Play experience case study: The writing wall
Friday, June 10, 2022
Chloe Webster, a home-based childminder, shares an innovative, large-scale mark making experience she provided for her children within her provision.
Mark-making is an integral part of children's learning and development, from the earliest marks, right through to early writing skills and letter formation. However, it is important to acknowledge that for some children, mark-making is not an interest of theirs and it can be difficult to get them to engage. Therefore, it is our job as educators to find new, engaging, and innovative ways to provide mark-making opportunities and experiences which are appealing to all children.
Many people may think that mark-making is only of vital importance for the pre-school aged children within a setting, but mark-making and early writing skills are developed much earlier which is why it is essential to ensure that the mark-making opportunities we are providing are accessible, exciting and engaging for children of all ages to spark an interest and start building and developing these essential early writing skills as soon is developmentally appropriate for the individual child.
We must also remember to not just support simple acts of learning such as: how to hold and use writing and mark-making materials, ascribing meanings to marks and creating large lines and circles or smaller, more intricate marks, but also support children to begin to use marks to ‘represent’ letters and numbers – all of these skills are integral for early writing and letter formation later in their learning and development.
Our children have always had their own individual ‘writing’ books (plain paged notebooks with their names and photos on the front) readily available within the provision, coupled with a range of different crayons, pens and pencils. As some children began to display high levels of interest in seeking out independent mark-making opportunities, these books revolutionised their mark-making. However, there were still children who just did not engage nor show any interest in any type of mark-making opportunity we provided.
And so, the ‘writing wall’ was born within our designated playroom. This involved stripping back our display board and using plain white backing paper to create a large blank canvas and using furniture, chairs and stools to provide inclusive access and reach for all of our children. This introduced an entirely new concept to our children; this new and exciting blank canvas, coupled with the added risk of climbing onto furniture and reaching, leaning, and creating whilst standing up, totally revolutionised the children's approach to mark-making. Even children who did not usually choose to engage in mark-making began to do so, using a diverse range of mark-making tools that were provided with alongside the display board.
The play idea (the intent)
The main aim of providing this opportunity was to enable children to feel able to independently engage in mark-making, take risks, access provision, and use it to mark-make without adult intervention, this would provide them with complete ownership. With this in mind, from the outset we told the children they didn't need to ask to access the space, they could just climb up whenever they wanted and we used this time to observe and evaluate the value and impact of the space and new provocation.
The play in action (how it is implemented)
For some children, there was a small amount of encouragement and support needed to access this area independently and they sought reassurance that it was okay to climb and create in this way, but this was short-lived and soon all children were freely accessing the area and creating both independently and alongside each other with confidence.
In terms of extending and simplifying the experience and knowing when to support and when to stand back and observe, it was quite simple, as in order to extend the experience we frequently introduced new materials to mark-make with: ranging from felt-tips, pencils, paint pens and crayons, to small charcoal sticks so the children could freely explore, mark-make and differentiate as well as observe how different materials create different marks and witness the effects when they are used in similar/different ways. We also knew when the children needed more adult input and intervention because they began asking questions about writing letters/numbers and we were able to provide support and guidance in this instance as initiated and requested by the children.
The experience we provided enabled us to stand back and observe for the most part and let the entire opportunity be led, guided, and instigated by the children, their individual interests and their age and stage of development, which allowed each child to fully take from the experience and opportunity what they needed and was suitable for their learning and development journey.
A reflection of play (the impact)
From such a simple concept, we could not have predicted the incredible value and quality play and learning that ensued from the simplest idea and opportunity.
After the introduction of this area, children not only displayed high levels of interest and curiosity in mark-making, but also significant determination and resilience as they navigated climbing up onto furniture to access the board, as well as problem solving as they worked together to navigate how they could all work alongside each other negotiating space, obstacles and ensure they could reach effectively before their mark-making had even begun.
We witnessed the children's confidence and interest in this area soar, whilst simultaneously developing a wide range of new skills and language as a result, surprisingly learning from each other, their marks, creations, descriptions and independent learning and self-directed play rather than from any formal input or direction. We, as practitioners could have had to enhance the area and the children's vocabulary, which in our opinion made the learning significantly more valuable as a result, however, learning through their own exploration and from a knowledgeable peer, enhanced each other's learning experience tenfold.
In addition to this, the level of engagement that children displayed on both an individual and a group level was phenomenal and completely beyond any level we had previously predicted. Children were fully engaged in their creations and mark-making from the outset of this experience, being present and remained fully focused on their own self-directed play, learning and mark-making for extended periods of time. Consequently, their determination, resilience and motivation increased significantly as a result of this experience and we witnessed a complete shift in energy, atmosphere and focus levels too which was an additional benefit of this opportunity we had never considered.
This was potentially the simplest opportunity and experience we have ever offered within our provision and yet the learning and development opportunities and benefits that were experienced as a result of it were beyond anything we predicted. The learning, conversations, focus and confidence the children displayed as they engaged with it were simply incredible to witness and be part of, and ultimately allowed us to achieve our goal of engaging all children in mark-making and beginning to explore marks and early writing. These children are now accessing different areas of the provision, different opportunities and using different materials to mark-make confidently and independently.
- What large scale mark-making opportunities could you provide within your provision?
- Do your children engage in managed risk which involves climbing up and down from surfaces/platforms? E.g. ladders
- How are you supporting all your children to develop their early writing skills?