Toads and Younger Brothers: Two Explorations with Markers

Even the simplest materials, paper and markers, can lead to masterpieces! It was early in the day and all of our friends were still arriving. Most of the play was centered around the blocks and Lego but one little girl gravitated to the coloring station. Soon, 6 others joined the table and requested some paper. The coloring station had to be expanded! Sally began to draw right away. Given her posture and demeanor, she had something definite in mind to draw. She was working very seriously with the orange and red markers. Her tiny pincer grip held the marker tight and her tongue stuck out of the side of her mouth just ever so slightly (Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning, 2007). Her concentration was obvious which demonstrated that she is in the named scribbling stage of drawing according to Lowenfeld and Brittain (Fox & Schirrmacher, 2012).

She seemed to be finished drawing the circles and was now coloring them in with the fat side of the marker. Sally realized that when she held the marker straight it made a thin line (perfect for her shapes), but when she held it on an angle, the line was fatter (perfect for her coloring). Again, her tongue peeked out as she concentrated on keeping the marker from coloring outside her lines. Only the circles were being colored. In the middle of the larger circles on the page were 2 long rectangles, the ONLY other shape on the page! “They are long necks.”, she told me very definitively. However, I never did find out WHOSE long necks they were. After that very brief discussion regarding the rectangles, Sally finished with her coloring and moved on to draw circles in the top corner of the page.

“Were these circles going to be frogs too? What else lives in the pond?”, I inquired. These shapes were NOT frogs (she was very firm about this), these were ducks! As she drew, she explained each line and shape. “The ducks need legs.”; 2 lines appeared. “The ducks need heads”; 2 circles appeared.

All of the ducks’ body parts were drawn in the same area of the page but none of them actually connected with each other. It appeared that the ducks came in pieces. Sally demonstrated the pre-schematic stage of drawing where shapes take on a random spatial arrangement but they were all part of something (Fox & Schirrmacher, 2012). Soon, her combines will come together to make aggregates according to Kellog (Fox & Schirrmacher, 2012). I should’ve asked her about her duck pieces but she continued naming more parts. “They don’t have eyes.” It took a couple of seconds to decide whether or not the ducks SHOULD have eyes. Studying pictures of ducks with her would give her a better perspective and more information to include in her drawings. If we re-visit this activity, maybe her duck drawings would be more detailed (and have parts attached to each other). Yes, Sally’s ducks needed eyes after all and she began to add dots with the tip of the marker. Her experiments with the marker had shown her that many types of lines and shapes could be made — next, she made dots (Fox & Schirrmacher, 2012). The dots began to spread around the page. “It’s raining!”, Sally announced. After adding raindrops to her picture, she stopped, sat back and we examined her masterpiece. The look on her face was pure satisfaction! She drew a line at the top of the page and asked me to write her name; she was finished.

The very next day a toad had taken a rest at the edge of the playground. What a perfect extension of what she had drawn the other day! When I spotted him, I called Sally over right away. She was VERY hesitant at first as I explained how toads were related to frogs (and her picture). Then we started to list the ways that toads are the same and different from frogs. After that, she kept checking to make sure that the toad was okay — a personal bodyguard of sorts. She has become the champion of all things webbed!

Our friend Sammy loves numbers. He makes numbers using his fingers, by arranging paint chits and by twisting dandelions. Numbers are everywhere for Sammy, so it was no surprise that when markers and paper were put out onto the table, Sammy, with a blue marker in hand, began to write numbers, starting from 1. His numbers were drawn without hesitation, one after the other.

Ms. Ava, a teacher from the classroom next door, walked by, saw his work, and mentioned that it wasn’t until earlier this year that Sammy could draw circles. The faces he drew were always rectangular, and Ms. Tanya commented that Sammy’s numbers still appeared very linear. Ms. Ava agreed, and she took a sheet of paper from the middle of the table. She picked up a green marker from the table, drew a circle, and called for Sammy’s attention as she slowly embellished it — two eyes, a nose, a mouth, three strands of green hair, a very slender body and two slender legs.

“Is this Sammy?” she asked. Sammy nodded, and agreed — “Sammy!”

She slid the sheet across the table to him, and got up from the table to attend to another group of children in the room. Sammy was still looking at the sheet, and it occurred to me, why should that be all there is on the page?

“What else can we add to Sammy?” I asked. Sammy, with the blue marker still in hand, immediately added lines radiating out from his head, and added two slender “arms!”

“Great! What can we do next?” Sammy began to draw another circle, and just like Ms. Ava did, added two eyes, a nose, a mouth, two legs, and of course, two arms. “Daddy!” Sammy exclaimed. Within seconds, he was already starting another circle, with more eyes, another nose, another mouth, a pair of arms and legs. This time the legs were shorter than those of Sammy and Daddy. After examining it for several seconds, Sammy took his marker and extended the legs to match the length of the other two figures. This was “Mommy!”

Sammy put down the blue marker at this point and looked around the table at the other children, who were busy with their own drawings. Sydney, who was sitting the chair adjacent to Sammy, glanced over at his drawing, and commented “Hey! What about Matthew?” Matthew is Sammy’s younger brother, who also comes to this centre, but is in a different classroom.

“That’s a great idea, Sydney! Can we draw Matthew too, Sammy?” Sammy nodded, a new circle was drawn next to mom’s head, complete with features and limbs. This time the legs were drawn the same length as the other figures, without requiring any adjustments.

Sammy then began to draw a circle near Matthew’s left foot, with circles radiating out. “Snowshoes!” Sammy exclaimed, as he coloured in the circle. He then proceeded to colour in the “snowshoe”, and gave Matthew one for his right foot. “Shoes and socks” were then provided for Mommy and Daddy. He then proceeded write the corresponding names of all the figures, beginning with Sammy, all the way to Matthew.

In this classroom, the markers are often put out for the children, as it provides an art activity that requires little cleanup. However, there is often little guidance involved as the children are engaged. Thus, the opportunity to guide the exploration of the markers was a unique experience. If anything, the easy cleanup should increase the time children and educators can spend with the materials, and allow educators more time and opportunity to guide exploration. The children are also very familiar with markers, and so the experience is often more representational than sensory.

In addition to his interest in numbers, Sammy has always shown an interest in literacy, and enjoys reading books and singing songs (B.S.E.P.E.L., 2007). He also commonly expresses himself through letters, has been able to identify and spell words that begin with different letters of the alphabet, suggesting phonological awareness and letter recognition (B.S.E.P.E.L., 2007). He exhibits a number of literacy skills that are often observed beyond his current age of 4 — printing and identifying uppercase letters in sequence, and his printing has appropriate slant, shape and legibility (Brigance, 2013).

Sammy’s ability to write letters and numbers is a display of fine motor skills, as is his ability to draw the specific features of each of the figures. At age 4, he is able to draw a person with trunk and feet without additional consideration (Brigance, 2013). He can also write uppercase letters without having to copy — another skill that is often observed beyond his age (Brigance, 2013). His ability to replicate the features on each of the figures is also evidence of fine motor skills (B.S.E.P.E.L., 2007). These skills allowed him to easily incorporate Sydney’s suggestions without hesitation. Where’s Matthew? Not a problem, let’s put him right next to Mom! His familiarity with letters allowed him to add the names of family members to their respective figure with ease as well.

While the green Sammy began as nothing more than a discussion about circles, it started a process of Sammy taking a representation of him from another person’s perspective, and slowly incorporating details to turn it into a representation of himself from his own perspective. Without specific prompting, he drew his three family members and also tied in a component of literacy, which is a means of expressing himself that he often uses. His mastery of numbers and letters allows him to use literacy as a means of further exploring his self-concept and identity — in this case, the connections he has to his family (B.S.E.P.E.L., 2007).

It was lovely to watch that this exploration and representation of self was not just an internal process, but one that other children at the table engaged in as well. Sydney exhibited social skills in exchanging ideas, and was being able to understand Sammy’s depiction of the family and seeing family from Sammy’s perspective (B.S.E.P.E.L., 2007). Explorations with the markers are an individual experience for each child, but they can also be an opportunity for them to explore the artwork of others. It would be great to have another opportunity to sit at the marker table and guide exploration, but also to 
guide the children to guide each other. Until next time!

Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning (2007). Early Learning for Every Child Today: A Framework for Ontario Early Childhood Settings. Toronto, ON: Government of Ontario.

Brigance inventory of early development III. (2013). North Billerica, MA: Curriculum Associates, LLC.

Fox, J. E., & Shirrmacher, R. (2012). Art & Creative Development for Young Children (7th ed.). Belmont CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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