3 year old drawing milestones +
How to teach your 3 year old to draw peppa pig and more
Are you wondering what your 3 year old should be drawing? Worried that your 3 year olds drawing of a man is too simple? What are 3 year old drawing milestones anyway?
Drawing is a major cognitive and fine motor milestone for 3 year olds. What they pen to paper and how we facilitate drawing times are really important for overall development and also pre writing skills.
Crayons and markers for 3 year old art
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So my guess is you already have the basics at home – the thick crayons, some dot markers, some thick markers and butchers paper.
It’s important to offer 3 year olds a lot of variety in their drawing activities. So unique colored markers, interestingly shaped crayons, different textured papers or pastels.
Video: Activities for drawing with your 3 year old
This video shows some of the fun ideas for drawing with your 3 year old that are listed. Watch the video or scroll down.
Benefits of drawing for a 3 year old
Drawing for a 3 year old is actually a developmental milestone. Meaning this is a key marker of your child’s overall development.
Here are some of benefits of drawing for your 3 year old:
- Cognition: At 3 years old your toddler is beginning to understand that they have creative ability. Meaning they can think of something and then reproduce it on a page. This is a really critical thinking skill. It means that your 3 year old is able to dissect an image they have in their head and attempt to replicate each part of that image. Seriously amazing stuff!
- Pre- writing skills: The simple shapes and drawings that your 3 year old is drawing are foundational for learning how to write. Each letter is made up of various shapes. Learning how to draw the pre writing shapes is what will make your toddler be able to replicate each letter later on.
- Spatial skills and understanding of size. While your 2 year old is drawing circles and lines they are learning a whole bunch about positioning and size. They start out with 3 huge intersecting circles and call it a face and eyes. During the third year this will become 2 small circles which are parallel, inside a big circle. This development and understanding of size and place plays a big role in hand eye coordination and many other skills.
- Developing attention and concentration on a task. By 3 years old we are expecting that a toddler can concentrate on a drawing activity for anywhere between 10-15 minutes. This should also increase during the year.
- The small muscles of the hand are developing and learning how to hold and manipulate different markers and crayons. As well as the shoulder, elbow and wrist muscles
- Sensory skills of understanding how hard or soft to press down and how different markers and crayons feel in their hands
3 year old drawing milestones
Some of what we expect to see in a 3 year old’s drawing are:
- Spontaneous drawing. In other words- you give them a crayon and paper and they draw something without your help or guidance. By 3 we expect to see that a toddler is able to name what they have drawn even if the picture doesn’t resemble what they intended.
- Longer stretch of time: At 3 years old your toddler should be able to sit for between 10-15 minutes. That doesn’t mean everytime you offer a drawing activity, you can guarantee 15 minutes to drink your cold coffee. But when they are feeling really engaged it can last for that long. You also want to see that your 3 year old is able to fill spaces with color and that they are not getting tired easily from coloring and drawing.
- Pre writing shapes: A 3 year old should be able to draw a vertical and horizontal line as well as a circle. In the third year they learn to imitate your drawing of a plus sign.
3 year old drawing of a person
The drawing of a man is quite an exciting child development milestone. I mean we are all waiting for that cute picture of “my family”, right?
We may have to wait a little longer.
A 3 year old should be able to draw some representation of a person but that might just be a few interlocking circles. It’s normally towards the end of the 3rd year that we see a simple drawing of a man coming together spontaneously. That might be a picture with around 4 body parts and proportions being off.
I think it’s important to say that some toddlers do learn to draw more complex pictures earlier. And that at age 3 it is okay to start “teaching” your toddler some more complex pictures- like peppa pig.
However, we need to be very mindful of not trying to push our toddlers to “color within the lines” per say., IT doesn’t matter that we can’t recognise what the picture is. But it does matter that they are given lots of opportunities to practice.
A blurb about drawing a person and its link to intelligence:
So you may have heard that the detail of a child’s drawing of a person is an indication of their intelligence. Let me explain this a bit further:
There is an assessment called the Goodenough Harris Draw-a-Man-Test. That has been used since 1926 to understand and measure children’s intelligence based on their drawings. The simplified version of the test is counting the amount of features a child draws on a person (like eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows, pupil etc.)
It doesn’t measure artistic ability but rather understanding of the many components that make up a 3D image: a person. And therefore has been found to be a pretty effective tool.
However, generally the test is used for kids aged 5 and up.
What that means is- the fact that your toddlers drawing of a man is still 3 circles on a page does not mean anything about their intelligence. It means that they are developing according to the norm. That’s it!
Also by “teaching” your 3 year old to perfect a drawing of a person down to each detail, you aren’t boosting their intelligence.
If you want to boost your 3 year old’s intelligence through crayon and paper activities: Let them have time for spontaneous drawing!
Here are some examples of what a 3 year olds spontaneous drawing might look like:
3 year old pencil grip
In the second year we see toddlers starting to change from that full hand-up grip, to the fingers holding the crayon and pointing towards the paper. This is called a digital pronate grasp and looks something like this.
The key feature are:
- Wrist held high
- Fingers pointing towards the paper but still high on the marker
- The marker is still gripped by the palm of the hand
Towards the end of the 3rd year toddlers should start moving their fingers (independently) into a static tripod grasp.
The key features of this grip are:
- The forearm faces downwards (towards the paper)
- Straight wrist
- The crayon points out between the thumb and index finger
- The action of drawing uses movement of the fingers mainly
At this age I would not correct pencil grip unless the pencil is pointing out between the last 3 fingers of the hand.
We dive a but deeper into common concerns about 3 year old drawings and what to do about them further on.
Instead of focusing of the end product, try to:
- Encourage expression and creativity not a perfect end product or drawing
- Use words to encourage that the activity is fun not the performance aspect of it
- Drawing trumps coloring because it uses the brain differently
- Multisensory drawing
- Posture and sitting are more important than the way they hold the pencil
- Drawing is something kids should be doing on most days if not everyday
A blurb about spontaneous drawing vs. coloring in pages
Here’s the thing: coloring pages aren’t super powerful for brain development. And actually have been shown to diminish creativity. Ouch!
Spontaneous drawing however has been used as a method for training preschoolers in divergent thinking and imagination. In other words drawing teaches kids to be creative. (source).
However coloring pages do have some good uses. They are very useful when you just need your toddler to do something while you switch on the dishwasher, make a quick phone call or sit quietly at a restaurant.
Raising kids is not only about what’s absolutely 100 % best for them. We also have to put ourselves and daily functioning into the picture.
So what I say is, try not to do too many coloring pages. Maybe keep it to once a week or less. Or let them color something that they watch you draw. Even if it’s just a simple smiley face.
If you are looking for some quiet independent on-the-go printable you can grab an I-spy and color matching printable here.
Activity ideas for drawing with 3 year old
It is great to draw with your 3 year old and let them imitate your simple, age-appropriate drawings BUT spontaneous drawing is also super important.
What that means is- use the ideas, have fun with them! But also give your toddler time to draw by themselves. And you get bonus points for asking them what their picture is afterwards.
To recap, some of the important drawing milestones for 3 year olds are
- Learning to draw a plus sign
- Mastering vertical and horizontal lines and circles. And showing more control in drawing these. This means different sizes and more focus on the actual position of each of these simple shapes.
- As well as starting to form patterns and place different simple shapes together to form a picture.
Some fun drawing ideas you can do together (as seen in the video above) are:
- Circle patterns on vertical surface
- Tape a big piece of butchers paper to the wall and let your 3 year old alternate between drawing 2 different colored circles. This is great for teaching patterns and sequencing. Plus by practicing a simple shape , like circles on a vertical surface more muscles are used.
- As you saw in the video 3 year olds normally won’t have mastered diagonal lines. So their lion won’t look perfect. However this simple drawing is a great way to practice positioning and spatial relations.
- Peppa pig
- In truth Peppa Pig does have a lot of steps to it. You could easily settle for drawing just the face. However this is something a lot of kids are very motivated to draw. On the plus side, once they have learnt to draw Peppa, the rest of the family are pretty easy to do to.
- Frog catching flies
- As you saw in the video- my 3 year old drew the flies. If they are up for the challenge, the frog is also suitable to draw. This is a great drawing activity to help 3 year olds practice controlled line drawing. Getting the line to meet the fly is actually quite challenge for this age group.
- Tree, grass, flowers and kite
- The beginnings of a full picture. This again used simple pre writing shapes in order to practice sizing and positioning.
- Snake and caterpillars
- Drawing lines for snakes and the circles of a caterpillar help your 3 year old practice precion in drawing. Making the lines parallel and the circles touch challenges their sense of position and space.
- Smiley faces
- Don’t be alarmed if all the faces seem to look a bit grumpy. Drawing a line that curves on each side will take some practice.
- This is a fun way to practice those curving lines, precision in keeping the lines close and using multiple colors.
- At 3 years old your toddler wont be able to draw the perfect snail shell. Aim more for lots of overlapping circles with a snake like body.
- While it’s only at 4 years old that a picture of a man normally becomes recognisable, it’s fun to practice simple stick men even from now. As always, don’t worry if it doesn’t look like a man at the end. Focus on the experience, not the product.
Creating play invitations for spontaneous drawing
As I said above, spontaneous drawing is the creme dela creme of 3 year old drawing skills. So we want to create opportunities for our toddlers to be able to do this without us getting into a weird power struggle.
You know the kind that happen when you try to put on the teacher hat and your toddler isn’t feeling it.
Yip, those are less fun and overall kind of discourage your toddler from spontaneous creative expression.
An easy hack for this is a drawing strew or invitation to play. The good news is these can be REALLY SIMPLE. Like:
- Having a drawing easel out and available
- Keeping this awesome drawing board on hand for car rides
- Building a time of free drawing into your before meal routine
- Keeping an art set or art supplies with paper in a place that your toddler can freely access
- Doodle pages where the beginning of a picture is drawn but your 3 year old has to make the story through picture.
Common concerns when it comes to 3 year old drawings and what to do about them
Your 3 year old hates drawing activities:
The truth is that not all kids are artistically inclined. That is totally okay. Your 3 year old doesn’t need to be the next Van Gogh.
But, it’s a big but! Drawing is a developmental skill and it is the path that toddlers need to pave inorder to write. If your 3 year old hates drawing activities, mix it up! Get creative but keep offering drawing daily.
- If your toddler is a builder: pretend drawing the eiffel tower together with lots of lines
- Maybe your toddler loves to be active: Get them to draw lines as a hopscotch board.
- Offer a lot of variety in the types of markers, crayons and art supplies you offer. And try to engage your toddler by drawing first so that they are able to imitate you.
- Be cautious of your responses to their disinterest and what they draw. Validate that drawing is fun, not that they have achieved something like staying in the lines.
Your 3 year old only wants to draw with an adult or watch you draw or says their picture isn’t good
Imitation, watching an adult draw and then copying what you have drawn is a critical stage of learning to draw. Provided it is age appropriate drawing (meaning that it matches the drawing milestones for 3 year olds).
Sometimes if a kid feels that they need to “achieve” or get the picture just “right” they might shy away from fear of failure.
This can happen from people praising a 3 year olds drawings or from someone correcting them. It might be because of an interaction with an adult or a sibling.
The point is to focus on emphasising that drawing is fun/ relaxing/ funny/ creative from this point on.
Try engaging drawing activities with your 3 year old:. Like:
- You draw a fly and she scribbles on top to “catch” the fly
- Take turns drawing long roads on butchers paper and then driving the cars on the road
- Multisensory drawing activities: like drawing in shaving cream or a salt tray
3 year old drawing on walls
By 3 years old we can expect that your toddler understands that they are not supposed to draw on the walls. So we have to ask why they are still choosing to do it?
- They love drawing and don’t have another place to do it. If you think this is the reason try getting a drawing easel, or drawing table or even just sticking some butchers paper onto the wall. This way they have a “yes” space that they can come to
- They are testing a boundary. If you think this is the reason for your 3 year old drawing on your walls- go back to basics. The rule is “we only draw on paper”. Reiterate this and provide paper. I think it’s also good to support them in cleaning up the wall they have drawn on themselves.
Poor Pencil grip in 3 year old
Pencil grip is still developing at this age. I know you might be tricked into trying all those cutsy pinterest hacks for correcting your toddlers pencil grip. I really would encourage you not to. The muscles in the hand are still developing. Therefore forcing the hand into a pencil grip that doesn’t match the stage of development will do more harm than good.
Some things that may be worth getting an occupational therapist to have a look at are:
- If the crayon exists the hand through the last three fingers of the hand (middle, ring, baby)
- Muscles weakness or tiredness. Meaning your 3 year old seem sto struggle to grip the marker or their hands seem to tire easily
- Hypermobility: If you notice that your 3 year olds finger joints seem to be very mobile or bend too much.
Your 3 year old seems to get tired quickly when drawing
The actual act of drawing requires a lot of coordination and postural control from 3 year olds. A 3 year old wanting to put their head on the table after less than 10 minutes of drawing is a concern. Obviously this needs to be consistent and not only that one time that you did drawing right before bedtime.
I can’t emphasise enough how foundational and critical posture is in young kids. If your toddler does seem to get tired quickly:
- Check the chair that they are using. I recommend this amazing chair for toddlers because it has great support. But whatever chair you use- make sure it has foot rests and that your toddler is sitting upright.
- If it’s not the chair and feeling tired is something your 3 year old seems to say often: I highly suggest seeing an Occupational therapist. They will be able to assess your toddlers physical endurance and postural stability.
No concentration or 3 year old can’t stay seated for drawing
If it seems that your toddler can’t sit still at a table for more than 2 minutes, try:
- Outside, sidewalk type drawing
- Drawing on a vertical surface – like a easel or butchers paper taped to the wall
- Standing while drawing at a toddler table
Not drawing a person
If your 3 year old doesn’t seem to be able to draw a recognizable person I would not be too concerned. It’s normally only towards the end of the 3rd year that toddlers start doing this. And even then, it is normally a simple picture consisting of around 4 body parts.
- Drawing is a developmental milestone for 3 year olds
- Spontaneous drawing teaches 3 year olds creativity and is the best drawing activity you can offer your 3 year old.
- Invitations for drawing and having art supplies available for your 3 year old is important. You can grab those awesome doodle pages here.
- You can help you 3 year old perfect pre writing shapes, learn patterns, sizing and proportions by drawing simple things and letting them imitate your drawings. Like the drawing activities in the video above.