face collage for scribblers

When I was an art teacher, the youngest age group I worked with was Kindergarten so I rarely had the chance to witness a child’s transition from scribbling to representational drawing. My three year old daughter is at the precipice of representational drawing and it’s an exciting place to be, but she can get frustrated that she can’t create what she imagines (which is often!) and frequently asks me to draw things for her. This can be tricky because it goes against my belief that children should find their own way with visual representation and I’m often reluctant to draw things for her.

This project was born from a need to manifest her vision while also matching her abilities, and would be appropriate for children on the verge of creating representational drawings as well as those who draw realistically. Links to information about stages of artistic development at the end of this post.

face collage for scribblers

I cut circles, rectangles, half circles, and some organic shapes from colorful recycled pantry boxes and spread them out on the table for my daughter to choose from. N chose a light blue oval for the face shape (also pre-cut), glued it to a 9 x 12 sheet of paper, and selected pieces to represent the parts of the face.

face collage for scribblers

Facilitating and Asking Questions

I acted as a facilitator and if she seemed stumped I would ask questions such as, “What part of the face is next to the eyes?” “Ears? Okay, can you find a shape that could be an ear?”

I tried not to guide her decision-making and made room for her to adhere the pieces in the way she envisioned it, even if I didn’t think it was “accurate.”

face collage for scribblers

She added the eyes (on top), nose, ears, orange cheeks, a mouth, and an aluminum foil philtrum (the area between the mouth and nose!). Did you know it’s called a philtrum? I didn’t!! I thought she was adding a mustache on top, but she explained that it was just a ribbon! Always ask before making assumptions!

face collage for scribblers

She wanted to make curl the ribbon into a circle and I helped her glue it together. I enjoyed watching her vacillate between reality and imagination in one sitting.

face collage for scribblers

When she finished the first picture she moved on to the next one (after a costume change, of course!), and this time it was all about the imagination — no faces involved!


  • For more on the developmental stages of children’s drawings, Viktor Lowenfeld is the last word on this topic and you’ll learn a lot about it here.
  • For even more from Viktor Lowenfeld, you could read this seminal book from him: Creative and Mental Growth. I just bought a used copy for myself for just $7!

How did your children make the transition from scribbles to representational drawing?


  1. That is a very good question. I don’t know. (I also had to feel my way with introducing solids *all three times* because I simply forgot in between kids!) G is at the naming her scribbles/paintings stage, which I think is pretty cool. I think, like most things, the boys just got on with their drawings on their own, which works quite well too. Do you have pattern blocks? Pattern blocks are awesome, and the kids always liked to make pictures with them, much like N is doing with your shapes there, but they can be manipulated over and over because they don’t get glued down. (I often was asked to take a picture of a creation before it was broken down to make a new one.) They’re flat, so it’s a 2-D exercise.

    There’s also a developmental chart in Susan Striker’s Young at Art. And finally, I’ve always thought it cool that my middle kid just about always has had a horizon line, not just that straight line at the bottom. I always thought it was very observant for a young child & apparently I was right, according to that chart you linked to!

    • Amy, my memories are also hazy at best. I don’t have pattern blocks, but I was just given some tangram pieces. I wonder how well they would work? I don’t remember the chart from Young at Art — thanks for the reminder. And yes, the horizon line usually comes much later! I’ve also known young children who naturally add this in — it’s surprising to see this understanding of perspective at such a young age!

  2. Henry’s not to that transition yet, I am so excited to watch it happen as well. This is a great way to let them explore with their creativity (and also their own ability) and have an outcome closer to what they were hoping to achieve. Yay!

    • Thanks for the comment, Jamie! Look forward to reading about the transition on your blog 🙂

  3. This is a great idea… I’m going to try it with my 4-yr-old. She’s at that transition stage as well, so I think she would really love to try this activity.

    • I’d love to hear how it goes, Terri.

  4. Little M is almost there…hee hee… she makes very detailed drawings and then SCRIBBLES in black all over them. (sometimes its hard to let her follow the process on that one!) Maybe all of her drawings are secrets she wants to keep to herself?

    • Oh, isn’t that so frustrating, Jill?! It feels like I’m always 5 seconds too late on pulling the paper away from N before she buries her work in scribbles. Sigh.

  5. Oo lovely! and again we think alike! I did a similar collage portrait with the girls recently, using painted papers. Here’s the link http://www.theimaginationtree.com/2011/05/paint-layer-collage-and-portraits.html

    My 2 and a half year old C. is just about on the cusp of representational drawing, and did her first round circle, stick arms and legs, and very basic dots for a face recently. It was a “Snowman”, and it melted my heart! But I can barely pin her down to do any drawing or painting- she’s a really active girl who just wants to run and climb and jump (and make a mess of course!)

    • Hi Anna! Of course, I remember your post. You were much braver with the wild paint than me, though!! N is the same as your C — she’s so active and would much rather do gymnastics than be tethered to an art table 🙂

  6. That’s a very cool craft/learning idea. My youngest has a natural talent for work like this. I love watching him create little drawings of our family. It’s one of my happiest mommy moments. : )

    • Heather, I’m so eager to see how my children represent our family. I’ll probably save every last drawing once they start popping out!

  7. What a wonderful post!!
    Deja vu….my son once asked me the very same question “what are the lines between the nose and the mouth called?” and the presumptuous adult in me offered mustache and when he showed them to me, I went searching for the word…so he ended up teaching me once again. He was a few months shy of four then!!

    • Thank you, Payal! Aren’t kids wonderful like that? They’re keeping us young, that’s for sure!

  8. This reminded me of when I was babysitting a little girl and we traced the kids on butcher paper and then they drew in the faces, etc. Well, the little girl drew on some big ears with squiggly’s inside them. I was stumped and I asked her what the squiggly’s were. She looked at me with a duh kind of look and said, “earwax!” in a “I can’t believe you can’t tell!” kind of voice. Kids are so observant.

    • Such a funny story 🙂 Kids are so observant, Josie!

  9. Hi Rachelle,
    Have you heard of Reggio Emilia? Very child-centered approach to learning, starting with scribbles! Great book called “Beautiful Stuff” by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini that is easy to digest and fun photos of small children at work with found materials– which solves the adult problem of trying to “make” the shapes for their little one.
    Great post, thank you!

  10. great post and idea! lowenfeld is a cornerstone in approaches to art therapy with children, as well. one way that my little N transitioned from scribbles to forms was definitely through representing faces, and just as lowenfeld says. they started out as heads with limbs first – which in art therapy we referred to as cephalopods (per judith rubin.) here’s a post i did a ways back on the arrival of these creatures around our home: https://www.paintcutpaste.com/welcome-cephalopods/

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