Scribbling can have a huge positive impact on a child’s development, not just as a pre-writing skill, but to develop language, reasoning, problem solving and relationships.
Learn what researchers have found and how we can optimise that knowledge in our homes and classrooms. There’s also a free download including templates your little ones might like to scribble on!
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The essential role of scribbling
This week I read an interesting paper, published in 2016, about the role that scribbling plays in the development of imagination and cognitive function in young children. The authors are Elizabeth and Andrew Coates from Warwick University in England.
The essential role of scribbling in the imaginative and cognitive development of young children. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 2016, Vol. 16(1) 60–83. DOI: 10.1177/1468798415577871
This episode is basically a summary of their paper so I don’t take any credit for the content, unless I’ve gone off on a tangent. Because it’s a summary I’ve boiled it down to points that I feel are most the relevant and practical for teachers, parents and carers.
It’s not just about pre-writing
I was struck by a comment from the authors that many of us working with young children value scribbling, but mainly as a precursor to writing. We’re happy that they’re working on their fine motor skills, but beyond a little chat and a metaphorical pat on the head for their good work, we’re not taking the whole scribbling process as seriously as it deserves.
So what value does scribbling have according to the research?
Scribbling gives importance to a child’s narrative
When children start scribbling it isn’t possible to determine what they’re drawing unless they tell you, or show you in some way! And this discussion, whether it’s adult to child or between children is highly valuable. It can give us a glimpse into the depth of what the child is thinking that goes far beyond what is evident from the scribbles themselves.
Most kids love to scribble and chat
The research showed that most kids, not all, loved to scribble, and they loved to chat while scribbling. They want us to know what they’re imagining and where they are going with their picture. This doesn’t just tell us how the child is organising their drawing, it also gives us an insight into their cultural understanding of the world, of their relationships and dreams. It gives us understanding into how a child explores and expresses ideas.
This reminds me of one of the big reasons we encourage reading to children from babyhood… the development of vocabulary. We read a wide range of books to expose our kids to more words. We talk about what the books mean, we point to letters and make the sounds. We know that children who are read to regularly from birth have a much higher chance of attaining academic success than those that miss out.
It seems to me that encouraging children to chat about their scribbles is like a role reversal, where a child can be the one leading the conversation. What a great way to get them chatting, to be able to listen to them and ask questions, encouraging them to use all the words in their vocabulary to explain what they’re thinking.
It’s about the process not the result
In early childhood settings when we’re thinking about assessment we wi...