Support Your Child's Mark Making


This week’s post has been written by Guest Educator, Sarah Cotching and looks at how to support your child’s mark making. Sarah is a specialist in primary education with over seventeen years of experience. During this time, she has worked in education reform programmes for early childhood and primary schools. This has involved working in countries such as, Rwanda, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

In this post, Sarah provides readers with an interesting insight into the importance of mark-making and shares how you can support your child’s mark building.

My two sisters, both in their thirties, are at home roaring with laughter. I wander over to see what they are looking at.

What is it? I ask. “Libraries!”, says my sister. “Look!”. And there at the back of one of our parent’s old books, are some letters and numbers scrawled on the hardback cover; along with a few ink stamps of cartoon characters.

Libraries was a game played by my two younger sisters when they were three and five years-old. They loved it! It had meaning and is now a cherished memory of their very creative childhood.

Mark-making has long been described by early childhood researchers and educators as a precursor to writing*. It can take many beautiful and unhindered forms. From horizontal and vertical lines and scribbles, to quite controlled dots and outlines of shapes. To those of us who don’t know what they are looking at, it may seem random and meaningless. But to the emergent writer, they are far from it.

Mark-making in all its forms is a crucial building block to many types of brain functions and literacy skills. These include: hand-eye coordination, body movement and creative flow. A child immersed in deliberate and seemingly random mark-making, is often intensely focused. This focus is imperative in developing the learner skills of, concentration, thinking and expressing their interpretation of the world around them.

When encouraged through sensory play, role play (and other forms of meaningful play based activities), mark-making enables children to find value and confidence in expressing their understanding of family rituals, cultural heritage and social norms. This then becomes their blueprint for the world around them.

A little girl makes wet sponge imprints intently on the dry wood of her back veranda. This simple way to imprint using water and sponges, will also enable her brain to notice and discover patterns, sequences and order. This is the foundation to understanding more complex mathematical concepts and relationships between quantities, shapes, objects and the structure of the physical world around her.

How to support your child’s mark making

Support Your Child's Mark MakingEducators and parents can encourage mark making in several ways. Firstly, by encouraging the introduction of mark-making objects and tools into their role-play world. Give them a potato masher or a toy car with a tray of paint when they are dressing up. Yes, there will be mess, but just watch where they take it! The verbal language takes off and they are totally focused. Other props to encourage their study of texture may include: corrugated cardboard, rocks, concrete, fabrics, tinfoil baking trays and plastic recyclable containers.

Secondly, ask them what each mark might represent. This reinforces that their mark-making is important to you and it will encourage them to articulate their thinking and develop their ability to narrate to others. Many times I’ve asked children under the age of three to, “tell me their story”. The detail that unfolds is impressive. These learning conversations are alive with creative detail, interesting insights and humour. They are the neural building-blocks to reading for meaning and writing as a process for self-expression. Even better is when there is more than one language involved.

Thirdly, (and this requires a delicate hand), extend the process. It’s likely they will not want your ideas, but when gently encouraged they can extend their own ideas, role play adventures, patterns, lines, and designs to include more detail, different materials to print on and new places to take their creative thinking.

Finally, having now stepped into the world of children with special needs, it’s shown me that these children must spend even longer in this developmental stage in order to gain more independent control over their bodies, and in time, form new neural pathways to learning.

I now look at my sister’s little inscriptions at the back of an old book with new eyes. Not only have they self-created a system of book organisation Dewey would have been proud of; they have quietly (and often not so quietly!), shown me that books and the use of them, are a valued, family ritual, forming an important part of the environment we grew up in.

Happy mark-making!

Written by S. Cotching


*Dunst, C. J., & Gorman, E. (2009). Development of infant and toddler mark making and scribbling.

Lancaster, L. (2013) ‘Opening it all up: using multimodal analysis to investigate early literacy’ International Journal of Qualitative Research 6(3) pp 395-423.
Lancaster, L. (2008) Book Review: ‘Dialogue and the development of children’s thinking.’ British Educational Research Journal 34(5)