Reluctant to draw?
June 15, 2015 10:56 AM   Subscribe

According to this chart, my four year old daughter's drawing skills are still at age two, though she possibly has drawn her first head-and-legs figures (if so, I didn't recognise them). I think she may be reluctant to draw. A relative says I should be worrying about this. Should I?

The daycare provider says that the kids are good at different things and that my daughter is very good at role play and dressing and undressing dolls. She says not to worry.

I think I am seeking additional reassurance.

I have the impression that she is reluctant to try things that she knows she is not "good" at. If we are drawing and I say, "let's draw snowmen!" She pulls a face, twists her body round and says, "I can't do that. You do it."
And that is what I really worry about. That some perfectionism is tripping up her experimentation. Do I need to be worried?
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
According to that link, I'm ten years old. According to my driver's license, I'm thirty-one.

The daycare provider might be on to something; the relative is not. Don't worry. Offer more opportunities. This How to Draw site might give you some inspiration.
posted by RainyJay at 11:05 AM on June 15, 2015 [13 favorites]

I don't have any insight into the not trying things she isn't good at, but at age 4 I had a developmental test where I failed a drawing portion hard (which they told my parents would show that I lacked "reading readiness"), then wrote a perfectly legible caption under it and proceeded to read several years above grade level.

I still can't draw (nor do I enjoy it), but nothing debilitating, and I turned out pretty well.
posted by brainmouse at 11:06 AM on June 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

Please do not stress out about this. She might just not be into it, and your insistence on drawing will make it even weirder for her (and she might be sensing the importance you're placing on her work...making her even more reluctant.).
Does she like to color in coloring books? Does she like to play with paper dolls? Does she like building things with blocks/lego? Find another 'crafty' thing she enjoys and do THAT instead!
(and don't WORRY!, it's PLAY!)
posted by mdrew at 11:07 AM on June 15, 2015 [13 favorites]

I think that chart of yours is less about drawing and more about the creation of representational things. Maybe she's just not much of a drawer. Give her some play doh or some crayola model magic and let her go at it. (Best part of the model magic is that it dries and she can make toys to play with later!)
posted by phunniemee at 11:10 AM on June 15, 2015

Hmmmn... my kid is ten and still can't draw. He can make build insanely-complicated models, and play with Legos for hours, and rig up ridiculous systems out of paracord and toys... but his drawing skills are still at a sub-first-grade level. It doesn't worry me at all. Unless your kiddo has other gross/fine motor issues, it's just how she's wired.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:16 AM on June 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a pediatric occupational therapist (IANYPOC). If she is showing any other signs of fine motor delays, I would suggest getting in for an OT evaluation. Things like poor hand strength, inability to copy simple block designs, poor eye-hand coordination, or scribbling with the crayon in her fist (immature grasp) are some warning signs to watch out for.

But if this is the only issue you're seeing, I wouldn't be too worried. How complicated are the doll clothes? Is she able to snap easy snaps on her pants or dolls' clothing?

I love phunniemee's suggestions for alternative representative play ideas. Those activities really can translate to improved drawing skills over time.
posted by deadcrow at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2015 [18 favorites]

Up till I was like 5 or 6 (so Kindergarten) range I would draw people as a head with arms and legs coming out of body....and I turned out fine....though while I do now give my stick figure people bodies I still suck at most drawing.
posted by Captain_Science at 11:27 AM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My first thought is has she had an eye exam recently? If she's having trouble seeing clearly, she might not like drawing.

I don't know that you need to worry about it, really, but you clearly are, so I will just share this. Our daughter is 5 1/2 and she definitely has some strong perfectionist tendencies. We have really really worked to counter those by encouraging her to make mistakes, reminding her that absolutely everything requires practising, etc. The idea that talent is binary is really endemic in our culture, so we talk about it with her *all the time*. A lot of things (including drawing) she didn't like to do until she could do it to her standard.

For your daughter, you might try sitting down with her and say, 'Let's draw a snowman together' and then take turns with her -- like you draw the bottom circle, ask her to draw the next one, etc. I think you might be able to tell pretty quickly if she's just not happy with her performance (in which case you get a chance to talk about practise and how everyone needs to practise and how /you/ couldn't draw good circles at her age or whatever), or if she is really missing a skill.
posted by brynplusplus at 11:31 AM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow, I was not drawing like that four-year-old example until first grade or so. I have a degree in art.

I think your instinct is right, though; you don't need to worry about her drawing, but you do want to teach her that it's okay to try difficult things and not get it right on the first try. As a kid, I mentally categorized tasks as ones I was "good" or "bad" at, and didn't place much value on working hard and getting better, and it's still biting me in the ass. I don't have advice on how to steer your child away from this line of thinking, but you do want to be gentle and encouraging; praise her when she shows effort, but don't force her into doing things she doesn't want to.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:40 AM on June 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: On the notion of her perfectionism, this may be related to how you (and her other caregivers) encourage her. If you regularly praise her outcomes, "That's a good drawing." "You are a good singer." rather than her effort or enthusiasm, "I love how you used so many colors!" "I love how you seem so happy when you sing!" -- you may be encouraging her to be afraid to do anything she isn't "good" at.

"Stop Saying You're So Smart: 3 Better Ways to Praise Kids."

"How to Praise and Encourage Kids Appropriately for Success"
posted by amaire at 11:44 AM on June 15, 2015 [21 favorites]

It might not be drawing in particular. My 4-year-old refuses to even try doing some things that I know he COULD do if he only tried. I think it's pretty common.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:51 AM on June 15, 2015

A data point for you: When my now-eight-year-old was about that age, she also hated drawing, and her drawing skills were pretty far below her peers', as judged by the wall of art hung up for any given project in preschool. We'd get epic fits if she had to draw something as a part of kindergarten or first grade homework instead of me drawing it, or just printing out a photo found somewhere on the internet.

And then somehow a year or two ago she got to watching and following along with chibi YouTube videos. Kid does an amazing chibi now, and that's carried over to her independent drawing, too. She's turned into a pretty great artist all around, and no longer hates the whole thing through and through. So don't count her out just yet! Maybe she'll benefit from outright instruction a little later on.
posted by Andrhia at 11:55 AM on June 15, 2015

Response by poster: Hm, I just remembered that she has a magnetic board with coloured geometrical tiles. She creates perfectly recognisable rockets and things with them. So I guess that counts as representational!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:35 PM on June 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Our now six-year old refused to draw, color, or write all the way through preschool (which was only a couple hours a day). When it was required, he'd dash off something and move on to other projects. Once in kindergarten all of those skills improved dramatically. I think maturity and a more formal structure to the day pushed him through his "slump." I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:44 PM on June 15, 2015

I could have written this question - I also have an amost-five-year old who is not great at drawing. Some kids in daycare told her her drawings were scribbles, so she became reluctant to try (damn kids). I recently put her in an art class, which I think helped her confidence. So I understand your concern. However, I think this chart is a more than a little silly - I see a lot of drawings from the four and five-year olds at her daycare and only the exceptional ones could do that one shown in the chart for age four. It's fairly evenly proportioned and detailed in a way I call crap on. No way they are doing fingers and toes and such good eyes, and separate shirts and bottoms. And by that chart, I seriously have the skill level of a 6-year-old. I am not worried about developmental levels for my daughter - only that she is eventually able to draw what she'd like to with confidence - if she chooses to.
posted by kitcat at 12:55 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

According to that chart, I'm 6 years old. I've insisted a number of times to draw with my daughter, even bought Ed Emberley's books (Make a World is amazing, she has drawn a dragon and tried a hundred times to burn me to the ground with her doodle) and several books by Sachiko Umoto. I thought I was about to ignite something, but rapidly, my daughter became discouraged. I was clearly attempting to make her do things that were beyond her reach. She likes to make necklaces and wristbands with plastic pearls, to paint in a non figurative way, though. I guess I was the one who really wanted to be able to draw stuff.
posted by nicolin at 2:00 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

A more thorough take on amaire's links is Mindset.
posted by O9scar at 3:12 PM on June 15, 2015

Just to add to the chorus, in my class of 4 and 5 year olds, two draw figures similar to the 3 year old sample. The rest are more like the 2 year old squiggles. Lots of letter-like symbols though.
posted by eisforcool at 3:35 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I draw like that ten year old.

I am relatively successful.

It's fine.
posted by corb at 4:53 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, come sit by me, fellow parent of a 4-year-old who sucks at drawing because they don't draw because they suck at drawing. (He's also just fine at building representative structures out of sand or blocks or Lego.)

Things that work:
-His teachers say that all pen-to-paper time is good. He makes a lot of "maps" and "spiderwebs". Encourage her to find a thing that always looks right to her. (Watch out for other kids; we had a problem with kids telling him that scribbles were for babies.)

-I've found that basically anything representative is tough, but the components of something representative are fine if we call it "practice." This is the opposite of what would work for me, but "let's practice making circles" and "let's practice making the letter J" gets him more engaged. The perfectionist thing is better when I start it off by making some terrible ones myself! Also, again the opposite of my instincts, but if she makes 3 circles, ask her which one is best, and explicitly point it out when the best one happens after a few tries. My kid comes up with grading systems on his own out of thin air, and gets genuine pride out of making the best circle out of the previous 10 circles, and seeing the physical representation of improvement coming with practice.

-Other media. We practice a thing by drawing in sand, or making it out of paint or dough. That sometimes helps.

-Making things out of precut shapes. She might balk at drawing a snowman because she doesn't know it's made out of three circles. Cut out three circles and show her.

-Coloring books are supposed to be bad, but any pen-to-paper time is a victory. Plus, it helped me narrow down the problem as not being hand-eye coordination or anything else; he can be really precise in his coloring.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:04 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I should add that none of this has made him a good or enthusiastic drawer, just that we have some tools that don't result in screaming and negativity. I'm hoping it means better outcomes long term.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:06 PM on June 15, 2015

Have you got any of the really good art activity books? Not the merchandise ones, but the ones put out by actual artists, or galleries, or sometimes Usborne publish a few. They have huge ranges of artistic styles for kids to try with all sorts of prompts and it's very low anxiety. My daughter was 4 when she first started getting upset that her drawing weren't what they looked like in her head, and 5 when she started getting upset that my drawing skills weren't good enough so it's kind of the opposite side of the spectrum, but those books take a lot of the pressure off because it is about practice and trying and doing things over and over again in different ways (so it's a snowman with cutouts, a swowman with lines, a snowman with fingerpaints and so on).

And get good tools - I've stopped buying a lot of kids paint/markers because they are only properly usable for a week then they're dried and horrible. Also because my kid just gravitates to my gear, which tends to be a bit nicer. I've got friends who are artists and that's one of the key differences with their practice in parenting (either as parents or being parented) - they got to use the real deal, which makes a big difference.

But my daughter sees me sketch and draw and scribble all the time, so she knows that there isn't some linear progression here, we all just go along as we go along.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:10 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I was a wee lass, lo these 25 years ago, my parents went in for the parent-teacher conference with Mrs J., a kindergarten teacher with 40 years of classroom experience.

"Well, Little Hypatia is very bright. She is at a fifth-grade reading level. However, her coloring could be better. You see, she sits next to Particular Boy, and they race each other to see who can finish first."

"Oh!" said my parents. "Should we be concerned about this?"

"No," said Mrs. J. "Coloring is not a life skill."

I think the smartest thing Little Me knew was the value of unimportant things.
posted by Hypatia at 5:33 PM on June 15, 2015 [15 favorites]

I think people care about this for several reasons, with the most practical being that it takes being able to control a pencil to write, a foundation for almost everything in school. This is different from using drawing diagnostically, as a way to understand a child's developmental progress with respect to eye hand coordination to discover muscle weaknesses, etc, or to determine if the child is capable of thinking about one thing representing another. It seems like yours is doing fine on the developmental front, but pre-writing skills would still be useful.

We were given similar advice to tchemgrrl for our four year old who also doesn't want to draw. Try lots of media including water with a brush on the sidewalk, sidewalk chalk, fingerpaints, dry erase markers, etc. Try coloring books or pages that can be printed from the internet. Try dot-to-dots. Take turns drawing or completing segments of a dot-to-dot.

Apparently, a short, broken crayon can help a kid approximate the correct grip for a pencil, because there is no room to grab it in the fist.

I was also told to back down on my own drawing. So instead of trying to draw the most awesome car ever, I'll draw a simplified cartoon car. Make it something a kid might be able to approximate.
posted by SandiBeech at 6:01 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have the impression that she is reluctant to try things that she knows she is not "good" at. If we are drawing and I say, "let's draw snowmen!" She pulls a face, twists her body round and says, "I can't do that. You do it."

If she has perfectionist tendencies, I'd suggest not giving her an idea of anything to draw at all. Just make marks on the page or paint on the canvas for art's sake. Think of it more as an experience you're having together, not a project with an end goal. How does the paint feel? What happens when the colors in the markers mix on the page? What happens if you both scribble on the same page and try to find imaginary things in the scribbles?

Pay attention to your own reactions of being messy, not having a goal, just experiencing whatever it is you're doing without worrying about whether it"looks good" or "represents something" or is "correct." I'm trained as an art therapist so I'm biased, but I've found that non-directive exercises like these can be equally difficult for adults. YMMV. Try not to have an end goal, and just see where it goes.

Maybe try a book to get started, and have her pick something to do that you both can do together.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:40 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Our daughter is almost 5, and is an enthusiastic artist but no Picasso by any means. I just don't believe the four-year-old drawing example in your link is representative of the average kid, or even of a relatively talented 4yo. It's got way more detail in just the right places than I'm used to seeing from my very limited data set.
posted by pines at 1:40 AM on June 16, 2015

I know this question was already marked best but just wanted to confirm that my son (who just turned 4), is also not at the 4 year old level of that chart. He recently started doing smiley faces, so I'll draw a character/dinosaur/animal and he'll add the eyes and smile. He'll scribble things and say what they are now too so he's doing the representational thing but they rarely look like the object. He's a perfectionist too, so wary of doing things if he thinks he won't succeed. I remember making my mom draw things for me for years and I ended up being pretty good in my own time. I leave out art supplies and don't pressure him to make art or keep working at it if he's done (his preschool teachers were telling him to use all the colours in his work which I thought was not conducive to creativity). If he brings something to me I'll be like "wow, I see a lot of blue and green, can you tell me what it is?" (so just describing it at face value) and then ask if he wants to put it up on the wall but I try not to be like "wow it's really good!". I want him to see drawing and painting as ways he can express himself so try not to be evaluative (although it's hard not to say "good job!").
posted by lafemma at 7:25 AM on June 16, 2015

Response by poster: Today, we got out the street chalk and I suggested we draw a face together. I drew a circle and asked if she could do the nose.
"I can't", she said. "I can only do lines."
"Perfect!" I cried. "I wanna see your lines!"
So she did a nose line. And a mouth line. And eye dots. And one of the ears. Then she criticised the eyeglasses I'd drawn and drew her own. Then she said, "look, if you dip the pink chalk on water, it goes red!"
And soon she was making a wonderful expressionistic blurry mushy finger painting on the pavement.

Yeah. I think she'll be fine.

Thank you everyone for the perspective!
posted by Omnomnom at 7:33 AM on June 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

I've been on Metafilter for over a decade, but according to that chart I'm 6 years old.
posted by Ndwright at 10:31 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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