top of page

Parent guide: drawing and painting for under 5s

Toddler drawing

Between ages 2 and 5 is a golden age of drawing and painting. In those years most children love to make marks and draw with no limitations, leaving parents with a huge collection of artwork.

This makes a wonderful period of time to observe children’s creativity and their view of the world.

But why is that? What does it have to do with your little one's development? We'll explore all of that and more in our parent guide to drawing and painting for under 5s!

Let's dive straight in!

Some things you should know about drawing and painting

Emotional development

While adults focus on what artwork children are producing, drawing and painting is actually more about expression and the release of emotions – supporting your little one’s emotional development.


As children’s drawings develop, they increasingly represent the world as they perceive it – e.g. they can draw adults as having long legs.

What children choose to paint often reflects what’s important or interesting to them – that’s why they will often draw their family members.

Early writing

Many children who enjoy drawing and painting approach early writing positively. Early writing is inseparable from early drawing as both skills require children to enjoy making marks.

They will then go on to understand that marks can be used as symbols to represent ideas.

Maintaining confidence

Little ones enjoy making art without being too self-critical but this often changes as they become older. Focus on building your child’s confidence and enjoyment so when they do become self-critical they don’t give it up fully.

A human skill

As humans, we are primed to make marks and drawings. The earliest cave art is over 60,000 years old and some of the early marks found are handprints!

Then it’s not too surprising that from early on babies are interested in the marks they make with their hands and that toddlers love to scribble on walls.

Preschoolers drawing

Stages in drawing


1. Exploring Materials

In this first phase, as your little one begins to make artwork, you will find that they enjoy exploring and seeing what different paints and marks can do. They tend to fill up paper with these if they’re enjoying it.


2. Repeated gestures in mark-making

In the next phase, children use repeated gestures as a form of expression. You may see your child making circular forms and straight lines.


3. Representing the world

At about the age of three, your little one will begin to draw with a clear intention to represent people or objects. They might let you know what they’ll be drawing ahead of time, but these might not always be recognisable.


4. Representing the familiar

From around 4 years old, your child will create more representational artworks – especially of people. They may talk themselves through the drawing aloud, guiding themselves through the process.


5. Skill and awareness

From the age of 5, your little one’s drawing skills will increase. They may begin to choose colours carefully and attempt to add more detail whilst trying to represent people or objects.


Between ages 5 and 7 your child will also become more aware of the gaps between their intentions and what they have produced which can lead them to becoming frustrated or asking for help.


Organising materials


Your little one is more likely to enjoy making drawings if they’re comfortable – be sure to choose things that are easy to use – if they is struggling to make marks with a certain type of pen or brush think about using something different.


Also, consider if they’re physically comfortable. As children often enjoy making large-scale art think about putting up paper on the wall so that they don’t have to crouch on the floor for long periods of time.

Hand painting

Getting involved and supporting your little one’s development

  • Ditch colouring in

Giving children too many printed images to colour in can reduce their confidence in making their own art (as well as stifling their creative expression!) – so allow your little one to make drawings for themselves.

  • Join in

One of the best ways to encourage your little one is to role model painting and drawing or to join in with them!

  • Relax

It’s important for children to choose when and if they draw or paint and that they keep experimenting with this in different ways.

For little ones to make progress and remain interested in making art, it needs to be pressure-free.

It’s best to not ask children to make art for you or to seem disappointed if they ends a session without having produced anything.

  • Don’t question

It’s helpful to show an interest in what your child is drawing but avoid asking too many questions – especially if your little one is starting out.

It’s usually best to ask if they’ve enjoyed it and wait and see what comments they make.

  • Realistic expectations

Set realistic expectations, especially in the early stages, for what your little one will produce – e.g. it’s normal for them to not put eyes or mouths in drawings of people.

Asking your child e.g. ‘What about mummy’s hair?’ can make them feel like they’re not good enough and make them disinterested in making more art.


 Activities to support painting and drawing

  • Use household items for painting

Put a large sheet of paper on the table or floor and pour some paint colours onto a tray. Then use rags, sponges, material scraps and other items you have lying around to create marks together!

  • Pen walk

Use this to spark your child’s interest in drawing! Place a large sheet of paper or cardboard on a table, gather a variety of pens, pencils and crayons and take each of them for a ‘walk’ along the paper – drawing a wiggly line.

  • Mess free painting

If you want to set up a mess-free art session, bath time is the ideal time. Put water in a bowl and add drops of food colouring.

Give your little one a brush or sponge and let them make marks inside the bath or shower curtain.

Afterwards, you can simply rinse it off with water!


Additional resources


bottom of page