The Sandbox


Pencilplay uses children’s drawings as a potential diagnostic tool for tracking development stages. We see a viable tool that may provide supplementary data for specialists by semi automating the process of drawing analysis using computer vision techniques.

Table of Contents

  1. What is special about Children’s Drawings?
  2. Are a child’s drawings a useful development indicator?
  3. Using a Mobile App to collect Data
  4. Next Steps for Pencilplay

What is special about Children’s Drawings?

Children’s drawings are unique. When children draw, they explore themes that are often snapshots of the mental models of their world. Drawings, in this case, are representations – not just of their understanding of their environment, but also of their shifting mental states.

A child displays his painting during one of our workshops at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore

During the early days of the project, we were referred to Viktor Lowenfeld’s work by a child psychologist. Lowenfeld’s theory of artistic stages resonated with our own work with both Autistic and NT children. There were indeed distinct stages, and each of these stages was somewhat predictable. The child progressed from scribbles to symbols to shared symbols, all the way to attempted realism.

Are a child’s drawings a useful development indicator?

A theme emerged from our early discussions with pre-schools and child specialists. We observed that development stages broadly match a child’s artistic stages. So, what does it mean when a 10 year old child draws like a 4 year old? Or vice versa.

During the early days of data collection, we used a simple card clipped on to the sheet to identify metadata for each drawing. We eventually created a digital means for data collection through a mobile app.

We observed that the use of material, shapes, colour choices and thematic patterns all contribute to a gestalt that indicates the child’s current level within Lowenfeld’s stages of artistic art. We used this as the basis for developing ways to visually identify the stage that each child is at using a data-set of the child’s artworks.

Using a Mobile App to collect Data

A promotional video for the mobile app, The app was designed to make it easy for parents to document the child’s artwork

We built a simple Mobile App (no longer on the store) to make it easier for parents to collect children’s artwork. The added benefit for parents would be that they no longer required to hold on to the physical drawings themselves.

Among other basic features, the app also showed a rudimentary dashboard that helped parents make decisions, such as diversifying drawing and visual art media or encouraging the child to draw through contextual enquiry.

Next Steps for Pencilplay

The next steps for this project will be to investigate the potential for using visual-computing for analysis of children’s drawings for developmental insights. Preliminary experiments indicate that there is potential for developing a simple drawing test that can help researchers identify potential developmental markers through children’s art.

Browse other projects from the Sandbox

  • Penciljam
    Penciljam is a community of practice that comes together as a group to sketch urban spaces. Operating across major cities, this CoP is a little over a decade old.
  • Pencilplay
    Pencilplay explores how childrens drawings may be used as a diagnostic tool in early childhood development
  • Playjam
    Is there a need for a learning bridge between home and preschool? Playjam imagines a rolling-school, that is built around play and parental-bonding.
  • Trellis
    Trellis is an Entrepreneur Support Network designed to promote entrepreneurial education through a community of practice
    A Conversation-show on Discord which explores topics at the intersections of Culture-Sustainability-Technology-Commerce
  • Work from Art
    Work from Art combats workplace mental health issues using principles from Art & Design