Family Life

Making marks final
Jan 25

I write this blog for a variety of reasons, and I find they are evolving all of the time…but my main motivation initially was so that I would have a creative outlet for jotting down my thoughts and observations as a first-time parent.

I don’t profess to know anything of significance regarding child development, other than what I have picked up from various sources of reading and my friends, and of course observed as a parent. But over the past few weeks I have been fortunate enough to speak to and interview several experts in Early Years Education, and get to grips with some of the theory behind child development in the pre-school years. I find it a fascinating subject, and over recent weeks in particular I have been paying extra close attention to Little I’s development.  I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but I’ve noticed her make huge strides in one development area in particular recently. In fact it seems to have happened overnight…and so I hope you don’t mind me sharing my observations and learnings with you.

The area of development that I’m talking about is the very early stages of writing; what the experts call ‘mark making’. Little I refers to it as her “very special writing” and she takes such a great deal of time and care with it. I’ve included a photo above of some of her special writing that she did at the weekend, and there are several pages of it which took her close to an hour. I never knew a toddler could concentrate for so long!

Early years expert, Hilary White, explains that “writing is an important aspect of literacy development, and giving your child free access to pencils and paper is the best possible preparation. Draw and write with them, let them see you as you write and talk about how you are ‘writing a shopping list’, ‘writing a note for dad’, ‘writing a card for granny’ and so on. This will help them absorb the process and purpose of writing (to become a writer, a child has to discover what writing is). Let them add their own marks to cards, and celebrate their mark-making as an important part of writing development. When your child identifies a row of squiggles as ‘writing’, he or she has made a significant realisation – even if the squiggles are not yet recognisable letters.”

Gill Roberts, senior lecturer in Early Years Education at Birmingham City University*, concurs: “Writing is a physical skill and children need to build up the muscles to write. As a parent, let your child see you write…without formalising it. Keeping it low-key is crucial so that the child’s interest remains. Try to engage in purposeful, meaningful writing, and then give the child the opportunity to write their name at the end of a letter, for example. You then show them how you would write their name. Just as you did with walking and talking – you encourage their efforts. It’s the same with ‘emergent writing’, where they are beginning to make marks, and then you can communicate through it. It’s a very joyful thing.”

I’m sure most parents instinctively write with their young children, but I wonder how much technology is altering this? Having thought long and hard about it, I have realised that Little I probably sees me and my husband type on a keyboard more than write with an old fashioned pen and paper. We have certainly always done lots of colouring in and painting together, but I have realised the importance of her seeing us write by hand more. I will certainly be creating more opportunities to pick up a pen with her, and I have now made sure that there are pencils, crayons and paper readily available for her to pick up when she wants. Let’s hope our walls are safe!

* Gill Roberts’ views are her own.

About the Author

Wendy McAuliffe

Social media & online PR consultant and trainer, and ex-journalist. Founder and Director of Populate Digital and Mum of two. Living by the sea in Bournemouth. @wendymcauliffe.

  • Helen

    I agree that this is one of the most exciting times in a child’s development.  Crawling, walking, talking are of course all up there but the imagination that comes with writing is just amazing.  My little girl will also spend hours writing and we have books and paper covered in her emergent stories, lists and books. 
    I have never done any of my school work when the children have been up seeing it as ‘special time’ with them, but after reading one of your blog posts a while back, I agreed that it would not be such a bad thing for them to see me working and I liked the idea of role modelling this for them.  So last weekend I decided to mark some of my class’s writing whilst my little girl was surfing the net!  It turned into a really special time as she also started deciding if her class had got it ‘right’ and writing her own comments on pieces of paper and drawings she had previously done.  We laughed and talked and both enjoyed the writing process.  I totally agree that role modelling writing is crucial.  Don’t underestimate the power of ‘writing’ on the computer too.  Role modelling this is also a great tool in developing future communication skills so don’t beat yourself up!

    • wendymcauliffe

      I really am so excited by this development stage, and I think my daughter is equally as excited about being able to ‘write’. I’ve now even started involving Little I in my blog a little, asking her what I should write about, and I have some product reviews coming up that we are working on together ;) She thinks I should write more about dinosaurs, so I have handed that beat over to her! I’m so pleased you had a special experience of working infront of your daughter – I’ve found it to be a really special thing too, as it enables them to see what we are interested in, so they can find out more about their mummy as a person. We spend so long thinking about their needs, that we forget they might be interested in ours!

      • keilo

        Dinosaurs??? Writing for hours??? It won’t be long until she is writing on the walls, and taking after someone else you know ;)
        Just remember what my father said to me: “we let you ruin that beautiful wallpaper because you seemed so fascinated in the world around you, and the only way you could remember it all was if you wrote it down.” (However, they maybe could have just left more scrap bits of paper next to my bed)

        • wendymcauliffe

          Your Dad is so brilliant – I think his approach paid off massively. Ruined wallpaper has resulted in one of the most interesting people I know! Thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t necessarily be so worried about protecting my walls!

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