Is it time to gain a new appreciation for scribbles?

My teaching partner, Paula, and I had this really interesting conversation after school yesterday. I’m bringing the discussion to the blog as I wonder if others have had similar discussions before, and I’d love to hear what you decided to do.

At the end of each day, Paula and I go back through our documentation, talk about the kids, and make plans for the next day. We also discuss the different areas in the room.

  • How have children used these spaces?
  • What should we keep the same?
  • What might we like to change? 

Yesterday, the sand and playdough spaces led to our most interesting conversation. We initially wondered if we should change both areas. While we saw some possible language and math connections in both spaces, we weren’t seeing children using these areas in these ways. The literacy and math connections were less evident than we hoped. Could we get more reading, writing, number exploration, and measurement experimentation happening in other ways?

But this is when we started to wonder … maybe as much as we want to develop reading, writing, and math skills, is it time to slow down? While I may know that kids need to develop relationships and feel comfortable in an environment before significant learning can happen, I still feel an internal drive for scores.

  • Who are our target students?
  • How do we reach these targets? 

Yesterday’s conversation reminded me that we just finished our fourth school day with kids. Maybe the playdough and the sand meet needs outside of academic ones.

  • Could they provide a calming option for some kids?
  • Does the sensory play help some children as they develop new friendships?
  • Do these items help with creative/make-believe play?

At the end of the day today, Paula and I decided to replace the playdough with water colour paint and keep the sand for at least one more day. We have a possible way to interrupt this sand play tomorrow. We really vacillated on these choices though, and only made them after deciding that if needed, the playdough could always come out again. 

With every comment I made today, I wondered …

  • Are we pushing reading and writing too early?
  • Have all necessary oral language skills been developed first?
  • Do we try to push, and then relent if kids don’t respond?

I almost felt as though I wanted a do-over each time I spoke, but then when I didn’t say or do anything, and just let things be, I also questioned if that was the right choice.

All of these thoughts were running through my head when Paula went on her lunch. It was during this time that our principal came into the classroom for a visit. As he walked around, I noticed him ask a little girl about a piece of work that she did. At first glance, it looked like she just scribbled two colours of marker all over a piece of paper. My first thought was jokingly, why did this need to be the single piece of paper work that he saw? 🙂 

Shortly after he left, I invited this same child to join me over at the creative table. We looked at how to draw a portrait together. It was interesting, for while she identified some different shapes she saw in the mirror and drew on the paper (e.g., a circle), she was all about just drawing lines and curved shapes … even with support. This made me realize that this is where this child is at, and she needs these lines and shapes to slowly progress to letter formation. It’s all a part of the process. Could this playdough and sand play also be a part of this process? I don’t want to neglect the connections to math and language, but I also don’t want to lose sight of the other benefits in these play opportunities. Is it time to gain a new appreciation for scribbles? I think that it might be. 


4 thoughts on “Is it time to gain a new appreciation for scribbles?

  1. Good morning Aviva,
    You always start my day with some provocative thinking!!
    I was curious about the wording of your first three questions:
    “Are we pushing reading and writing too early?
    Have all necessary oral language skills been developed first?
    Do we try to push, and then relent if kids don’t respond?”
    I was especially interested in your choice of wthe word “pushing” and it made me wonder what is the difference between “pushing” and “offering”. Do you offer the opportunities for reading and writing and then respond, challenge and extend depending on how children react? I wonder what are the “necessary oral language skills” and it is absolutely necessary for every one to be in place before children are offered opportunities to read and write? Is it possible for both sets of skills to develop simultaneously, with one set supporting development of the other? And is it “relenting” or is it recognizing when you are meeting a child at the edge of their learning and “pushing” on or changing your response when the”edge” isn’t where you thought it would be? Inquiring mind!!

    • Thanks for the comment, Jill! Such amazing questions. You always make me think. The interesting thing is that these three questions were ones I kept returning to before I published the post. I think that I re-worded them at least 10 times, and I wasn’t really happy with the final wording, but wasn’t sure why. Your questions make me wonder if it was some of this thinking that was making me reconsider my word choice.

      I wonder if some of the answers to these questions come down to how we define reading and writing. Are we looking at making sense of text and making markings on a page, or are we focused on accurate decoding and comprehension and letter-sound combinations only? As you know, many young readers and writers tell stories based on pictures they see, retell familiar books because they’ve heard them so many times before, read some words accurately because they’ve seen them regularly (such as their names), and give meaning to marks on a page even if there’s no letter in sight. We saw this a lot yesterday in our “restaurant,” as kids scribbled, read orders, and ordered food items based on the pictures they saw in the menus. Environmental print, such as restaurant names, were ones that many could read, even if they don’t recognize letters of the alphabet yet. And as all of this play takes place, we’re still introducing and reinforcing new vocabulary, and even exploring letter-sound combinations (orally and in writing) for those that are ready to help extend where kids are already at.

      I’d say that we invite reading and writing by our placement of texts, access to paper, various writing tools spread all around the room (from pencils to markers to paint), and an abundance of environmental print (eg, signs). We try to plan with kids in mind, and sometimes, we do go in a different direction because of how students respond. Knowing our learners also means knowing when we might gently nudge again versus when we might consider another option or another time. I guess what Paula and I were thinking about as part of our discussion is are we too focused on reading and writing? Are these what come to mind first? Are we inviting these opportunities because they make sense for that child or make sense given the context (ie, an authentic opportunity to do both) or because we know that there are benchmarks, expectations, and a desire (parental, school, and our own) to meet these expectations and show that a language rich, play-based program does allow for the solid development of reading, writing, and math skills? Sometimes I think it’s hard to know! I also wonder if our minds naturually go in these directions, as we want to support these academic skills, but are there other things that we should be supporting first and/or simultaneously? Yes, my brain is definitely sore this morning! 🙂


      • I think what your reply demonstrates clearly is that what goes through an educator’s mind “in the moment” is extremely complex and is based on SO many different factors! Your children and their families are so lucky to have you and Paula- such deep thinkers and so reflective in service of making the very best decisions for the kids. Thank you for continuing to put your thinking out there to challenge the rest of us.

        • Thanks Jill! Paula and I love the opportunity to have these discussions, but also extend them to people like you, who make us think even more. Thanks for continuing this discussion, Jill!


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