Thinking about mark-making in relation to school readiness

Being school-ready is about being ready to learn, even during a pandemic. For me, the practical application of the term ‘school readiness’ is summarised within the characteristics of effective learning. Children who are interested, excited and motivated to learn will be more ready for school because we know that children’s future success in school and beyond is directly linked to their learning to be a learner. 

Interestingly, I don’t like the phrase school readiness! You may think it strange that someone who has written a book called “School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning” would write this but it is the emotional response people have when they hear the phrase that spurred me on to choose this title. Although using the contested phrase might have put many people off reading the book, I wanted to spark a debate and claim the phrase ‘school readiness’ in an appropriate way for young children and defining it within the context of them being ready to learn.

There is no nationally recognised definition of school readiness in England, yet school readiness regularly hits the headlines and is stated as one of the purposes of the EYFS. It also means different things to different people. If you are a reception class teacher the most important skills and abilities that you want children to have on entering school may be very different from others. For example, a child who can take themselves to the toilet independently is worth their weight in gold in those first few weeks of term and may be the difference between cleaning up a puddle on the floor or not! For a parent, a child who is school ready might be a child who can separate from them for the whole day, whereas policy makers might consider a child to be school ready if they can write their own name or count reliably to 10. A childminder or early years practitioner might consider a child to be school ready if they are able to be independent in their learning or perhaps have good social skills. 

You may have come across this analogy before – we’re all in the same storm but not all in the same boat - and this is particularly true when thinking about mark-making. All our children are from different backgrounds and cultures and will have had very different experiences over the past eighteen months. If we think about their writing experiences, some may not have seen adults writing, whilst others may have. Not everyone will have had the opportunity to mark-make and we may find this to be a particular issue for boys.

Girls still outperform boys in all areas of learning and development in the EYFS Profile, which is the assessment at the end of the reception year in England, writing being the largest gap, although the gap is closing slightly. We know that boys are not any less clever than girls at this age, it’s just that girls are better suited to the ways that schools teach and assess children and may enjoy sitting and mark-making more than boys. In addition, boys’ spoken language and fine motor control develops slightly later than girls and they tend to be more active and find sitting still harder. Of course, I am generalising here, but this makes a huge difference to their ability to sit still and concentrate, a skill which, sadly, many schools require young children to master! With this in mind, schools need to be ready for children and think about making their expectations more developmentally appropriate.

So in order to create a more even playing field for our children, and in particular our boys, we need to focus on developing an environment that is so engaging and inspiring, we can’t stop our children from mark-making and writing! We need to offer them writing materials and access to different media that will start the ball rolling in relation to mark-making. Put simply, they need to want to write!

Here are some ideas of how we can encourage mark-making and writing in our settings:

  • Create a language-rich environment and support speaking and listening
  • Provide lots of opportunities for fine motor skill development, for example, using tools, locks and keys, tweezers
  • Role model being a writer and explain why we write on a daily basis
  • Offer opportunities for mark-making in every area of our continuous provision
  • Think about how children can mark-make with media other than pencils and pens, for example, charcoal, sticks in mud, cars in gloop, paintbrushes on walls, chalk on tarmac…
  • Ensure that our role-play area always has a writing element within it
  • Offer plenty of mark-making opportunities outside
  • Create a writing or graphics area which includes interesting resources and media, for example, cards, notelets, exciting pens, and shaped paper
  • Demonstrate that we value children’s mark-making by displaying it in our setting
  • Provide opportunities for large scale mark-making projects inside and outside
  • Consider offering opportunities for children to mark-make on different surfaces; wood, stone, paper, card, brick, mud
  • Offer messy mark-making opportunities - the messier the better as this is often very attractive to our children
  • Think about opportunities to write whilst lying down, standing up, under tables, or on the move
  • Create ‘writing on the move’ resources, for example, clipboard/pens, backpacks, toolkits, lunchboxes (Cigman, 2014)
  • Provide examples of writing for exciting purposes, for example, secret messages, invisible writing, codes to crack, maps, stories, and books that link with children’s interests

So let’s encourage our children to mark-make in whatever format they can throughout the day and, as children leave our settings and move onto school, encourage our children to really make their mark!

About the author:

Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

Tamsin has written three books – “Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children” , “School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning” and “Calling all Superheroes: Supporting and Developing Superhero Play in the Early Years” and is working on a fourth looking at “Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years”.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email tamsingrimmer@hotmail.co.uk

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