The ‘Write’ Time

Once children are introduced to phonics and books, it is often assumed that they will start to write. But when is the ‘write’ time? In short, not until a child is ready. Firstly, there’s a very natural process to go through first before recognisable letters or words are produced. It’s an exciting moment when your child begins to experiment with different-shaped scribbles and patterns. This is known as ‘mark making’. It is the start of a journey towards being able to write and is a real developmental milestone.

Mark making is important for many reasons. It is a visible way for children to tell stories and express feelings, record what they have to say, solve problems and discover solutions – and sometimes it is just an outlet for pure physical enjoyment. As the precursor to writing, the importance of mark making for young learners cannot be underestimated. By providing your child with a variety of mark-making opportunities you can help them develop imaginatively, creatively and physically whilst recognising the efforts made by your child will further enhance your understanding of them as an individual.

Children are born with a natural exploratory drive and desire to communicate their thoughts and feelings. From the moment of birth, children strive to make sense of their word and quickly reveal their unique characteristics as their personalities, preferences and different developmental pathways unfold. Children learn from everything they do but their development depends, in part, on the quality and range of experiences they have received both in the environment of their setting and at home. Some children have had opportunities with mark making from their earliest years, while others have had limited experiences for a variety of reasons.

Through play, young children explore imaginative and abstract worlds, making meaning through story making, mark making and drawing. As their ideas develop, they often create increasingly elaborate versions of their understanding of the world around them. In an emotionally secure environment, where their creativity is valued and respected, children will often become prolific mark makers.

When children realise that marks can be used symbolically to carry meaning, in much the same way as the spoken word, they begin to use marks as tools to make their thinking visible. These marks will support the developing concepts in mathematics, and language in relation to their play.

Sometimes marks are made for the pure physical enjoyment of the activity – the feel of the felt tip pen as it glides over the surface of the whiteboard or the chalk as it grates over the bumpy tarmac, the sight of the brightly-coloured dribbles of paint as they run down the paper on the easel, or the sensation of the glue, oozing between children’s fingers as they spread it over the paper. On these occasions, children have no interest in an end product at all; the physical activity is an end in itself and an opportunity for them to experiment and explore with their senses, developing confidence and dexterity through the process.

At other times, children may take delight in using their mark making to tell stories and express their feelings through pictures and symbols of increasing sophistication. They may decide that their mark making only tells half the story and choose to provide a full narrative which they invite you to ‘scribe’.

On yet other occasions, they may be intrigued by an object or an event and be more concerned with recording exactly what they see, through careful scientific observation and meticulous draughtsmanship, than producing a more imaginative interpretation.

It is important that adults take time to observe, listen and analyse children’s mark making to understand the context and purpose, celebrate achievements and where appropriate enrich or extend their thinking.

Advice from CBeebies:

  • Children need to develop their motor skills (actions that involve the movements of muscles) in order to be able to mark-make effectively.
  • Give your child lots of opportunities to practise making big movements (gross motor skills), for example by climbing, crawling, dancing, throwing and catching balls or carrying objects.
  • These activities will help develop the muscle control needed to move on to fine motor movements, such as being able to squeeze play dough into different shapes, grasp and manipulate building bricks and hold pencils or crayons for mark making.
  • Aim to be a good role model for your child. Children need to see adults writing so that they can pick up on how writers behave and understand that writing is a valuable activity. You could include them in writing the shopping list, for example.
  • In the beginning, mark making is more about motivation than ability and we want to show children that writing is fun!