Jul 10, 2023

Mark Making Development: 3 to 4 Years

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
Mark Making Development: 3 to 4 Years

This stage of your child's mark-making development is an exciting stage filled with experimentation, exploration, and discovery.

It's a crucial time when children begin to make intentional marks and use different materials, shapes, patterns, colours, and even storytelling to express themselves creatively. 

How do mark-making skills progress in your little during this stage?

Exploring materials, tools and mark-making resources has supported your little ones' physical development enhancing their fine motor skills. As a result, your child can make more controlled movements and create intentional marks. 

  • These marks are no longer random scribbles but have purpose and meaning behind them.

  • Children also start to incorporate shapes and patterns into their mark-making. They will draw circles, squares, and triangles and even attempt to draw recognisable objects like houses, people, or animals. 

  • They will use repetition and create patterns in their marks. For example, they may draw a row of circles or alternate between straight and wavy lines.

  • Some children may use a tripod grip, where the hand is controlled, and movement comes from the fingers.

  • Other children may still use a static tripod or quadruped grip, with movement coming from the wrist. 

As children explore, grow and learn more about the world, they will start creating stories, playing out scenarios, and making drawings based on their experiences and emotions. 

  • They begin to attach meaning to their marks, for example, drawing a picture of a dog they saw at the park or playing with toy diggers after seeing a construction site.

Child drawing

Mark-making supports children's physical development, creativity, and literacy skills; your little one interactions with their environment, exploring symbols, letters, characters etc., have been vital for promoting communication development, understanding and expression in their daily lives. 

  • As they begin identifying and understanding symbols, they start ascribing meaning to signs and characters they see in different places, including those they make themselves. For example, they might see a stop sign and know it means stopping and waiting until it is safe to continue crossing the street. 

  • Alternatively, they draw a heart on a piece of paper and tell you or others it means "love".

  • These skills are a critical aspect of communication. Words convey meaning, emotions and thoughts, allowing them to express themselves and understand others.

  • They are also essential for navigating the environment; for example, road signs, logos, and warning symbols have standardised meanings that allow us to drive safely, recognise different brands and products, and stay aware of potential dangers.


As your child continues to develop their mark-making skills, they imitate adults' writing and actions. 

  • In their play, they will include marks and early writing, creating continuous lines of shapes and letters from left to right. 

  • They will try to write their own name or other words using combinations of lines, circles, and curves, attempting to make shapes like letters that represent the initial sound of their name and other simple words. 

  • They will also explore writing recognisable letters. 

  • They may also start to write letters and numbers and attempt to spell words.

Another significant development at this stage is the use of colour.

  • Children will start using different colours to make their marks and learn to identify colours. 

  • They may experiment with blending colours to create new ones and start to understand basic colour theory.


How to encourage and promote mark-making skills:


Roleplaying is a great activity to promote the development of mark-making skills. When your child engages in role play, they create and act out their own stories, characters, and scenarios. This process of imaginative play allows them to explore and understand the world around them in a meaningful and fun way.

  •  Support your little one to set up different role-play scenarios, such as an office, dens, a library, a shop, a home corner, etc.

  • Include writing materials such as old greeting cards, notepads, pencils, markers, paper clips, etc.

  • Provide props, costumes, and real objects such as an old phone, keyboard, mouse, pots and pans, etc., to help them bring their stories to life.

  • Encourage your child to express themselves by writing down what they say. This will help them learn that their words can be written and understood by others.

  • Encourage your child to write and draw during playtime by keeping writing materials within reach. 

  • If they're playing with cars, suggest making stop signs or tickets. If they're playing with stuffed animals or dolls, they could write shopping lists, prescriptions, or doctor records. 

  • You can also model and involve your child in creating signs and writing, like writing game instructions or making a list of names for taking turns.

Focus on the Meaning Instead of the Letter Formation

Your child's drawings, scribbles, or doodles communicate their ideas, thoughts, and emotions. 

Therefore the adult focus should not be on perfect letter formation or handwriting skills. Instead, parents and caregivers should encourage children to explore and express their creativity without worrying too much about the result.

By encouraging children to talk about their creations, you can help them to develop language skills and improve their ability to express themselves.

  • Celebrate your child's early attempts at writing when they show their work, or you're observing them mark make, show interest and ask open-ended questions starting with what, where, how, and why regarding the colours they use, their inspiration, and who or what is pictured. 

  • Ask what they have written and follow the mark they made with your finger as they "read it." Repeat after them and extend their sentence. e.g., "I like ice cream", "I like ice cream, beautiful writing; I know your favourite ice cream is strawberry!"

  • Label their pictures as they name the objects, characters, places etc., in their pictures.

Encouraging Name Writing

When children start learning how to write, one of the first things they usually learn is how to write their names. This is because they have been exposed to the sound of their name and have seen it around them since they were born, even though they do not understand its meaning yet.

Encouraging your little one to write and recognise their name is very important for their literacy skills as it helps your child learn their name's letters and the order they go in.

Recognising and writing their name can also boost their confidence and give them a sense of ownership over their identity.

  • Point out their name in their environment, "T-o-m, Tom, your name is on this book!"

  • Create opportunities for your child to trace over their name. Write their name and help them trace over it using a different colour; they can trace over their name numerous times to create a rainbow colour name.

  • Use paint! Write their name, place it inside a plastic sleeve or under cling film, and encourage them to trace it using their painted finger. They can use a cloth to clean it and start again with a different colour.

  • Describe their movements. For example, "Your finger is going up and down now across." 

  • Sound out their name as they trace over it, e.g., T-o-m.  

  • Emphasise the first sound of their name, e.g., "t-t-t Tom, what else begins with t?, Yes, t-t-t top!"


Modelling writing for your child is crucial for their development of mark-making skills. They can become confident writers by providing a positive role model to learn from. Writing shopping lists, messages, and notes can help build and improve their writing skills.

  • Involve your little one when making a list or writing notes and messages.

  • When writing, think out loud and talk through what you are writing on typing on a screen.

  • As you write, try saying each word aloud. This will help you connect your spoken language with written words.

  • When reading stories together, try pointing at each word as you read them. 

  • You can also point out any repeated words in the story to make it more interactive and encourage them to join in.

  • Encourage children to use their phonic knowledge when writing, and model this in your own writing, sounding out letters as you write them.

Offer a Variety of Materials

  • It is vital to continue allowing your little one to explore various materials and resources.

  • Your little one is still learning from their world through exploration, so providing a wide range of options is crucial.

  • Paint, crayons, pencils, chalk, markers, paintbrushes, and other sensory materials such as foam and sand will inspire your little one's imagination and promote mark-making.

  • Letting children experiment with various tools can help them learn about colours, textures, and shapes, allowing them to express themselves creatively.

mark making


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