Making Meaning out of Making Marks: Activities for Little Ones Learning to Write
Little Bee, who is about 2 and a half now, loves to colour together. But what I think she loves most about it is watching me and making meaningful marks on the page, like when I write her name, or the date, or a grocery list if it comes to me in the moment. She has interest in making letters she knows, or the starting letter of someone she loves, but she is still developing the muscles in her hand that allow her to control the marker, pen, or paintbrush.
In an effort to prevent frustration, this morning we tried something new
We have played with sand trays before using anything and everything you can imagine:
- rice (white, or more fun – coloured!)
- flour (with sparkles mixed in if you are brave)
- small beads (keep in mind the learner you have or younger siblings that might ingest fallen bits)
- or anything else you might have on hand that would be small and light enough to manipulate in a small tray or box – I would love to hear what other ideas you have!
This activity is all about making the shapes, lines, and designs that exist in later letter formation without the pressure of “correctly writing the letter”. It’s a fun, relaxing, exciting and artistic way to draw in the sand, rice, flour, salt – learning through play.
What children learn from this activity:
- practice holding a brush, stick, pen for control and fine motor muscle development (used to shape the letters for handwriting)
- preparation for handwriting
Moving beyond simply tracing something that exists on a page (although there is value in this too and our freebie can be used this way also – see more below), children like Little Bee have a freedom to create, develop an independence in making meaningful marks, and most importantly develop a confidence in their growing abilities in letter formation, and eventually writing.
What we did:
In using the same steps to build muscles in the hand (fine motor), and the same tactile experience that one would get putting pen to paper, we are working on early writing skills while keeping the activity playful, meaningful and entertaining.
FIRST: I printed the freebie and cut the sections of inspirational mark making. I wrote Little Bee’s name on the bottom section before laminating.
I recommend laminating because I LOVE laminating but here are a few other great reasons:
- for dramatic play in which your child comes up with their own meaning for what these can be: money, mail, recipe cards – this allows them to last through the play longer – these pouches are my favourite
- place them in a zip lock bag to do a similar activity as this one, but while tracing over the designs in a bag of paint, goo, or shampoo (I’ll write more about this later – it’s a really fun activity) and then use a finger to trace over the shapes and swirls.
- laminating the whole sheet before cutting for use with dry erase markers or crayola washable markers which can be wiped off again and again (a favourite here and shown in the EXTENSIONS below)
With this freebie, you are welcome to print off as many copies as you like – for, as you will see, there are so many uses for it! ENJOY!
NEXT: Little Bee could choose a twig, pencil, marker with cap on, or paintbrush to make her marks. It doesn’t really matter what she uses, her finger works just as well too, but this is just a chance for her to hold the tool and get to know how to use it and manipulate it, while developing the muscles to hold it with control. Building the strength to hold a pencil is something that takes time and allowing her to use all sorts of different tools makes this more interesting for her and allows her to experiment with the way each works. BONUS: We turn on relaxing music that encourages Little Bee to take her time, without my suggestion to do so. This makes the moment that much softer and allows us both to get lost in the movement of the activity.
We use music and when we are trying to quiet down after a busy morning, below is a great video I often play in the background while doing a low key activity – while winding down.
LAST: I filled a pie plate with flour and sparkles and placed the newly cut cards (from the freebie) beside the tray for inspiration. She could choose one at a time, or make multiple in the tray at once. It was her time to play and learn and there was no wrong way to go about it. I also filled myself a tray to do this along with her, to let her watch me work and copy if she chose to do so, or to allow conversation to happen which is always the best part for me. The stories my girl comes up with are amazing. But this is also an activity that she can do independently if I need a quick moment here or there to work away at something around the house (nearby in case her creativity opts to take this activity to the floor…)
We usually use a cookie sheet, which come in so many sizes for activities like this as the height of the edges is perfect to contain the flour (or whatever you might like to use) and the surface is large enough to make lots of marks. Little Bee has her own cookie tray that we use for activities so that we don’t have to worry about mixing our learning through play with our kitchen experiments – just in case. But we had been baking earlier this morning (which is why the flour was readily available) and we wanted to extend the activity afterward by adding water to make a sloppy mess of “sparkle pie”. There are incredible Montessori trays made for just this purpose, and Melissa and Doug toys come in beautiful boxes that we use for this type of play as well. But, we’ve found the cookie sheet to work just perfectly and is magnetic as well for magnet play! This post contains affiliate links which if used cost you nothing extra, but a small percentage comes back to me to support more learning!
- As noted above, we also laminate the whole sheet (writing Little Bee’s name on the bottom section beforehand in a light coloured marker), and use either a dry erase marker or a Crayola washable marker to draw over the lines and wipe clean to use the same sheet over and over. Even wiping the page clean again works on the skills needed to strengthen the hand and control the muscles.
- If you have someone in the house that is working on cutting skills, print out an extra copy of the freebie and cut out each section as you did for the letter formation in the sand, but this time provide scissors and have them cut along the swirling, whirling lines.
It’s important for me to encourage this exploration in my Little Bee. Splashing in a pond and watching the ripples move across the water holds a world of meaning, just as the swoosh of a paintbrush across a newly placed piece of paper does to both she and I. It could be the baby steps to a budding artist, writer, song writer or change maker, preparing to make a difference with her meaningful mark.
Do you have any activities you like to do with your little one to encourage independence and confidence for later skill development? I would love to hear about it! Comment below or reach out directly ♥