I teach 3 and 4 year olds, and it's my responsibility to help prepare them to start school. One of the things I've asked current Primary 1 teachers is what they want the kids to be able to do when they come to them from Nursery. One of the resounding requests is that the children know how to hold a pencil and are at least beginning to make marks that resemble symbols and letters. This is tricky business when Nursery is all about free choice, free flow, and freedom. If I can't take the children to the drawing table, I have to take the drawing table to them.
1. Use different mediums and resources. Some children aren't at the stage where they feel confident with traditional writing tools like pens and pencils. Touch screens are a great way to engage hesitant mark makers. They don't have to fumble with a writing tool, and they can instantly start a new picture.
2. Provide interesting props, resources, and tools. Sometimes all it takes is some interesting prop or picture or thingamabob. Other than pens and pencils, what are you putting out on your drawing table? Maybe just the pens and pencils aren't motivational enough to bring those hesitant mark makers over. I've provided photos, mirrors, word mats, books, toys, staplers, stampers, hole punchers, tubs with things related to an interest, vegetables, shells, keys, pebbles, lego, stickers... The list could go on.
3. Change the location. Mark making doesn't have to happen at the drawing table, or any table for that matter. Look around your room; where are your kids playing? Neatly at a table or sprawled across the floor? In this particular example, I taped a huge piece of paper to the floor and provided paint and brushes. The children listened to music as they painted what the music made them feel or think. On other occasions, I've simply left the large paper taped to the floor and let the children create in any way they wanted. Large movements help develop skills necessary to eventually make smaller movements on smaller paper.
4. Make a mess. Kids love getting messy, so use that to your advantage. The shaving foam is very popular in my room, and although you can't keep the evidence of mark making, it's still happening and developing those important fine motor skills. Take lots of photos!
5. Take it outside. The outdoors offer a lot of opportunities to mark make. Chalk, puddles & brushes, puddles & wheels, leaves, sticks, pebbles, grass all offer opportunities to mark make in a less traditional sense.
In the end, don't fret. Your kids will learn how to hold a pencil. They will learn how to write. But they need the opportunity to explore mark making in different ways before they're forced to actually write words and numbers and letters. They need that time to learn that marks and print can have meaning, and to begin to attribute meaning to their own work. Chances are, they'll be able to hold a pencil by the time they get to Primary 1, and most will be able to write their name and copy print. Just give them time to have fun and explore.
Happy Mark Making!