Early Years Garden – Part 4 – Mark Making Matters

Mark making matters - early writing - learning through play - outdoor learning - Mud kitchen

What is mark making?

Mark making is one of the precursors to learning to write, to express yourself through drawing and other artistic media and to develop mathematical understanding. That ‘scribble’ isn’t just a scribble, it means something; you just may not understand.

Depending upon the child’s communication skills they may have the language to be able to help you understand their marks. Understanding the context can be an important first step in helping you to understand. Don’t just expect simple; children’s marks can have incredibly complex meanings and encompass big themes. Through considerate questioning you can often begin to comprehend a child’s marks.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Why does it matter?

Writing, drawing and recording are things which require several different, complex skills before they can be mastered.

Writing requires:

  • Vocabulary to be able to describe
  • Body, hand and finger strength
  • Motor skills acquisition to hold a pencil and make different shapes
  • Hand eye co-ordination
  • Ability to encode words, breaking down words into their phonemes (sounds)
  • An understanding of the alphabetic code – which symbols represent the phonemes (sounds)
  • An understanding of syntax, punctuation and grammar so that words go together to make sense to the reader
  • Ability to read, so that you can understand what you have written

Do check out my phonics blog series here for lots more information and ideas.

Complex Skills

That’s a lot of skills to be able to do one thing! Drawing requires other skills such as an understanding of colours, an ability to copy or imagine. Often a tool such as a pencil can be held in different ways for drawing/ colouring/ sketching. In mathematics and science there are other codes to be understood such as numerals and calculation signs.

Mark making helps children to express themselves and develop these essential, communication skills.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

What can I do?

When I worked in school it was really obvious that some children had a natural affinity with the outdoors. It is expected, in the early years teaching, that children will have equal access to indoors and outdoors. This means that although some things are easier to do outside or vice-versa, each area of learning should be available both indoors and outdoors. So, children who want to spend their time outside can do so, getting a full and rich access to resources in which to further their play and learning in all areas.

Mark Making Outdoors Not Just Indoors Out

This doesn’t just mean putting the resources from inside, outside. You are not going to encourage many children to develop their mark making skills just by putting some paper and pencils outside. Whether indoors or outdoors, I’ve always found that children have more impetus to mark make when there is a context and more importantly, a purpose. Outdoors offers lots of unique opportunities to communicate through marks in a very open and refreshing way. There are no shortage of objects, plants and creatures to gather inspiration from.

A little note – I think it’s really important to help both boys and girls engage with materials to mark make. Making areas and using resources that appeal to everybody is crucial.

Ideas to inspire mark making.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Mud Kitchens

I adore mud kitchens. This post is all about mark making and mud kitchens give lots of opportunities to mark make for a purpose. It could be to write up a price list on your kitchen chalkboard, write a menu, take an order, note down a recipe, list ingredients, make flyers for an event, there are lots of possibilities. If you didn’t catch my post on just how much I love mud kitchens and why, there’s a link here.

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Chalkboards 

You could put up a chalk board somewhere in the garden or use chalk paint to cover part of a fence or planter. Children often enjoy using chalks as they can easily erase and make changes to their marks. It could be used to make observational drawings or a to do list for garden jobs.

Setting up a few resources for a role play area next to a chalkboard can give oodles of mark making possibilities. Don’t have a chalkboard? You could use chalks on paving or a large opened out cardboard box on grass.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Plant Labelling and Diaries

A great real purpose to mark make is labels in the garden. Depending upon the mark making skills of the child they may draw, or begin to form letters to make labels for plants. You could use lolly sticks or rocks. They could track the growth of certain plants through a plant diary using drawings of the plant. Older children to could begin to describe what they see.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Outdoor Easels

If you’ve read some of my posts before you’ll know I love messy play, but the mess makes me twitch. I’m like a hovering helicopter trying to foresee and avoid the impending doom that may forgo us, the carpet or furniture, yet I still LOVE messy play! This outdoor easel is perfect; all the fun, with a relaxed Moma (built by @beachballdesign).

How you react to situations really influences children’s thoughts, feelings and how they express themselves. So, if you feel like me when it comes to messy play then embrace the outdoors and allow your little ones to be free and uninhibited as they create their marks.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Journals 

Nature journals are a lovely way to explore the outdoors and encourage mark making. It can have a scientific theme, recording weather, plants and animals or a more impressionistic format, which will depend upon the child’s interests.

A ‘secret’ journal can be a lovely idea for outdoors. Children can record their outdoor, real or imaginary, adventures.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Beautiful Resource Nooks 

If you’re setting up mark making resources outside make them look really inviting. Putting up previous mark making as a gallery is a lovely idea too. Using outdoor resources such as the colour hunt in the picture acts as a lovely stimulus for inviting mark making.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Glorious Mud

Using natural resources like mud and water is great outdoors. Mud finger painting or using a paint brush with mud is perfect for outdoor mark making. If you don’t fancy the idea of mud all over the place then water on paint brushes can be used to mark make on the patio or rocks. I love clipboards for the outdoors. Teem them with a funky pen and you have a winning mark making combination for your little adventurer or nature detective. A pair of binoculars can really add to the experience too. Paper on the clipboard could be plain or have a starting point to spark their interest.

Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

If you’d like more mark making ideas check out our latest blog post here.

Our Dream Garden Update

As you can see we’re still a way off, yet there is definitely progress. We’ve got some lovely decking, a pergola up and the big planters are starting to take shape. I’m really excited about the space by the pergola. This is where a mud kitchen will live. The pergola itself I’m hoping to drape with fabric and make paper lanterns so that it’s a really magical, importantly shady spot for Floss to make her concoctions. The planter next to it is shaped as such, so there will be a bench seat in the hollow. I’m getting really excited as the work progresses and the dream begins to turn into reality.

Garden before photo - dream garden plan
Garden of Our Dreams - Mark Making Matters - Fine motor skills - messy play - outdoors - gardening - mud kitchen - ealry years- writing

Coming next – Early Years Garden of Our Dreams – Part 5  – Secret Small World Play.

Previously

In the future

  • Part 6 – Inviting Wildlife
  • Part 7 – Planting for Toddlers
  • Part 8 – Alfresco Dining for Tiddlers
  • Part 9 – Terrific Trees
  • Part 10 – Den Building

As always, I would recommend adult supervision with activities and take care to ensure the items you are using are suitable for your child in both age and development. Specifically, with outdoors, I think it’s really important to make sure that you reassess risks before each time you allow access to outside. A school I used to work in was next to a road and we always had to make sure that nothing had blown or been thrown in. It’s also good to consider how you will explain safety aspects such as some things being dangerous to eat in gardens and woods. The views expressed are my own.