20 Easy ways to support mark making

Gruffalo scratch art - mark making
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Mark Making was one of the first targets my kids were given in their reports from nursery. It would also say a multisensory approach was needed. So in this post I am going to share some really easy ideas that have worked well for us.

What is mark making?

Mark making is the first step in learning to write. Essentially it is making marks such as dots, lines, scribbles, repetitive marks or patterns. Mark making can be pen on paper or using fingers in mud it is about developing the muscle control.

Mark making is a large part of early years development. Making marks, dots and lines along with first scribbles is a key step in developing the skills needed for writing. Alongside this sitting, attention and concentration skills all need to develop to support the ability to write later on.

A Multisensory Approach

Multi sensory basically means using lots of your senses – sight, hearing, smell, movement etc. Touch is a key one here and finding different ways to interact with mark making to help find what works for your child. My boys are both sensory seekers and will spend much longer on something like a water pen or blackboard than they would with pen and paper.

Every child will have different preferences and at first we just want them to have fun and develop the motor skills while they play. Some will engage quickly with mark making others will take a bit longer. Initially some will only do a couple of dots or strokes then lose interest, this is fine because it will develop over time.

The most important thing you can do as a parent / carer is provide lots of access to different multi sensory approaches to help encourage mark making.

20 multisensory mark making approches:

1: Paint

Painting is something most of us do with our kids but try to introduce different instruments. Try painting with different objects brushes, sponges combs, leaves, cotton reels, kitchen utensils. A great one is driving toys through paint, for some extra sensory feedback try doing it on foil.

Attention Builders for Attention Autism

2: Pens

Board marker pens are great as they are thicker so easier to grip for little hands. Letting kids loose on a white board is usually worth it. My boy’s loved the Think Board we had. Lots of different coloured pens are great, I like to use the Crayola washable pens so its easily wiped up when they mark the table / wall / me! My boys seem to love using biro’s too especially when I leave my diary open so they can scribble over all my appointments!

3: Pencils

You can buy thicker pencils which are again easier for small hands, we use these BIC learner pencils. Having a set of coloured pencils as well as pens allows more choice and will work better on paper and colouring in books.

4: Crayons

Crayons are a must for early mark making, they are great for teaching the need for pressure. Remember you don’t need to just use paper with crayons why not draw on a cardboard box or piece of fabric.

5: Chalk

Chalk is one that has great sensory feedback but remember some may hate the noise of chalk on a blackboard. Others like my youngest will love it and spend ages on his chalk picture! The kids easel from Ikea is great as it has a blackboard one side and whiteboard the other, plus it folds away easily.

Chalk marks on blackboard
mark making with chalk

6: Stamps

Stamps can be great fun from foam stamps or homemade vegetable stamps for paint to ink sets with our favourite characters. My youngest has hyperlexia so he is a big letters fan and loves his letter stamps.

7: Light up board

A bit like a whiteboard these LED drawing boards are brilliant. Another one perfect for sensory seekers.

Light up board
light up board

8: Foam

My boys love a bit of foam play and we tend to use bath foam soap rather than shaving cream but both work. You can just put some foam on a tray and use fingers, brushes or utensils to make lots of marks. A fun one with foam is to make fluffy paint. My son loves to help make this up by simply mixing foam, PVA glue and food colouring.

foam paint
shaving foam paint

9: Sand

Sand is great for mark making, especially with a big stick or your foot on the beach. A sandpit in the garden is ideal in summer, my son would sit in his turtle sandpit for hours with small sticks making patterns.

10: Flour

Flour and also icing sugar are great for using fingers to make patterns. Or as my son decided below why not use a toy sword! PECS has a fun puffy sidewalk chalk activity you can do outside with flour.

11: Mud

If your kids love getting messy then mud is just as fun, preferable with a stick but I know my boys love sitting in some mud using their hands. It is easy to add a little soil with water in a tray for some fun on a rainy day.

12: Snow / ice

Snow is brilliant because most kids love it. As we don’t get much snow here ice can be just as fun. On a hot day use some ice to make marks on the pavement. On a cold day use paintbrushes dipped in hot water to mark and melt a block of ice. This can be great if you freeze some toys into the block.

13: Scratch art

Scratch art sets are great as your child gets to slowly reveal the picture. This Gruffalo set was very popular with my boys. You can also get scratch books that you use a coin to reveal the picture.

14: Water magic

Another brilliant sensory picture reveal is water magic. My boys particularly like the Galt water magic books which include little water pens (pictured above).

15: Apps

There are some brilliant apps that are designed to get kids tracing letters or making art with their fingers. My kids love ‘Peppa’s Paintbox’ which is a free app. Lots of apps have alphabet tracing which has really helped my boys to form letters. We use ‘ABC Alphabet Letter Tracing’ which is free and Otsimo which is paid but includes letter tracing and much more.

16: Wipe clean books

Wipe clean books really helped my boys with concentration, I think they are particularly good for visual learners. Ideal when you want to start with lines and shapes, you can then move on to letters, numbers and words.

Wipe clean shapes
wipe clean shape worksheet

17: Air writing

Ideal for very active kids, you can use you arm or finger to write and make shapes in the air. When starting try things like dance ribbons that will make shapes as you move them. This is also great for crossing the midline.

18: Worksheets

As mark making develops worksheets are a great way to encourage shapes and then letters. I often use Twinkl worksheets in our TEACCH bag. Here are some good ones to try:

mark making worksheet from Twinkl
mark making worksheet from Twinkl

19: Stencils / rulers

Introduce stencils and rulers to help make more defined marks. Rulers can be great fun when they are first introduced. Letter stencils are good for those starting letter formation.

20: Messy play

Messy play often works well for mark making. Cornflour and water gloop is ideal and usually a hit with sensory seekers. Another fun one on a sunny day is a large paintbrush and bucket of water so your child can ‘paint’ a wall or window.

Learning to write takes a long time but all of this early activity helps build the skills needed. Kids will start with mark making and move on to shape and letter formation. When they start to form shapes teaching a child to write their own name can be great motivation.

My kids also do Handwriting without Tears at school which includes a multi sensory approach to handwriting. Over lockdown school sent home the kit (picture below) and it is a great way to support handwriting for those that may need a bit longer and a different approach.

handwriting without tears set
handwriting without tears

I hope this has given you some ideas. Please share your mark making tips and suggestions in the comments below.

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***This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase via these links I may receive a small commission but this is at no additional cost to you, it does however support this blog.***


    • admin
      15th November 2020 / 7:50 am

      Thanks I am glad it is helpful

  1. Malin - Sensational Learning with Penguin
    19th November 2020 / 6:22 am

    Love seeing all these ideas, and great info about using a multisensory approach etc as well! We’ve got a renewed focus on literacy going on here at the moment, so I’m planning to incorporate more mark-making again in connection with that. Your post has sparked a few ideas, thank you! x #KCACOLS

    • admin
      19th November 2020 / 6:57 am

      Glad to have given you some ideas.

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