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Gallery 6: Genres

    © Copyright M. Worthington & E. Carruthers 2012

June/July 2013

Using scribble-marks

Young children use scribble-marks investing them with personal meaning (Matthews, ; Carruthers and Worthington, 2006, 2011). Recent research by Worthington has revealed how they also use scribbles as ‘place-holders’ to signify some graphical communication in their play. All young children do this, seemingly to avoid slowing the flow of their play narrative, including those who – in different contexts– use letters, words, numerals and realistic drawings.

David’s spider

Prior to visiting the forest, David drew a ‘spider’. He represented each leg, counting 1 - 15 in sequence, and then 17,18, 19, 20, 25.’

He then proceeded to enclose the legs with a spider web and blacked out the spider’s face, explaining, ‘It’s all the flies on his face’.

David’s message

On another occasion when David was playing outside, he asked his teacher Emma to write ‘Help me go up on the hill - Remi is stopping me!’

Emma did this, then suggested that David wrote his own. David did so, reading his rapidly drawn circular marks, as ‘Remi can’t come on the hill’.

Taxonomy: Making and communicating meanings in social pretend play and
other child-initiated contexts - graphics
(drawing, maps and writing)

May 2013

Writing Names - Exploring Symbols

Graphicacy: making meanings with visual marks, abstract signs and other representations. Exploring symbols is a significant feature of all multi-modal texts, and for this reason we have updated the taxonomy to acknowledge this.

Young children’s own name is often one of the first things they write.

Elizabeth had been talking about the various names in her family. She was interested in the length of individual names and the number of names each person had. Taking some paper she began to make more. She pointed to the visual signs she’d made and read her full name. Then pointing to others explained, ‘That’s James’s name and his second name and his third name. James’s second name is Thomas. My mummy had also got a second name. My daddy also has a second name. I think it’s Roy.’

Elizabeth was interested in the abstract signs she used, writing a range of letter-like symbols and crosses and enclosing each in a circle.

January-February 2013


Some children are fascinated by maps and map-making. The practitioner’s role is to support children’s interests and provide materials to stimulate further discussion.

Figure 1: Tiyanni Figure 2: Maria and Macey

Tiyanni was in the garden with Macey and Maria, looking at a map in a large old diary. Maria talked about the time she’d gone to Jamaica and pointed it out on the map. Tiyanni explained, 'that’s where my Grandma and Grandad is’ and Maria talked about the beach on Jamaica. Picking up a blue pen Tiyanni made some marks in the diary, explaining ‘This is swimming’ (figure 1).

Maria marked a dot on the map where Tokyo was, saying ‘That’s where Misaki comes from’ (Misaki had been a member of staff and had recently returned home to Japan): (figure 2). As Maria (one of the practitioners) talked about other countries, Macey added further dots to the map.

Figure 3: Macey Figure 4: Macey

Turning to another page in the diary, Macey made small marks in two columns and said ‘That’s where I live’ (figure 3). She then drew lines and small marks on another page, to represent where Tiyanni lived (figure 4).

Figure 5: Nathan (3 years 7 months).

Tracing his spiral marks Nathan explained ‘It’s a road’, then pointing to smaller marks in the centre – ‘Here’s the trees.’

Figure 6: Cameron (3 years, 4 months)

Cameron pointed to a small shape he’d drawn, ‘That’s the minibus’ (that the children travel to the forest each week). Moving his finger along one of the circular lines he showed where the minibus went.

See Also:
Jazper’s map, Megan’s ‘very big fast roller coaster’ and Max: ‘Yoda’s house’.

December 2012

Imaginary Stories

James ‘alien battle’ story

James (4 year 3 months) drew on both sides of large sheet to card as he recounted his story.

In his first ‘episode’ he used drew intersecting lines, circles and figurative drawing of figures, explaining: ‘The ducks built a snowman’ A man is drinking a milkshake – he’s scared of the ducks and the snowman! There’s a house and an aeroplane with things that go round (propellers). There’s grenades to fight the king who lives in the house – to fight everyone!’

James developed his story on the reverse of the card with the complex drawing shown here:

‘The man drinking the milkshake is hiding – he’s underneath and you can only see his eye (within the circle at the centre). He’s hiding from the aliens, he doesn’t want to die. The electrics are blowing up the aeroplane and it crashed – it’s wrecked. Some of the electrics are broken; some of the electrics are knotted up. The plane dropped grenades in the shark’s mouth and on the houses.’

James’s story appeared to have been influenced by the ‘robot fighting games’ – console games he played with his 10-year-old brother. His drawings seemed to have provided him with a safe space to explore images that may have troubled him.

Visual stories
This sort of visual narrative has been likened to films which move ‘in and out of an overall plot scheme but do [not] conform to the conventions of having a clear-cut beginning, middle and end. Instead it is similar to fantasy-based play on paper’ (Wright, 2010: 45). John Matthews has made detailed analysis of young children’s developing marks and drawings, terming their early marks as ‘generational structures’. In James’s drawings a number of these structures can be identified, including closed shapes, continuous lines angular attachments and ‘u’ shapes on a baseline’ (Matthews, 1999).

Wright, S. (2010) Understanding Creativity in Early Childhood. London: Sage Publications.
Matthews, J. (1999) The Art of Childhood and Adolescence: the Construction of Meaning. London: Falmer Press.

March 2013


Finnian (4 years, 3 months) was rolling marbles down a slope with friends He chose to keep a score for the two teams, using tallies and circles to enclose each team’s score. Counting both team’s score he decided to make them equal – then drew a horizontal line to show that (in his view) the teams had tied.

Baylee (5 years, 0 months) decided to ask her friends their ages. The children in this class were 4 and 5 year olds. Baylee represented her findings using numerals and ticks. Three children mentioned that they had siblings (of 2 and 7 years). Finally she asked her teacher how old she was (35).

Robbie (4 years 2 months) was playing cars outside with his friends. When several children had pretended to fill their vehicles with petrol, he wrote down how much each ‘customer’ had to pay, ticking them off as they pretended to do so. Francine (4 years, 5 months) was decided to write the ‘biggest numbers she knew. Fascinated by the quantity of zeros needed, she explained to friends nearby ‘you have to put 6 zeros!’ then read out the numbers she had written.

See Also: Lauren, Tim, William, Callum and Chloë

Taxonomy: Making meanings in pretence, imagination and role-play including drawing, maps and writing.
Also: Written number and quantities - Representing quantities that are not counted; Representing quantities that are counted

November 2012


In settings that support children’s meaning making and are rich in graphicacy, drawing on their home cultural knowledge young children will spontaneously use a wide range of writing genres to communicate their ideas in play. These examples of early lists cross the boundaries of drawing, writing and mathematics, enabling children to experiment with the different symbolic systems.

In the first example above, Nathan (3 years 7 months) was playing shops. He used crosses to convey meaning for the shopping list he made, reading ‘carrots, potatoes and spaghetti’. As Clay (1975) showed, in their emergent writing young children will sometimes repeatedly use a symbol they know to convey their ideas. Research has also shown the amazing versatility and power in children’s spontaneous use of crosses, using them to represent a wide variety of things in their drawings and maps, as well as in their emergent writing and their mathematical graphics. (Worthington, 2009).

In the second example an adult commented on the marks 3 year old Sameeha had made, observing ‘You’ve made a pattern.’ But Sameeha was clear about her intention, explaining ‘It isn’t a pattern – it’s lists!’ In this example it appeared that Sameeha was imitating the action of writing a list, with one item beneath another down the page.

For further examples of children making lists, see: Amelia’s shopping list and Liana’s ‘Picture for my Mum’ in Gallery 5 and ‘Making dinner registers’ and Chloe’s dinner register in Gallery 4.

Clay, M. (1975) What did I write? London: Heinemann.

Worthington. M. (2009) 'Fish in the water of culture: signs and symbols in young children’s drawing', Psychology of Education Review Volume 33, Number 1, March 2009.

Taxonomy: Making meanings in pretence and imagination

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