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Mark Making

Mark Making in the Early Years

“Children will have many different ways of representing their thoughts and feelings in the early years. Some will choose music, dance or song, others will prefer to tell stories through role-play or drama, but most will at some point be naturally drawn to represent their ideas graphically.

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.

Through their marks, they are communicating their ideas, expressing their feelings, developing their imagination and creativity, and testing their hypotheses about the world.” (DCSF, 2008)

Writing is a skill that children learn gradually. It begins with making marks, not by producing letters or words. Babies love to play with spilt food and drinks, creating patterns with their palms and fingers. Toddlers use thick crayons or chalk to make big circular and straight lines. Early mark making is often dismissed as scribble, but it is an important stage in developing literacy. Slowly these marks will begin to take on meaning, and you will be able to see this by listening to what your child says as they play with crayons or paint and paper.

The Role of Parents, Carers and Practitioners in Mark Making

Children are born ready, able and eager to learn. They actively reach out to interact with other people, and the world around them. Development is not an automatic process, however. It depends on each unique child having opportunities to interact in positive relationships and enabling environments. (Early Education, 2012).

When children realise that the marks they produce are praised and supported, they will write more often - and so get better at it. Parents, carers and practitioners play a crucial role in encouraging and celebrating children's mark making and through creating 'enabling environments' by making traditional tools, ie. pens, paper, crayons, accessible - but also by encouraging children to experiment with new media such as sand, soil, clay or snow. Cutting and sticking is another way that children can make marks.

Building skills in other areas

The EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Statutory Framework sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. It is guided by four key themes:

EYFS Themes
Mark making not only supports literacy but also relates to other areas of the EYFS Framework :

The areas of learning are:

  • communication and language.
  • physical development.
  • personal, social and emotional development.
  • literacy.
  • mathematics.
  • understanding the world.
  • expressive arts and design.

Through mark making children are developing their hand to eye coordination, building muscles and control in their hands, arms and shoulders to be able to grip and guide a pen or brush. They are also taking in the world around them as they go about their 'daily business' and family members, pets and buildings will begin to appear in their mark making. Later these marks will become pictures, writing and numbers as they realise that their mark making carries meaning.

The table below shows how mark making supports other areas of the EYFS Framework:

Area of EYFS Framework How it is supported by mark making
Communication and Language Helps children to begin forming recognisable letters - & eventually write their name. Contributes to school readiness.
Mark making activity encourages communication with peers about what they are drawing
Physical Development Gripping & controlling mark making tool, e.g. chalk, crayon, brush, helps to develop both fine & gross motor skills
Helps children to find their dominant hand
Helps children to begin forming recognisable letters and shapes - & eventually write their name. Contributes to school readiness.
Personal, Social & Emotional Development Mark making activity encourages communication about what children are drawing, responding through play & building relationships with peers
Mathematics Supports learning to draw shapes
Help with distinguishing between clockwise/anti-clockwise directions
Understanding the World Led activities may be based on themed events, e.g. Easter, dental health, Ramadan etc.
Expressive Arts & Design Encourages experimenting with colours
Giving meaning to marks helps to build imagination & creativity
Read other articles in our 'Embedding Literacy in Daily Practice' series ...


Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Early Education: The British Association for Early Childhood Education, 2012. [Accessed 25 March 2017].

National Literacy Trust: Raising UK Literacy Levels. [Accessed 25 March 2017].

The National Strategies | Early Years
Mark Making Matters – Young children making meaning in all areas of learning and development. Introduction page 3.
Published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2008. [Accessed 26 March 2017].

EYFS Statutory Framework. Foundation Years: Early Years and Childcare. [Accessed 26 March 2017].

Tassoni, P. Making their mark - children's early writing
Early Education | Learning Together Series. The British Association for Early Childhood Education. [Accessed 11 April 2017].

Mark-making and Representation. A guide to help you think about supporting and enabling children to make their own mark in your childcare setting. Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years 2014 [Accessed 11 April 2017].

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