Mark making is the creation of different patterns, lines, textures and shapes. We use the term to describe the scribbles that early years children make on a piece of paper with pens, pencils or crayons.
Mark making is much more than just scribble. Children naturally want to experiment and explore their environment. Babies and toddlers use mark making to learn more about the world and make sense of what is going on around them.
Benefits of mark making
Brain and language development
As you can see below, most of our favourite forms of mark making involve sensory play. Sensory play allows children to discover new materials and explore different mediums of mark making. This helps to enhance a child’s critical thinking, brain development and language development, allowing them to build towards more complex learning tasks in the future. The marks made can also support emerging concepts of maths, developing into mathematical representation and enhancing learning.
When children make early marks, they are refining their fine motor skills and helping to develop their hand-eye coordination.
By practising holding a pencil and attempting to control their marks, they are strengthening their muscles. This enhances their physical development and helps them improve their grip on the pencil. A fist-like grip (called a palmer grip) is the most common way for young children to start holding a pencil, they can later work towards a tripod grip. I describe what they look like in Dinosaur Magic Painting.
Research shows that mark making is crucial for a child’s development and learning. It not only teaches young children how to hold a pen correctly, but it also prepares them for writing and develops their handwriting skills.
Mark making can be a way for a child to represent their thoughts and ideas. This allows children to express themselves creatively and gives them the opportunity to communicate their feelings through their drawings or use their marks to tell a story.
- Felt tips
This was very quick and easy to set up, whilst buying me some time to tidy up after breakfast. I left a handful of crayons, felt tips and highlighters on Cian’s highchair tray, along with some paper.
I made sure some of the pens had lids, to work on his fine motor skills. The lids kept him entertained for about five minutes, which seems like an eternity for a 17 month old.
After drawing with some wax crayons, Cian swapped back to the felt tips. He tried to join two felt tips together, expecting to be able to use the lid to connect them.
It’s important to remember that mark making doesn’t just refer to squiggles made with stationery, children are still mark making if they use their hands, paintbrushes or sticks.
A few of our favourite mark making activities are:
- Sliding vehicles down a slide to make paint tracks with their wheels
- Making window art by painting the windows with shaving foam
- Making dinosaur footprints in play dough
- Writing in a rice tray (lentils, flour or sand work well too)
- Playing with squirty cream rainbows
- Popping paint filled balloons to make process art
- Using Duplo and Numicon to do number printing
- Using a variety of tools (rollers, spatulas, paint brushes, bath puff) to paint
- Making marks in the sand at the beach, or soil in the garden
- Using spray bottles in the snow to produce snow art
- Using your body to make prints on a paint slide
- Creating snowmen by painting with the end of a peg
- Making art by painting with bells and pine cones
- Using chalk on the ground outside or on a chalk board
- ‘Painting’ the outside walls of the house, or garden fence, with water
- Drawing or writing on our Aquadoodle
DfES Outcomes for EYFS (2013)
Moving and handling (8 to 20 months)
- Enjoys the sensory experience of making marks in damp sand, paste or paint.
- Holds pen or crayon using a whole hand (palmar) grasp and makes random marks with different strokes.
- Passes toys from one hand to the other.
Shape, space and measures (16 to 20 months)
- Enjoys filling and emptying containers.
Understanding the world
The world (16 to 26 months)
- Explores objects by linking together different approaches: shaking, hitting, looking, feeling, tasting, mouthing, pulling, turning and poking.
Expressive arts and design
Exploring and using media and materials (8 to 20 months)
- Explores and experiments with a range of media through sensory exploration, and using whole body.