you can make a pleasant rhythm and it looks good. I also know that the sun doesn’t have to be  put  in the top corner to shine down on us, and that creating an asymmetrical picture will look more natural than man made. I understand a lot more about color too and its fun to sometimes use real colors and sometimes to use the colors more like I feel what looks good.


I can work on the pottery wheel! I can throw a pot because I am now physically strong enough and my fine motor control and strength finally work together. Of course, the teacher needs to help me with the sequence of what to do when and how much pressure to apply and watch me carefully to make sure I have the right feel of each move. I realize that it will take me a while before I can throw a pot completely by myself, but if I learn how to center, open it up, walk the bottom, bring it up, shape it and trim it, it won’t be long before I can do it alone. I have a lot easier time making clay figures too, and I really like to learn many of the same things about realism that I am learning in drawing and painting when I work with clay. I am 8, 9, 10 ,11 ,or, 12  and this is my stage of  realism.



I am 12 years old!


I’m still learning how to draw what I see because there is just so much to know, and I enjoy repeating the skills to get better and better at them and to prove to myself that I really am an artist. ! I love to paint and draw and sculpt the real world as I see it and with practice and support I really can do it! Sometimes I don’t need any help at all because I am getting so good.


The attitudes and the skills that I develop now will influence my reactions and feelings toward art in my adult life. I am a lot more critical about my work. If I don’t like what I’m doing, I have to change it. Please be there to help me problem solve when I get into trouble.


I need to know even more about perspective, and other more complex elements about to make my work look real. Please teach me about shadows, about how to make even complex things look three dimensional. Help me to learn the correct human face and body proportions, I am ready to be a realist. I really need help in understanding how to see the world now if I haven’t yet. 


  I can now learn from the masters who have worked in art before me. It’s exciting to see the different ways artists were able to make things look real. How making things real isn’t just about copying. There’s a thing called style, and I am starting to look for my own.


It is getting even more important for me to do my own thing, and even more important still to have the opportunity to express the various emotions that I am experiencing. Sometimes I have to make my art ugly and awful to show how I feel. Please give me the opportunity to allow this to happen so that I still feel secure. Sometimes I will even want so badly to copy  my friends work . Please don’t make me feel badly about this. Fitting in is the most important thing to me now. And sometimes I just need to feel comfortable and not stretch in ways I can’t predict. Please be patient with me. I’m not grown up yet. Sometimes I feel like a child and want to be told what to do, sometimes I feel like an adult and can’t stand that!  I’m in the process of puberty and its making me a different person day to day. Sometimes I revert to being a child again. Sometimes I want to experiment on my own. Just bear with me, if you are jus there with me through this, I’ll be ok.


Sometimes when I am not happy with my work, I want to copy someone else’s concept or idea because I think they are better than me. I really need confidence to keep developing my own images. Sometimes, I’m so critical of everything I’m doing. I’m now really concerned about my finished product. I want it to be perfect, or almost perfect, and I am so happy when you help me achieve this. It’s easier when I’ve had the opportunity to progress through the previous developmental stages of art. It’s very hard on me if I haven’t had the opportunity to develop a schema for my  art in the past.


My friends are a little more important to me than my parents now. They know me better, I think. I listen to them. I really want to be attractive in the eyes of my peers. It is a time when I have to question everything. I can’t stand being laughed at or criticized. I am very sensitive. I want so badly to belong to my group, and the groups can be so unpredictable. I am bound to experience some pains of rejection.  I’m growing up, and lots of times I am not in control, so I overreact and scare myself. I can even rebel to test my limits. It is most important that I be able to express myself and my feelings as well as learn as much as I can about how the world works. So give me the tools and let me experiment to find my way through this. When I achieve a wonderful process and a great end product, and it expresses what I want, I am happy. I can be anywhere from 10 to 15 years old.



I am 16 years old!


I am starting to understand who I am and art is a conscious part of my ever deepening communication skills. I am a lot more aware of the adult world and I now recognize my own responsibility within it. I am also aware that soon I will be on my own and am wondering and working out what role I will play in the world. I have life long decisions to make soon and I want all the information I can get so that I can decide what path is right for me. I will be getting this information from a surprisingly broad range of sources like music and school and friends and media and family. I have a lot to assimilate, and art can play an important role in finding my self in all that stimulation.


I still love art, and have different relationships with the way different media can be used in self expression.  I am beginning to go beyond realism as its not serving to express my more complex ideas anymore and am beginning to understand what abstract really means. That it’s not just lines and shapes and colors, but different ways of communicating ideas.  I am starting to look for my original voice. I am getting closer to connecting to what I have to say through my art that is uniquely my own.


Expressing my ideas, values and developing a philosophy to support my life and reason TO BE is of utmost importance to me. I am developing my own confidence to not be afraid to be me. I am recovering from the trauma of puberty.  I know I am unique and have important things to say. My art work not only helps me to sort out my experience of the world so that I understand myself more clearly too. I cannot really accept your values, I may test them and I have to have the same opportunity to test my own values. Sometimes, my parents stifle me and my new found independence. They never had the chance to explore the way I can, so it scares them.  It’s even more important that I have my art as a place to go to be introspective in a positive way. Sometimes I can seem too self critical, too idealistic, too introspective. Please understand that it’s because I care deeply, even if I appear nonchalant or apathetic or I can’t tell you about it. I am really stretching who I am now.  I am reaching out into the world and into myself and am beginning to make a balance between the two. My art is helping feel how to be in the world. I can be anywhere from 13 years old to an adult.



How This Fits In


In being able to teach art successfully, it is important to understand the physical, mental, social, emotional, perceptual, and aesthetic growth stages in child development as it relates especially to the creative process. All these qualities are what make up the “whole child” and this whole child must be addressed for effective communication to happen. We recommend further researching this vast field as there are volumes to know, particularly the writings of Dr. Victor Lowenfeld, a defining architect for 20th century philosophies in art education that embraced the importance of each of the developmental stages. Meanwhile, we have recreated here the atmospheres of each stage so that our readers can have a natural and easy feeling for what’s going on rather than getting bogged down in the academics of it all.  Sharing the essence of what Dr. Lowenfeld taught and also what these 40+ years of teaching have brought to our understanding, especially as we have watched the average age of each growth mark get lower and lower as our children are exposed to more and more external stimuli and educational opportunities.


After working with the student for a while, we can assess approximately where that student is on this road of growths and are able to tailor our lesson plans to their individual needs. The students own choices primarily still define this path, its how we choose to communicate ideas with them that varies according to age and developmental stages. A six year old who wants to paint her family would never get lessons in human proportions. We strive to motivate and support and never hinder each student’ self expression - something that can happen when students are taught before they are ready. 


Children’s art expresses what they feel, what they see through there experiences, and what they know through their observations. It is interesting to note that many adult artists seek to re-experience the world as those insightful children who express in the moment and leave a lasting original image in a matter of seconds.


In the creative process, children experience art: by exploring, by solving problems, by resolving conflicts, by making their own discoveries, by transmitting feelings, by reliving the past, by planning the future, by learning the meaning of construction and destruction and by learning sequence and developing stories and becoming totally involved in focusing on the intent and the message of each mark. The creative process involves all their senses, and in the process, they learn about spatial relationships, they become more sensitive to their environment, they can rise above the world of conformity and can face themselves and their world with confidence.


Within these seemingly standardized growth stages, however, is a tremendous amount of variation, as much apart of  who we are as individuals as our hair color or smile. Although we all progress through the same phases of growth, we all do it differently and at different times and intensities. Some of us may grow physically faster that we grow mentally or emotionally, or vice versa. When working with developmentally disabled students these variations can be very exaggerated but certainly never insurmountable. Being able to sort out and understand the different parts is the beginning of creating a vital art experience for any student.