In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children’s Drawings

  • Introduction
  • Overview Texts
  • Journals
  • Development of Realistic Drawings
  • Developing Expressive Drawings
  • Emotional Features in Children’s Drawings
  • Drawing and Communication
  • Educational Influences on Drawing Development
  • Cultural Influences on Drawing Development
  • Clinical and Therapeutic Uses of Children’s Drawings
  • Forensic Uses of Drawings
  • The Drawings of Children with Autism and Children with Down Syndrome
  • The Drawings of Partially Sighted and Blind Children
  • Benefits of Children’s Drawing

Childhood Studies Children’s Drawings
Esther Burkitt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0058


Children’s drawings have received a wealth of attention since the early 20th century from many different perspectives. Scholars have examined a broad range of external and internal influences on the drawing process and analyzed children’s drawings for signs of internal representations, emotional influences, and trends in drawing development. People have questioned whether we can reliably see the often enchanting and disturbing forms and colors in children’s drawings as signs of their thoughts and feelings. Researchers have investigated the precise cognitive, perceptual, and motor skills that develop to afford children the ability to produce realistic and expressive drawings. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries educational, cultural, and developmental differences have been studied to ascertain influences on atypical drawing development. Researchers have also gathered often mixed evidence and made different recommendations about the value, benefit, and use of children’s drawings in applied settings.

Overview Texts

The majority of books on this subject are edited works containing in-depth specialist chapters (Freeman and Cox 1985, Lange-Küttner and Thomas 1995), or they tend to focus on representing themes of development and analysis across the field, synthesized by one author (Cox 2005, Willats 2004, Jolley 2010). As reviewed in overview texts (Matthews 2003), early sources described the progression of drawing development in Western populations in stages, from scribbling to realistic representations. This analysis of the developmental progression of children’s drawings sparked interest from developmental psychologists in how children draw and how the drawn product and the drawing process could inform the viewer about how children represent themselves and their world. Examination of typical drawn features, from stick figures to outline figures to realistic representations, has been detailed across the lifespan (Lange-Küttner and Vinter 2008). Interest also grew in the ways in which drawing production and the drawings themselves may be regarded as representing communicative or expressive behavior, or both (Malchiodi 1998). Authors present a debate about, and often mixed evidence for, the reliability and validity of using children’s drawings as indicators of intellectual and emotional functioning and traumatic experiences, especially in applied clinical and forensic settings. It has been increasingly shown that there are constraints on interpreting children’s drawings in their own right as signs of distress. As some books have critically reviewed (Jolley 2010), interest has grown in cultural and educational influences on children’s drawings and investigations of the development of drawing in children with a range of learning profiles.

  • Cox, Maureen. The Pictorial World of the Child. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    A succinct and comprehensive overview of factors found to influence the development of children’s drawing, appreciation of the nature of drawings, and aesthetic sense.

  • Freeman, N. H., and M. V. Cox, eds. Visual Order: The Nature and Development of Pictorial Representation. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    A seminal, wide-reaching, and in-depth edited text comprising contributions from twenty scholars from a range of disciplines who further debate how pictures can be understood, what constitutes a successful drawing from a child and adult perspective, what cognitive aspects are necessary for drawing production, and the types of features children from different developmental populations draw under diverse experimental and naturalistic contexts.

  • Jolley, Richard P. Children and Pictures: Drawing and Understanding. Chichester, UK, and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    This book provides an excellent, concise overview of the research and leading theories in the examination of children’s expressive, realistic, and cognitive representational drawing development, including a synthesis of children’s emerging understanding of drawing production as well as the under-researched area of children’s views of their own drawings.

  • Lange-Küttner, Christiane, and Glyn V. Thomas, eds. Drawing and Looking: Theoretical Approaches to Pictorial Representation in Children. New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995.

    An influential collection of in-depth papers authored by influential researchers, presenting a wide range of complementary and contrasting theoretical approaches to children’s drawing production and perception. Post-stage-like theories are explained; an influential information processing approach and an ecological view are evaluated; and a careful explanation of a perspective on how children begin to understand the relationship between themselves, their drawings, and the viewers of their drawings is reviewed. This concisely expressed text affords an excellent resource for educational and research purposes.

  • Lange-Küttner, Christiane, and Annie Vinter, eds. Drawing and the Non-verbal Mind: A Life-Span Perspective. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511489730

    This text collates incisive essays from leading international scholars exploring the nature of developmental change in drawing behavior in light of cognitive and biological changes across the life span. A unique resource on children’s drawings for life span researchers.

  • Malchiodi, Cathy A. Understanding Children’s Drawings. New York: Guilford, 1998.

    A clearly expressed text that carefully explains research findings and applied case studies of interpretations of children’s drawings, with an emphasis on how such findings may be used in working with individual children without relying on inappropriate, simplistic interpretations. A valuable, detailed aid for researchers and practitioners.

  • Matthews, John. Drawing and Painting: Children and Visual Representation. 0–8 series. London: Paul Chapman, 2003.

    This accessible text explores early drawing development and questions earlier theories that looked at supposed deficits in children’s drawings, as measured against adult drawings. Matthews convincingly proposes that early mark making is meaningful to children’s developing understanding of the demands of representational and communicative elements of drawing.

  • Willats, John. Making Sense of Children’s Drawings. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2004.

    This highly critical and balanced text offers innovative interrogation of earlier explanations of the often unusual phenomena evident in children’s drawings in light of advances in understanding from the fields of perceptual and language development and artificial intelligence.

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