Writing starts with art

Did you know that the skill of writing starts with art? What you might think are the scribbles of a young child, are actually the first steps towards writing. It’s called mark making.

Mark making is a term used for the creation of different patterns, lines, textures and shapes. This may be on a piece of paper, on the floor, outside in the garden or on an object or surface.

It could be a simple dot or a line across a paper, all of this contributes to mark making and fundamentally is the basis of developing the writing skill. – Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years

Mark making: The stages of drawing and writing

Note: The ages listed below are approximate. Each child is an individual. Your child may master these skills faster or slower and still be developing just fine.

Stage 1: Random scribbling (15 months to 2 & 1/2 years)

At this stage your child is discovering that they can make cool marks on a page with a crayon clenched in their fist. It’s lovely to watch a child at this stage. They’re fascinated by the art that they’re making, usually as a result of large movements from the shoulders. This is process art in its purest form!

Stage 2: Controlled scribbling (2 to 3 years)

As your child improves their fine motor skills they begin to make circles, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved lines. They gradually hold the crayon between their thumb and finger.

Stage 3: Lines and patterns (2 & 1/2 to 3 & 1/2 years)

Your child now understands that writing is made up of lines and curves. You may see parts of letters in their drawing. Your child might write something and tell you what it says. It’s exciting as they begin to understand that they can communicate through art.

Stage 4: Pictures of objects or people (3 years to 5 years)

Your child might draw a picture in an unplanned way and then point out objects in the picture e.g. house, car, mummy etc.

They gradually begin to plan their pictures. They often draw circles as a basis for things, like the sun, with rays coming out of it. Circles for faces, with arms and legs sticking out of them. Rather than saying what a lovely sunshine you’ve drawn, ask them to tell you about their picture. This helps to encourage their creativity and imagination.

They also begin to distinguish the difference between drawing and writing.

Stage 5: Letter and word practice (3 to 5 years)

Your child might start by practising the letters in their own name. They might also start creating long and short scribbles as they recognise that some words are longer than others. It doesn’t matter that the letters and words aren’t technically correct. Your child is beginning to understand that the shapes and symbols that they’re creating can be formed into letters and sentences, which have meaning.

How can you help your child learn to write?

Encourage their attempts to write. If your child scribbles on a piece of paper and tells you it’s a letter, pretend to read it. Let them write in family birthday cards. Suggest that they ‘write’ a shopping list and take it with you to the shops.

Mark making ideas

Mark making doesn’t have to be on an A4 piece of paper, with a pencil. Make it fun!

You could:

  • Put paint in a zip lock bag and seal it. Then make ‘mess free’ marks in the paint, using a finger, or a cotton bud
  • Use a large roll of paper. Remember to tape it down at the edges. Then give your child paints, crayons, chalk etc.
  • Make marks with nature. Go on a walk and make letter shapes with sticks, feathers, leaves etc.
  • Use chalks on the ground outside, then have fun washing them away
  • Make marks in sand
  • Use bingo dabbers to make marks
  • Dip string in paint, then drag it across the paper
  • Make marks in playdough
  • Paint with water on paving, a blackboard, or a wall
  • Use shaving foam and paint brushes to make marks
  • Make a sensory writing tray – Here are some great examples of Sensory writing trays – The Imagination Tree
  • Write with torches in the dark, by creating shapes with the light

I hope you like these ideas. Do you have any other ideas for how to encourage mark making? I’d love to hear them, so please comment below. If you try any ideas I’d love to see your photos, so don’t forget to tag @squidgydoodle on Instagram, or Facebook and @squidgydoodleHQ on Twitter.

3 Little Buttons


Burnished Chaos


  • Barrie Bismark Posted January 23, 2018 4:20 pm

    This is very interesting. Some good ideas for mark making. My four-year-old would love to do most of them!

    • Debbie Denyer Posted January 23, 2018 5:06 pm

      Thanks Barrie. It’s fascinating to watch kids developing their writing skills isn’t it?

  • Heather Keet Posted January 28, 2018 8:48 am

    When I worked in daycare I had to constantly talk to parents about how important art was to developing writing skills. Parents would often want to see more “work” and less “play” but the art was critical. Thanks for spreading information on such a crucial developmental requirement! #DreamTeam

    • Debbie Denyer Posted January 28, 2018 7:42 pm

      Thank you Heather. I think as a parent it can be difficult to step back sometimes and let children discover things for themselves. It’s exciting to watch their different developmental stages and we sometimes get ahead of ourselves. Play is such an important learning experience and I love seeing young children creating as it’s all about the experience.

  • tammymum Posted January 28, 2018 7:23 pm

    This was so interesting, my daughter is 3 and she loves to write/scribble. She is definitely in the groups you say above, she is trying to draw/write letters all the time and although its not quite right she has the right concept. Its a good idea to read the ‘letter’ back to her I’ll make sure I do that from now on – thank you for that tip. Thanks for joining us at #familyfun

    • Debbie Denyer Posted January 28, 2018 7:44 pm

      Thanks Tammymum. It’s great that your daughter is enjoying writing/scribbling. I hope you have fun with the mark making ideas.

  • Malin – Sensational Learning with Penguin Posted February 21, 2018 2:09 pm

    Great ideas! Pinning and tweeting ???????????? #MMBC

    • Debbie Denyer Posted February 21, 2018 5:22 pm

      Thank you Malin. I really appreciate your support.

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