Hi. I’m Oscar and I love drawing and painting. I like to pretend I’m writing like a grown-up. Sometimes I do big scribbles for fun. Once I even got into trouble for drawing on the walls at home…

As children develop, so does their desire and ability to make marks, and eventually to write letters or numerals. In our opinion, there is no ‘correct’ time to start forming these. As practitioners we need to recognise that children develop at different paces and we need to provide opportunities for free-flow mark making and scribbling – understanding that they are never random (Matthews, 1999).  As American early childhood educator, Magda Gerber said:

“Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better.”

Given the right environment with the right resources and interactions to help to make connections, as well as developing appropriate muscularity for holding a pencil: like walking, writing will emerge…all in good time. Until then, mark-making or ‘emergent writing’ should happen with a wide variety of media and diverse materials. Along with this, adults in the setting should engage with their learners as key partners in the co-construction of meaning as those marks are made.
Getting ready to write is as important as the writing itself. It allows for experimentation and exploration, freedom of expression and physical liberation. Pencils and paper will do, but the thrill is all the more if the surface and objects are unusual or unexpected. A perfect opportunity to reuse to enthuse.

There is research to suggest that using upright working surfaces promotes the development of fine motor skills. Expensive easels are not always affordable, and they limit the amount of children who can paint or draw at any one time. Large sheets of paper taped to a shed are an option, but again they need constant replacing and can lead to expense and aggravation for practitioners dealing with the demands of the outdoor classroom. So, what better than an abandoned banner?
A variety of weird and wonderful mark making implements can be provided from teabags in tights to wheels picked up off the street. The children’s gross motor skills are developed as they sling the tights or carefully manipulate the wheels across the surface of the banner. Co-ordination, colour-mixing and negotiation are thrown into the mix.
The beauty of a washable, thick surface is that it can be used repeatedly throughout the course of a day and the children themselves take responsibility for scrubbing it which in itself creates learning and develops their upper arm muscles.

Yes, it is wonderful for children to take home a piece of art to their grown-ups, but sometimes the process of that piece, without the expectations of a finished product allows for even more exploration and experimentation. What’s more, the children are examining and using new and intriguing items with which to express themselves – both artistically and verbally. This is true ‘multi-modal’ learning…enabled by some rubbish and a bit of paint and soapy water.

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Mark making with this or that

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