How many times has your child presented you with a picture that you’ve had to turn sideways, or even upside down to try to figure out what it was? Your child may respond with something like, “It’s a rocket ship in outer space.” Or, “We went to the fire station. This is my fire truck.” We adults may not see those specific shapes in children’s artwork, but in their minds, the shapes are vivid images of what they have seen or experienced.
How many times has your child presented you with a piece of paper with random lines, curves, and squiggles on it? How many times have you smiled and nodded, yet dismissed that work as nothing more than scribbling? Did you know scribbling is a vital part of a child’s development? Just as crawling is important for a child’s ability to walk, scribbling is the stepping stone to reading and writing. It also aids in a child’s cognitive, physical, language, and social developments, as well as self-expression. When a child scribbles, she strengthens her finger, hand, and arm muscles. As a child ages and develops, she goes through stages of scribbling: placement, shape, design, and pictorial.
Young toddlers around eighteen months of age become interested in scribbling. They may see siblings or peers drawing and want to do the same. They grip a crayon, marker, or pencil in a fisted hold and make large movements with their arms. The marks on their papers may appear all over the place with little placement. Sometimes they may draw off the paper and onto the table. Older toddlers around two and three are able to control their scribbles with smaller marks. They put more thought into where the marks are placed on the page. According to experts, there are seventeen different placements including all over the page, in the middle of the page, bottom or top, diagonal, right or left, and top or bottom quarter. Three-year-olds start to add shapes to their marks. Some of these marks may resemble circles, large scribbled Xs, boxes, triangles, and oddly shaped forms. They are able to maintain better control as they grip their writing utensils. Plus, scribbling allows them to create the world around them, and it gives them a sense of independence. Close to age four, young children move into the design stage. At this point in their development, children combine two diagrams. For example, they may draw a circle
with an X, a square with a triangle on top to represent a house, or a square on top of a rectangle to represent a bed. Preschoolers and young kindergarteners transition into the pictorial stage where their designs depict pictures adults can recognize. Children put a lot of thought into what they write and draw. A child may scribble, yet what she sees and what an adult sees may be two different things. A child may make marks and call it a grocery list or the beginning of a story, but a grown up may see it as a jagged line. As she grows and learns to recognize letters, her scribbles may take on letter-like shapes. Once she forms letters correctly, she may string them together in a random fashion to form words that she recognizes. As her writing matures, she may create invented spelling based on sounds she hears and understands. Letters may be left out or placed in the wrong order. Eventually, the child will be able to read and write according to developmental guidelines for her age. Parents, care givers, and educators can greatly influence a child’s writing ability by providing her with the appropriate materials. Chunky crayons and fat markers are good for tiny hands that may have trouble gripping smaller utensils. As a child gets older, consider switching to skinnier crayons, markers, pencils, paint brushes that will reinforce a proper tripod hold on the utensil—the way the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers grip a writing instrument.
Easels with large pads of paper allow for full ranges of motion and body movements. Sidewalk chalk provides a different texture. Dry erase boards allow children to write, erase, write, and erase over and over. Finger painting allows children to exercise their fingers as they create scribbles, shapes, and letters. Paint allows a child to express himself, as well as exercise his early learning writing abilities. Magnet boards with magnetic letters and numbers provide children with a tangible example of how numbers and letters are correctly formed.
Think of the child’s learning abilities when providing different writing materials, and focus less on the mess they could make. Children learn best through exploration and hands-on experiences.
The next time your child presents you with a picture, compliment her choice of colors, the way she made a shape. Ask her to tell you a story about the picture. On the paper, write what she says. Date the picture and keep it to track her progress. Your interest will enrich her self-esteem and ultimately her future writing abilities.
Lisa Jordan is a family child care provider and writer in Warren County. She is pursuing her degree in Early Childhood Education through Clarion University and will graduate in May.