Jun 28, 2023

Mark Making Development: The First Year

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
Mark Making Development: The First Year

Mark-making and writing are both forms of visual communication. However, it is essential to note that these are different stages of a child's development and distinct differences exist between them. 

The process of early mark-making is the foundation of writing. 

It is an experience that engages the senses, physical abilities, and cognitive development of babies and toddlers. 

Mark-making doesn't involve specific words or ideas; its sensory nature makes the experience of mark-making a spontaneous activity that allows babies and toddlers to create and express themselves without the limitations of words. 

On the other hand, writing involves using letters and words to communicate specific ideas, thoughts, or messages. It is a structured, more formal way of communicating to share information with the reader.

Children need to understand that symbols like letters have significance when they write. They need to acquire the essential abilities and knowledge to understand these symbols before they can intentionally create and read written marks. 

Before writing, children naturally engage in early mark-making, exploring the world of letters and symbols, starting from the moment they are born.

How do mark-making skills progress in your little one's first year?

Supporting your baby's mark-making skills during the first year of their life can be a fun and rewarding experience. By providing materials, encouraging exploration, and creating a safe environment, you can help your baby develop their physical skills, creativity and imagination, setting them up for success in the future.

From the moment they are born, your baby starts exploring and understanding their surroundings, using their body and senses, and learning about the world. At first, they may not show interest in mark-making. Still, the various play opportunities they encounter as they discover objects, sounds, and textures will help them develop essential skills for mark-making later on.


Provide a variety of sized objects and toys to explore

  • Give your baby toys that are easy to grip and manipulate, such as rattles, shakes, fabric books, etc.

  • As your baby explores objects, they are strengthening their finger, wrists and hands, supporting fine motor skills essential for developing grasping and releasing skills they will need when handling mark-making tools, such as paint brushes and pens.

  • They also begin experiencing early cause-and-effect concepts, helping them understand that their actions have an effect, e.g. if they shake the rattle, they produce a sound; the faster they shake it, the louder it will get.

Sensory exploration 

  • Sensory play can also help your baby develop fine motor skills essential for mark-making

  • Encourage your baby to touch and explore different textures such as fabrics, playdough, uncooked rice, pasta and other materials. 

  • Creating sensory baskets with various everyday objects and textured materials for your baby to explore is a beautiful addition to your toy collection. 

Provide materials for mark-making 

  • Your baby may not be able to hold a pen or pencil. Still, you can provide many materials to help develop their mark-making skills. For example, with your support, they can explore some non-toxic paint; you may want to create their first-hand print! 

  • Make a mess-free mark-making sensory bag by adding a piece of paper to a zip lock bag and some drops of paint, secure it on the floor with some tape and let your baby make marks with their hands during tummy time.


Reaching 6 months

As your baby reaches the 6-month mark, you'll notice that their movements become more refined.

  • They'll start using their hands to feed themselves solid foods and may even use utensils like spoons and forks. 

  • As they explore their food, they'll become fascinated by the marks they begin to see when they splat it, shake it, and use a spoon; however, they are still exploring the concept of mark making, not yet able to fully control the marks that they make creating spontaneous marks instead.

  • During this stage, you can start providing a range of materials, such as sand, uncooked rice, cornflour etc., to encourage your baby to explore the sensory experience of making marks with their hands and fingers, feet and bodies. 

  • Encourage your little one to isolate their index finger and use it to explore and trace marks on a surface, e.g. making circles on the sand. 

  • Provide your baby with large pieces of paper to place on the floor or the wall and various mark-making tools such as chunky crayons, chalk, etc. 

  • Make marks together, commenting on what you are doing, the movements your hand is doing, and the marks you make, "I made a blue line, I'm drawing a round circle", etc.


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