An Analysis of Second Grade Artwork
Jennifer Connelly
University of Missouri




An Analysis of Second Grade Artwork
Visual drawing and literacy is more than just something fun for students to do. The visual
arts can show, “that the limits of language are not the limits of cognition. We know more than we
can tell” (Eisner, 2009). For many students, specifically at the early elementary years, language is
something that is still being developed. Without the proper language, students are not able to
convey their thinking and knowledge to others or the teacher. With art, students can communicate
their thinking without the use of words. Through analyzing a student’s artwork, teachers can
understand the student’s thinking and learning and see their thought process. Art in the classroom
challenges, “students to take the information and facts they have learned and do something with
them to build deeper understanding” (Silverstein and Layne, 2010, p. 3). Children can increase
their learning by using art activities in the classroom in order to create more engagement, more
desire to learn, and more time to think through situations. Instead of having students just
regurgitate facts on a test, teachers can use art to assess students knowledge and have students
show what they have learned through deeper thinking by using art.
Children are not just born with the ability to create masterpieces; their artistic abilities
grow and change over time. According to Brittain and Lowenfeld (1970), most children start at the
Scribbling Stage and work their way up to Adolescent Art. The six stages that are discussed by
Brittain and Lowenfeld mark the phases that children must pass through to become truly artistic.
The first stage, “The Scribbling Stage” is characterized as children using their entire arm to draw,
in which they sometimes are not even looking at their paper when drawing. This stage, consisting
of two to four year olds, is filled with lines, swirls, and various shapes. The second stage, “The
Preschematic Stage” consists of objects that tend to “float around [the] page” (Brittain &
Lowenfeld, 1970, p. 275). This stage consists of four to seven year olds, with seven to nine year
olds being a part of the third stage. “The Schematic Stage” represents the third stage in which



body parts tend to be drawn in the correct places and the child uses a base line in their picture. The
child continues from age nine to 12 to “The Gang Age” where they use greater detail and tend to
use correct proportions. The fifth stage, “The Pseudo-Naturalistic Stage,” is made up of children
ages 12 to 14, whose attention to detail is almost spot on and are close to mastery. The final stage,
“Adolescent Art,” ranges from ages 14 to 17 with students make every stroke on their paper for a
specific reason and have mastered the concept of drawing. While these stages can be used to track
students artistic successes, Brittain and Lowenfeld’s ideas of stages are not the only ideas behind
how students progress in their artistic endeavors. Wilson and Wilson (1982), present seven
principles, which are: simplicity, perpendicular, territorial imperative, fill-the-format, conservation
and multiple-application, draw-everything, and plastic, to dictate artistic patterns. Compared to
Brittain and Lowenfeld’s proposal that students fit into one category as they move up, Wilson and
Wilson (1982) believe that, “Although these various principles are applied by many children much
of the time, they are not employed by all children all of the time” (p. 41). Every student
approaches art differently and may take a different route to creating their masterpiece, they do not
necessarily fit into one box.
When talking to a second grader about their artwork, I believe that I understand the stage
which my student is at in their artistic abilities, being the Schematic Stage, and what
characteristics their artwork has. I also concluded what steps the student would have to take in
order to reach the next stage and my role as the teacher to get him there.
When doing this study, I selected a second grade student, Michael (pseudonym), to draw a picture
for me. I chose Michael because I had seen his reading and writing skills before and wanted to see
how his approach to activities and learning in those areas compared to his approach to his artistic
side. I gave him the option to draw a picture of himself or something that he likes to do, in which



he took the liberty to draw an image of him and his mother on Halloween. For this study, I
provided Michael with paper and crayons, giving him the freedom to create the picture however he
wanted to. As I saw the pace of his drawing and the amount of thinking he was putting into it, I
decided to give him 20 minutes to draw his picture. During this activity, I asked Michael questions
about what he was drawing, the story behind his picture, and the drawing he likes to do on a
regular basis. Our conversation flowed throughout the time, with him even asking me questions
about my drawing habits.

Figure 1: Michael’s drawing in progress

Figure 2: Michael’s finished drawing

For his picture, Michael decided to draw himself trick-or-treating on Halloween with his
mother passing out candy. Michael illustrated himself as a “football player” with a “baseball candy
basket.” He colored his football uniform the color of his favorite team and wrote the number seven
on his jersey to represent how old he is. He drew himself saying ‘Trik or Treat’ to represent that he
is going trick or treating on Halloween in the image. He then drew his house with his mother



standing outside of it passing out candy. The brown house included a grey roof to match the grey
ground. The grey ground represents the street rather than grass, with the roof using the same type
of material. He gave his mom the costume of a nurse, using blue to represent the color of her
uniform. He also gave her a basket to pass out candy using different colors inside the basket to
represent different candy. Michael colored red, green, and blue candies to represent “Kit Kats,
Sour Patch Kids, and Air Heads.” He also had his mother saying ‘take only a few’ to show that the
children coming to his house could only take a couple pieces so that there would be “some for
When watching Michael draw, I noticed several things about his artistic habits, and we
discussed reasoning behind his artistic choices. It took Michael a couple of minutes to figure out
what he wanted to draw and how to start his drawing. Once he figured out he wanted to draw his
mom and him trick-or-treating, he took another couple of minutes to decide on which crayon color
he was going to use. This revealed to me that he is not spontaneous, but rather he likes to plan
things before he does work. This can be beneficial to know as a teacher because when giving the
class writing assignments or some assignment which incorporates thinking and designing, the
teacher would know that Michael needs extra time at the beginning to structure his work. The
teacher could also provide Michael with a graphic organizer or a tool to plan out his work before
he gets started so that he has the ability to try out a few different scenarios before he puts down his
final thoughts on paper. I also noticed that Michael did his best drawing and thinking when he was
talking out what he wanted to do with me. With this information as a teacher, I would try to find a
time that he, and other students, could talk aloud about their work. Although there are times when
group work is not applicable in the classroom, finding assignments that can use group work would
be beneficial to Michael.



After watching Michael draw and hearing his thinking, I believe Michael is in the
Schematic Stage. He falls into many of the categories of the Schematic Stage, one being that
“arms and legs show volume and are usually correctly placed” (Brittain & Lowenfeld, 1970, 476).
In the drawing, Michael placed arms and legs on the bodies in the correct place and drew them to
be proportional with the size of the body. The only object not in proportion to everything else in
the picture is the roof. Michael drew the roof larger than the rest of the images, but only because
the “house has to be bigger than my mom.” Michael drew the roof after his mom and noticed that
his mom was a little too big for the house, so he included an extra large roof. Not only does
Michael draw the body correctly, he also creates a baseline that all of the images lay on. According
to Brittain and Lownfeld (1970), in the Schematic Stage there is an, “establishment of a base line
on which objects are placed” (p. 476). The baseline, the grey street, was the first thing that
Michael drew, revealing that he has an understanding that objects do not just float in space.
Although he did not include a skyline in his drawing, from my conversation with him, I could tell
he understood the sky placement. Michael did not have enough time to draw the sky, as his
drawing process took the entire allotted time. Michael’s artistic ability not only showed that he
was in the Schematic Stage, but also that he was reaching more adult-like drawing behaviors.
Wilson and Wilson (1982) state that, “The typical adult approach to drawing is to depict objects
and humans from a single point of view. The child, on the other hand, has no such restriction” (p.
46). Michael drew the image from an onlookers view, rather than from multiple perspectives.
Although the image was of himself, he did not draw it from his perspective, but rather someone
looking onto the interaction between him and his mom.
After watching Michael draw, I believe that he has the ability to move into the Gang Age
stage. For Michael to move up in stages, I would have him try drawing figures as 3-D rather than 2



dimensional, meaning no more stick figures. I would encourage him to add more details to his
drawings. Instead of just coloring a blue outfit on his mom, I would encourage him to put more
details into the outfit so that the viewer will know it is a nurse’s costume and not just have to
assume. I would give Michael a limited time to plan his drawing before he has to get started so
that he practices making decisions quicker. This would be beneficial for many areas of his
schooling, because many tests and papers are timed as students get into higher grades, meaning
that he will not have all the time he would like to plan out his execution.
After watching Michael draw and hearing his thinking, I can grasp how a student’s
drawing process can carry over into their content areas. The attention to detail in their drawings or
the time it takes students to think about their drawings can tell a lot about how a student will
approach something like a math problem. If the student lacks detail in their artwork, they are likely
to miss key details when looking at a problem. The same goes for thinking time, in which students
may take more time to complete an assignment if they take a long time to start their drawing.
Using art can be a good way for teachers to assess students learning abilities and things that they
need help with. Since I only studied one child’s artwork I cannot undoubtedly conclude that
artwork is a successful way for teachers to learn about their students learning abilities, but from
my findings I can conclude that it is most likely the case. Increased research in this area will be
beneficial to students and to teachers because it allows a way for teachers to assess students that is
not a written test or worksheet, meaning that it can be fun for students. My understanding of these
findings will help me incorporate more art into my future classroom, allowing students to express
themselves visually and use their imagination so that I can find an understanding of who they
really are. Incorporating art into my classroom allows my classroom to be more than just a place
where students learn, but also a place where student’s creativity and passion grows.



Eisner, E. (2009). What education can learn from the art. Art Education, 62(2), 22-25.
Lowenfeld, V., & Brittain, W.L. (1970). Creative and mental growth. New York: Macmillan.
Silverstein, L. B., & Layne, S. (2010). Defining arts integration. The Kennedy Center ArtsEdge.
Retrieved Oct. 15, 2016
Wilson, M., & Wilson, B. (1982). Teaching children to draw. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice