What are the basic graphic skills?

he term basic graphic skills refers to the child's ability to draw straight and curved lines of different lengths and curvatures,  in different directions and in different positions on the page to produce a desired outcome.
This involves:
  • having an idea of the desired outcome (a goal),
  • translating the idea into a motor plan,
  • translating the motor plan into a commands to the muscles to produce the movements required to achieve the goal. 
To write a Z that fits inside a small block, the child needs to "know" that a capital Z has three lines joined together. To fit the Z inside the block involves planning a horizontal line of the right length which starts in the right place, followed by a diagonal lines in the right direction and angle ending near the bottom corner of the block. This must be followed by another horizontal line of the right length. 
The sequence is: start near the top left hand corner of the block, produce a horizontal line that ends near the top right hand corner, followed by a diagonal line that ends near the bottom left and corner and lastly make another horizontal line that ends near the bottom right hand corner. 
Roan 5y 6m: Fairly good control of sequence of strokes needed to form a Z
 R 5y 9m Z_1_0.jpg
Will 4y 6m: Not able to reproduce a sequence of strokes to write a Z in a reliable manner

W 4y 6m Z_1.jpg

The basic graphic skills a young child should acquire before learning to print letters

The ability to draw relatively smooth and straight lines of different lengths and in different directions 

Ben (Gr R, second term) draws relatively straight and smooth horizontal lines. 

Aziz (Gr R, second term) draws lines are not smooth and have many sharp changes in direction. 
 K-GrR-horizontal-lines_1.jpg        Gr R first term person 4. sm.jpg
Roan's at 6y is able to draw relatively straight lines in all direction. Some directions are more challenging than others. Her ability to control the direction and length of lines is reflected in her drawings. 
  R-6y-sun-rays-1.jpg    Roan 5y 9m hoase that turned into a mandala_1.jpg

Ability to draw smooth curved lines and circles of different sizes

Roan (Gr R, first term) has good control over her drawing of curved shapes. The lines are smooth and confident. 

 R 18-02-14 Circles_1.jpg   R 5 y elephant - with prompts.jpg

This Gr R learner has difficulty drawing curved and straight line shapes with a smooth action.

K-GrR-copying shapes_1_1.jpg

Ability to draw/copy squares and rectangles

Children with good graphic skills can draw/copy rectangles and squares of a of a particular size and position on the page. 

Roan is able to copy a square and rectangles with attention to size and orientation. In this example her ability to copy a rectangle is better than her drawing of a square.  

     R-6y-copying-rectangle_1.jpg      R-6y-copying-rectangle-2_1.jpg

Here you see Will's (4y 6m) attempt to copy a square and a rectangle. He has good control over drawing vertical and horizontal lines, but is not able to pre-plan the length of the lines to match the example.  His various attempts at drawing provide the practice he needs to translate the visual information about line length into a motor plan to reproduce the lines.     



Ability to draw a rectangle with the eyes closed

Children with good graphic skills can draw rectangles with their eyes closed. To be able to do this the child needs to pre-plan the movements, and keep in mind the length of the first and second lines in order to complete the drawing accurately. Children who tend to rely on ongoing visual feedback to control their movements can often draw a rectangle with the eyes closed and will produce lines that are in fact straighter and more fluent when over-reliance on visual monitoring is prevented. 


Will (4y 6m) also managed to draw a rectangle after two failed attempts


Ability to combine the basic lines and shapes

Learners with good graphic skills will combine shapes and lines to  represent people, animals and objects. This involves careful planning of the size and position of the lines and shapes relative to one another. 

  Robot of rectangles.jpg    R 5y 2m ducks 2_0.jpg
   Gr Giraffe.jpg    Gr R cobining shapes animals_1.jpg

Ability to use straight and curved lines to write letters and numbers 

Roan has learned the write the letters of the alphabet using the correct sequence of strokes for most of the letters. Typically she has less control over the size of her letters, but does show fairly good control over letter spacing - which reflects her understanding of letter spaces and start position for each letter. 


Ability to draw small shapes using effective finger movements

Children with good graphic skills will incorporate small shapes into their drawings.

R 5y 9m big fish and little fishes.jpg     Roan 5y 10m small curved shapes_1.jpg

Children acquire the basic graphic skills through dedicated practice

Young children with good graphic skills have usually spent quite a lot of time drawing over a number of years. This experience provides the child with the necessary practice to acquire the sensorimotor control needed for the basic graphic skills. Importantly children with good drawing skills have learned to use a do-check-do approach to improving their motor skills. 

Learning to draw a circle - a case study in drawing development over several years

Children learn to draw closed curved shapes at a very early age. Circular marks are a very prominent feature of toddler drawings. 

T (2 years) spiral drawings

 T 2 years.jpg    T 2y circular scribbles.JPG
Tadpole people with circular shapes are a common feature of early people drawings, drawn repeatedly over the course of at least a year. 
L 3y 6m 3.jpg    R 4y 6m person.jpg
However, in order to draw a well shaped circle the child needs to pay attention to the shape that has been drawn, notice how it differs from a well formed circle and make repeated attempts to draw  good circles.  

Gr circles 1.jpg    

More information

Do-check-do and Smart Practice  Children with good drawing abilities will repeat the process of do-check-do many times over the course of days and weeks and over time will develop the ability to draw well shaped circles of different sizes.

HWG Developing Graphic Skills: Assessment Handbook

A 45 page PDF download.   Purchase here 

The HWG Developing Graphic Skills: Assessment Handbook provides a structured approach to assessment of the different aspects of completing selected graphic tasks: attention, following instructions, evaluating own work, motor control and motor planning. 

Detailed instructions are provided for each tasks along with templates and checklists for recording all aspects of a child's performance on the task.  

Working through the assessment tasks provides parents and teachers with insight into the child's abilities and difficulties and provides direction for selecting remedial tasks. 



 What are the basic graphic skills?
The assessment process

Drawing tasks 

Radiating lines task_1.jpg

Drawing long lines down the page 
Drawing long lines across the page 
Drawing radiating lines 
Drawing medium lines in all directions 
Drawing circles in grid 
Copying different sized circles 
Copying a rectangle and a square 
Drawing a square with eyes closed 
Drawing crossed and diagonal line shapes 
Drawing small circles in boxes 
Drawing shapes in small boxes

small curved shapes.jpg    diagonal lines and triangle.jpg

More about a HWG subscription Just $20 for a 12 months subscription
HWG Developing Graphic Skills Assessment Manual (with templates) 
Training sitting for drawing and handwriting (12 page PDF download) 
Teaching handwriting in kindergarten - a stroke based approach (with PDF templates) 

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