A Scribble a Day: Why scribbling is an essential developmental step

Kids are praised by adults when they color within the lines. And no doubt, possessing the fine motor control to color within the lines is an achievement! But scribbling is an essential step that shouldn’t be overlooked or downplayed. Scribbling is essential to your child’s hand-eye coordination, fine motor control, and overall agility. 

Before your child learns to run, they learn to walk; before that, they learn to stand. Handwriting follows the same progression. 

First, your child has to learn how to grip a drawing utensil. Then, they must learn how to apply enough force to create a mark. After that, they learn how to apply varying degrees of pressure to produce lines, scribbles, and eventually makeshift shapes. 

These steps must occur before your child can draw recognizable images, shapes, letters, and numbers. Scribbling is essential! When we stifle our children by encouraging them to stay on the paper or between the lines, we stunt their ability to develop.

Praising a child for the ability to color within the lines may make them feel good momentarily, but what about the next time when they accidentally go outside the lines? Or, what if their creativity wants to expand beyond the lines, but they fear adults won’t approve?

Ways to Develop Fine Motor Control through Scribbling

While scribbling may seem like a simple activity, there are many ways to encourage it and, in turn, fine motor control to develop. Touchscreen games like KneeBouncer’s Magic Screen and Color-Me in the free color mode are one way for your child to develop fine motor skills.

  • Give your child multiple surfaces to scribble on, like cardboard boxes, the sidewalk, large easel paper, dry-erase boards, or chalkboard paper on the wall.
  • Provide multiple writing and drawing tool sizes for them to choose when scribbling.
  • Use paint and paintbrushes to scribble.
  • Gift them a Water Doodle Mat or Buddha Board.
  • Use bathtub crayons or finger paints.
  • Avoid coloring sheets or books (when possible) until after preschool, as they decrease a child’s creativity and confidence in their drawing skills.
  • Use coloring together as a recreational activity for bonding. A coloring sheet for mom or dad can be relaxing (look at all the teen and adult coloring books out there!)
  • If you use color sheets or books, avoid praising your child for staying in the lines or making the picture look realistic.
  • Don’t worry about how your toddler is gripping the crayon or marker. Over time, as hand strength develops, they’ll learn the proper grip for writing.

Ways to Develop Hand Strength and Hand-Eye Coordination

  • Play with playdough or modeling clay.
  • Work on puzzles
  • Use jumbo tweezers to pick things up and move them
  • Use jumbo eye droppers for crafts or water play
  • Perform finger plays
  • Play board games

Updated May 31st, 2024, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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