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Scribbles Over Colouring: Early Literacy and Process Art

Little L doesn't like to colour. I've tried hand-over-hand with her, modelling it, and enthusiastically selling the activity. No dice.

For a split second I was concerned. Is there something wrong with my toddler?! Why doesn't she want to use these nifty creamy super-bright crayons?! Why is she scrawling crazily in black marker all over the page and then running off to do something else?! 

As it turns out, not only is it completely normal for her not to want to colour, but it's actually not altogether beneficial to colour. True facts. Colouring is a good fine-motor activity to develop hand strength and fine motor/hand-eye coordination skills, but those aren't really our goals for Little L at the moment.

But scribbling??! This is apparently linked to literacy, and a very very good and normal thing. Scribbling is a precursor activity to writing, and it helps kids practice the motions that will eventually lead them to learn to print and draw letters and shapes. It also helps shape their understanding that text has meaning, and can be read and written and illustrated. A lot of research (which you can Google) supports the benefits of scribbling and recognizes its role in early literacy.

What a relief! Little L is not developmentally behind! She is definitely in doodle mode, and loves making circles and lines and dots all over the blank pages in her art book. Our colouring books are also peppered with her marker scrawls. Having read more about the link between literacy and scribbling, you can bet that I will be making "pre-writing" a regular part of our day!

Open-ended, process-oriented exploratory art with feet and paint
If you're wanting some tips on how to encourage your emergent writers, this site has some great tips on how to support your little scrawler. I have also ordered a few books to cultivate her "artistic" side without imposing the limits that most crafts, which are product-oriented, might have. The theory behind it is that every child is an artist, so our goal is to bring out the artist within. By simply providing the tools and showing children the techniques, you equip them to make "art" and enjoy the creating process, exploring and experimenting with the materials and mediums, without feeling any anxiety about what the end product might look like. When I was learning to teach art in university, this was one concept that really resonated with me, and as I've incorporated it into my own classroom I have found it to be consistent with much of the child-led, inquiry-based instruction that our schools are leaning towards. You can read about the differences between process and product art here and here and here and here

Anyway, here's to more process art and abundant scribbling in our future!

Painting pumpkins. Note the paper beneath became a canvas too!

After she started tearing the paper, we decided to make an artsy collage. Don't you love the colours?!


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