Literacy Development: The Importance of Doodling

This is a wonderful guest post from the excellent Kate from An Amazing Child and The Education Network. Kate is also a teacher and Mum of two and we are really pleased to have found each other! This month we have swapped posts about literacy development so be sure to read my post Literacy Development: The Importance of Rhyme on her site too. 
Long before children are able to draw a rainbow or write their name, they are learning how to express themselves through doodling. 

Doodling isn’t just scribbling:
Doodling is so much more than simply scribbling indiscriminately. For our children, doodling is developmentally the first step towards handwriting and drawing. 
Toddlers have limited control over their motions and so initially their doodling may seem inconsistent however as their motor skills develop their doodling becomes more purposeful, with large strokes, circles and lines appearing. Following this are rhythmic repetitive strokes (drawing around and around for example). As your toddler grows and their understanding of the world broadens, they start to see images in their drawings. This is an important step as they are now connecting drawing with thoughts and are realising that images can be represented in drawings. Whilst their drawings are still unintentional at this stage, it is important to encourage their efforts and accept that that squiggly line is in fact a dinosaur. 
By the age of about three, children have gained a measure of fine motor control and are also beginning to imagine and create. At this stage, their drawings become intentional. They imagine a scene or an image and set about creating it. This is a very exciting step for little children and one, which if nurtured, will encourage a richer imagination and joy of creating. 
So, what else can doodling do?
Doodling allows our children to:
  • Experiment with implements – as they doodle they are learning the pressure required to make a mark as well as the angle at which to hold the implement in order to gain greater control over their markings.
  • Develop hand-eye coordination 
  • Improve muscular strength – just as play dough helps to develop those all important finger and wrist muscles, so does doodling
  • Improve dexterity
  • Develop expressive hands
  • Develop independent thinking – when left to draw independently, children make decisions on what colours they use, and how they use them
  • Boost creative thinking – children find great joy and satisfaction in doodling. They become confident using the materials, which is important for instilling a love of drawing and creating.  
  • Center and calm themselves – independent doodling encourages children to sit and be still and quiet for a period of time (and we all know how difficult that is for toddlers)
  • And lastly, doodling encourages early literacy – doodling leads to children recognising that their lines and symbols can represent tangible objects. This is one of the first steps towards reading and writing. The understanding that lines form letters, letters form words and words have meaning. 
How can we encourage our children to pick up that marker and draw?
  • Have paper and pens easily accessible throughout the house. This way your child can draw whenever they want
  • Put together a travel drawing kit with pens and paper for when you’re out and about
  • Sit with them if they ask, but allow them to draw independently
  • Don’t feel you need to have them draw or create ‘something’
  • Create doodling provocations. Put out some pens and interesting paper in new places for your little one to stumble upon. Change up the places, as well as the items you put out regularly
  • Let your child see you drawing – we have found this to be most effective with J. We sit near him and start drawing and more often than not he will toddle over and draw too.
  • Lastly and most importantly, allow the process to happen naturally. Some children adore drawing and will doodle all day, others won’t. J was the latter. We found that when we tried to schedule in drawing time, “Let’s draw!” he never wanted to or would humour us for two minutes and leave to do something else. It wasn’t until we set up the provocations and also sat near him to draw that he started showing an interest. 
So, have writing materials available, create drawing places to stumble upon, but mostly, don’t stress about sitting them down and ‘drawing’. If the environment is set for independent natural expression, your little one will find the pens. 

Happy doodling,
Come and share your thoughts on early literacy in our Singers of Songs, Tellers of Tales group on TEN: The Education Network
If you are a new member, you can join easily using Facebook Connect, then search Singers of Songs, Tellers of Tales in the search box. Hope to see you there.


  1. says

    Kate, thank you for sharing this information. It’s important, especially for parents to realize how important doodling (and random cutting) is. And thank you for sharing ideas on encouragement. I have passed this article on both on my FB page and twitter because I feel it is information that is necessary for our children’s later success in school.

    Rachele @ Messy Kids

  2. says

    Wow that’s interesting ! At what age can children start “doodling” ? Or are there any hints I can read that show me that my child is able ?

  3. says

    I think Henry’s a lot like your J – not that interested in doodling – will do it for seconds, maybe minutes at a time – he has started to like to draw lines and is very proud of it when he does. I’ll have to start doing some things to encourage it (but not push it) because it is so important – its not just for art :)

  4. says

    One of my kids isn’t interested in doodling either… I don’t pressure or encourage it. I figure he’s only a boy for a little while. His sisters enjoy coloring, and he enjoys kicking things, he’ll learn to color a circle eventually :)

  5. says

    Brilliant summary Kate – any mark making, be it seemingly random scribbling or drawing figures are important steps on the way to communicating through print and it is so easy to overlook something as “just scribbling”. Love the pics too!

  6. says

    Thank you everyone for the encouraging comments.
    @Nadine – I think one of the most important things you can do is have the materials accessible. The more they see them, the more they have experience using them, the more confident they will become. We started with thick markers when J was quite young (maybe 8 months old) although his large strokes didn’t start showing up until he was closer to 2. But the evolution of his doodling was definitely there. Uncontrolled movements to repetitive motions to large strokes to now, recognising images in his markings.

  7. says

    I love the way you’ve encouraged the “having a go” principle here, Kate. It’s so important for us as parents to model the things we want our kids to value – and I for one want kids to value all forms of creative thinking.