Liam drew a loop with his yellow marker, hesitated and then attached two smaller loops to one end of the loop. The connected sausage-shapes sat on top of a large orange scribble. “Pickachu is on the school bus!” Liam changed the colour of his marker to a light green and made a fat circle. He added two red dots for eyes. “Bulbasour is on the bus too. I’m gonna catch ‘em!” Liam made action sounds, soared his blue marker high above his paper, landing it onto the yellow loops and green circle. Liam then scribbled the lighter coloured shapes into a navy-blue blob.
Liam’s daycare teacher, seeing Liam lay down his marker, asked him to tell her about his picture. Liam looked at his drawing and replied, “I caught Pokemon. I used my net!” His teacher wrote Liam’s story on a piece of paper to go with his drawing.
Liam’s imagination is delightful to observe. But Anne Haas Dyson, researcher in children’s early writing development, argues that Liam is demonstrating a pre-writing skill that adults often gloss over. Liam is learning what symbols are and how to use them through the interplay of his speech and picture drawing. While talking and drawing Liam creates figures and action, and links his unique experiences, culture and familiar people to graphics.
From the time infants use gestures, children demonstrate a basic understanding that speech can be represented visually. When children sculpt with playdough or create objects using craft materials their understanding of symbolism is enriched. When children begin to draw and scribble, their ability to create words and ideas visually shifts from three dimensional to two dimensional. The realization that alphabet letters symbolize speech sounds only makes sense to children if, firstly, they understand that their talk can be captured visually on paper.
Initially Liam is not thinking that his speech can be encoded into letters and words that his teacher can write down. The differences between Liam’s talk as he draws and the words that his daycare teacher writes are common. When Liam’s parents come to pick him up from daycare, he may tell them brand new details about his picture. Liam does not do this because he is forgetful. He does this because he is exploring the various ways in which his words can be represented on paper.
One day very soon, Liam will likely draw a large “P” beside his Pokemon figures. Liam is poised to grasp how words are made up of speech sounds with specific graphic symbols we call alphabet letters.
Providing Liam with many opportunities to draw and scribble does more than strengthen his hand muscles and fine tune his control of the marker. Every artistic endeavour Liam engages in helps him build the foundation he needs to take spoken words into a two dimensional medium others can see and eventually read.