The Joy of Mark-Making in Early Years 

Donha Muscat, Owner & Director, St.Paul’s Childcare & Pre-Learning Centre, Malta
1st November 2023

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Mark-making is much more than just a scribble! The children learn and begin to make sense of the world around them through mark-making. It is the starting point for each child as it proceeds to writing and is an imperative step in a child’s growth.

Disclosing the Benefits

Fine motor skills – by training small hand muscles, whilst mark-making, the children are developing their fine motor skills, which will process in everyday tasks like writing, buttoning and unbuttoning of clothes and using various utensils.

Hand-eye coordination – by creating marks, the children learn to coordinate hand-eye inputs. These tasks are fundamental to further develop pre-writing skills, reading and motor sports discipline.

Spatial awareness – by mark-making, the children will have more shape, size and proportion recognition.

Self-expression – whilst mark-making, the children can express their cognitive emotions in a creative and nonverbal way. It helps to express knowledge of signs, codes and symbols which are needed to dive into the journey of writing as a way of communication.

Confidence and self-esteem – through mark-making, the children can visualise their work which prompts confidence and self-esteem.

Innovation – by mark-making, the children discover diverse shapes, colour mixing, distinctive patterns and sizes.

Pre-writing skills – by making lines, curves, patterns and shapes during mark-making builds the formation of writing progress in early years.

Dealing with Misunderstandings

The difference between adult and child thought of “mark-making” defines an important contrast. Us adults can see mark-making as just scribble, children see it as a blank canvas for total discovery. The scribble myth needs to be replaced by the awareness that it promotes pre-handwriting skills, stimulates ingenuity and originality and boosts coordination. By appreciating the importance of mark-making in an early years setting, childcare educators may eliminate these myths and support the idea that links with the main basis of child-centred learning.

Mark-making involves, creativity, cognitive and language development, improved fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and enhanced pre-handwriting skills.

Further Benefits of Mark – Making

  • Sustains self-expression;
  • Supports communication;
  • Praise joy;
  • Fosters physical education.


The Integral Role of Adults

We adults serve as guidance and advisers in mark-making environments. This develops a balanced environment that balances discovery and motivation to write. This exact balance, however, encompasses more than a link between copying exercises and gaining a solid comprehension of what writing is. Adult encouragement should sustain the children, allowing them to experiment on their own not only on paper. They should be pressing in soft dough, to go across a canvas, whiteboard, ease with markers or chalks scraping into a passageway and/ or granules of sand running through their tiny little fingers.

Promoting Mark-Making in the Early Years Setting

To prompt mark-making in an early years setting whilst maintaining a nurturing environment where the children feel mark-making freedom is the most important thing to look at. Below are some examples to inspire mark-making in the early years:

Talk through marks – directly involving the children by asking what marks they are making and what do they mean.

Provide an assortment of resources – these resources will inspire and motivate the children’s curiosity in trying out mark-making.

Welcoming space – establishes a safe area for mark-making, keeping resources organised and within reach for children to explore and experiment without limitations.

Usage of open-ended questions– rather than directing children in what to do, use open-ended questions like “What do you want to paint today?” or “What story are you telling us with your marks?” This helps them to use their imagination more and express their own emotions.

Ask careful questions – to enhance self-reflection and prompt communication, ask questions like “What made you choose this colour?”, or “Can you explain to me what do these marks depict?”.

Link mark-making with their interests – If the class loves pets, try to incorporate mark-making activities into domestic pets animal play. This link will allow the children to be more excited in the process of mark-making.

Accept messiness – make sure that smocks are available for all children taking part in the activity to avoid nasty stains on clothing and guarantee discovery in comfort.

Demonstration: show the children how to use different resources and mark-making skills.

Prompt participation: get all the class involved. Children love working collectively on a larger canvas. This develops communication and mutual effort.

Record: photograph their efforts and disclose them in the classroom. This can sustain their confidence and self-esteem.

Respect originality: do not compare or criticise their works, as this can demoralise their creativity.

Outdoors: invite them to experience the outdoors to find resources to mark-make with. For example; acorns, pinecones, leaves, weeds, flowers, wood, stems, feathers, seashells, stones and other natural resources.

Swap resources: try to replace between themselves the mark-making tools to keep children interested and avoid boredom to stimulate continued discovery.

The significance of mark-making is not just concentrating on the definitive target of writing, but taking into consideration holistically other factors, to inspire the child’s process, by communication, through play and across all fields of learning and development.

All children enjoy the physical activity of mark-making. As they develop, they become aware that they can control their marks and their creativity starts to flourish.

Author is Donha Muscat, Owner and Director of St. Paul’s Childcare and Pre-Learning Centre in Malta. Visit the website here.

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