One style of art is not better than another, we should not compare them. In fact symbolic, abstract and representational drawing are done for completely different reasons and benefits. Though our classes mainly focus on realistic or representational drawing, it is possible for children to enjoy different types of drawing at the same time. It is important for adults to understand the differences and their role in childhood development so not to unintentionally interrupt normal developmental stages or to dispel unrealistic expectations within themselves or an older child.
Symbolic drawing (sometimes called stick-figure drawing) is a natural activity for all children from age 2 through about 9 or 10 years old. Symbols are used to represent objects or feelings to tell a story and children must be allowed to draw this way on their own. It does not interfere with being able to draw realistically. It is about communication, expression and facilitates language development.
Realistic drawing builds visual perception, concentration and problem solving abilities. It is rarely learned by a child on his own. It is a learned skill like reading or playing the piano and everyone over 4 years through terrified adults can learn it. Unless children are given guided instruction before they stop symbolic drawing they will assume they do not have the ability to draw realistically and as they get older will become more reluctant to try.
Abstract drawing is done by all ages and comes mostly from feelings and imagination. It is generally non-representational but can be based on realism to different degrees and is expressed in line, form, texture, color and shape. This term is very broad and can be geometric, fluid or figurative. The intent is not to imitate nature but to use nature as a starting point for the artist's own expression or vision. It can be said that all art aside from photo realism is abstract to some degree and it's important to remember that, though people like different things, there is no right or wrong way to do art.
Source(s): Mona Brookes, Drawing with Children, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 1996.