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Scribbles are Language Too

While cleaning up the house today, I came across my four-year-old’s composition notebook and went through it. (I'll admit, before this I hadn't actually looked through this notebook...ever).

As I scrolled through the pages and pages of scribbles, I realized that when initially skimming through, that’s really all I could see… scribbles, chaos, messiness. However, as I paid more attention and investigated further, I realized that this notebook of chaotic doodles is her first interpretation of written communication.

I could see that her scribbles followed many of the same processes we use when we write actual text. Her scribbles read left to right, she attempted to stay within the lines and write horizontally across the page. Her pictures and scribbles started at the top of the page and worked its way to the bottom. ALL of these observations are strong suggestions that my four-year-old is actually demonstrating elements of authoring, or the “authoring cycle,” as researchers Harste and Woodward explain in their book titled, “Language Stories & Literacy Lessons.”

In their research, linked here, they explain that even the earliest examples of writing (or scribbles) can identify a lot about a child's processing of language. When looking closely are a child’s doodle, we can often see:

  • Organization of conventions and the cognitive processes adults go through when they compose a written text

  • Intentionality or evidence children knew their marks signify something

  • Generativeness, which is an attempt to generate or make meaning

  • Risk-taking or trying things they hadn't before

  • Awareness that writing & language have social functions

  • Understanding that context matters in language and there’s a collective meaning

It dawned on me today that I don’t think I celebrate these doodles enough with my daughter.

I should be asking her more questions about the scribbles and doodles I find all over the place…sometimes even on my walls (lucky me!)

As parents, I wonder how many of us even realize all the benefits of encouraging this type of creative expression.

Moving forward, I am going to make a conscious effort to remind myself to do the following:

1. Look at all the scribbles she shows me and ask her specific questions about it. “What is this? What does this mean? Did you write me a letter?”

2. I am going to encourage her to continue to fill her notebook with her stories!

3. I am going to have my daughter watch me write and explain to her what I am writing about.

4. Look for patterns within her doodles and highlight those patterns with her as we discuss what she wrote.

5. Celebrate more! I am always celebrating my 6-year-old’s work because she is stringing words together and forming sentences into little stories, but I need to do more of this with my 4-year-old because she is doing it TOO!

I encourage you to look deeper into your child’s scribbles and you’ll be amazed to get a glimpse inside their incredible imaginations.

Believe in the magic of reading (and writing).


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