Why Do Kindergarten Children Stop Scribbling?

By Nona Orbach

In many kindergartens in Israel, there is a common worrying behavior. The children stop drawing and scribbling, and many become frustrated and say that their drawings are ugly. 

In these kindergartens, coloring pages are often given by the adults, and sometimes they draw an image requested by the child so they can fill it with colours.

The outcome is that the child compares their drawings to their parent or teacher. Thus, the natural flow of childhood scribbling and drawing is disturbed at a very young age, and they stop drawing.

A kindergarten teacher asked me to help her with this issue.

The question was: Can we remedy this?

Will children scribble joyfully again  and naturally, even after being exposed to coloring books and/or copying?

Can we turn the wheel back?

I came to the kindergarten that morning and prepared a suggestion/activity for four children. 

The Line/dot-table. 

The table was set up with four kinds of papers and a few black drawing tools such as different sizes of markers, pens and pencils, etc.

“What is this?” Asked the first child.

“This is a scribble-doodle table. Would you like to try it?” 

Very quickly, many wanted to scribble and create different lines. I hung the work immediately.

“Why do you hang this? It is only a scribble,” they asked“I love scribbles, and there are so many kinds of them! Can you discover a few? It might also be interesting for other children to look at and perhaps have ideas about what they want to do.”

The meaning of this intervention:

Using black lines only encourages the brain to investigate shapes, lines, and dots. This brought the children immediately to their natural developmental phase to create from. The natural flow was revived. If there were colored pens it would most likely go into schemas as rainbows, hearts, flowers, etc. 

The weeks followed, almost all children began doodling once again, and their frustration around “ugly” drawings disappeared.

In that kindergarten, coloring books were no longer available, and the parents were notified, and many of them made some changes at home. 

I think that part of this expression of low self-esteem amongst very young children is connected to how the western world understands education.

In many kindergartens in Israel, and maybe around the world, almost all suggestions and interventions are aimed at learning cognitively. Literacy and maths are the top priority of our society.

Play and art are manipulated and directed for that purpose. Suggesting to a child of four to copy an image is doing just that. Teaching a child how to draw a human figure, correcting them is a serious problematic impingement.

The western world measures quantitative elements!

We love numbers and tables, as they seem scientific, meaning it is good, right?

But, how can one measure curiosity, playfulness, joy, imagination, kindness, and sharing?

They are all qualitative! These qualities are the ones that make us human and not our ability to read at the age of five.

So in school, drawings that are representative receive praise, but praise for play, imagination and joy for their own sake is rare.

Have we forgotten that we are much more than cognitive creatures?

Liat Shmerling tried it with her child.

This post is part of the Grammar of Drawing project about the expressive language of drawing, in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

It is translated in five languages:

You are welcome to join our journey on Facebook and Instagram

The Water Cycle told by Hillel, 5 years old

By Nona Orbach

All children go through similar phases of artistic expression: leaving the first accidental marks, deliberate scribbling, and drawing. Victor Lowenfeld, in his classical book, Creative and Mental Growth, offers rich knowledge and developmental tables.

He recognized, and referred us to, constructing forms and compositions that accumulate as the child grows. The process is not necessarily linear. There are slow transitions and mixing of phases, and it is not perceived as regression.  

His tables may reassure teachers and therapists in an era when there are many unneeded measurements and competition.

From my observations, especially as an art therapist, I can say that each person will have their combination alongside universal development. Sometimes, different phases might be related to an emotional context. Also, there are some cultural differences. Japanese children, for example, have exceptional hand motor skills, perhaps because of the use of chopsticks?

Or, in Morocco, I noticed ornamentation in boys’ and girls’ drawings at younger ages than we see in Israel, Europe, or the US. It seemed like a natural echo to the rich cultural visuality.

First, the sun heats the water
Then the steam goes up

And there are clouds
And raindrops drop from  the sky

The process presented here is of a boy in the pre-schematic phase. This means that shapes and forms, when taken out of his composition, will lose their meaning. We will not know that it is a wave, a cloud, and/or rain.  In this phase, lines and shapes have a context only within the general drawing.

This child is particularly interested in how things work. He rarely plays with toys, except for Lego and cars. He prefers real tools like screwdrivers and hammers, watching how to fix a car, chop up a salad, vacuum, and doing things at home like father and mother. He asks a lot of questions about natural phenomena. One can admire the human wonder and how, with very simple lines, children can explain complex natural phenomena.

This post is part of the Grammar of Drawing project about the expressive language of drawing, in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

All the posts are translated in four languages:

You are welcome to join our journey on Facebook and Instagram

The soothing nature of scribbles

by Suzanne Axelsson

Just as we rock babies to sooth them (and quite often, I believe, ourselves too) scribbles can be a part of soothing ourselves. It can be the rhythmic feeling of the body moving, the sensory stimulation of fingers in/on materials, or the vibrations sensed through the tools used. It can be the delight experienced by the eyes or ears as patterns form – the patterns, the sounds… even the smells.

Whether it be doodling to maintain focus while listening on the phone, or to a lesson or lecture… or intentional scribbling, where the individual sits down to create… Many times it is a part of a process to feel calm, to self regulate, to feel good or to maintain focus.

At the edge of the sandbox. Silent dialogues with 1 year olds in the sand.

From a brain point of view things that feel good, often feel good because the brain wants you to repeat it again. Doing things over and over is one of the ways the brain learns and evolves. Making connections. 

Scribbling, doodling and drawing, especially in things like sand, mud, ooblek, whisked aquafaba, salt etc offers multiple stimuli for the brain. The fingertips pick up the vibrations and texture of the materials, and senses how it moves. The eyes observe the actions of the fingers – traces and tracks appearing that impact how the finger continues – just as both Nona and Roberta have previously shared in their posts.

The delights of scribbling in mud. The saying in Swedish is that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

We should never hurry this process of scribbling – in those scribbles lie the roots of writing, maths, and music – as well as a growing ability for sustained attention. Watching the squiggles, taking joy in impacting the outcome, exploring the possibilities of what their own fine motor skills allow them to do…

Scribbles ought to be valued more, so that children feel safe to scribble and doodle when they feel the need without the adult gaze or judgement of peers limiting their freedom to soothe themselves through art and/or movement with art materials.Providing sensory materials can often open up the door to this scribble freedom. To simply enjoy the process of making marks and tracks in diverse materials – whether that be sand, food, paint or any other sensory material that allows this experience that frees a child from the must-do feeling of having to draw something.

5 year old enjoying the movement of scribbles of paint on the light table. A clear plastic table cloth (that could be washed and re-used) was placed over the the lightbox in order to provide freedom for exploration. When the child had finished their exploration and created a pattern or image we placed paper on top to create a print.

My observations of young children over the years has shown me that scribbles have a kind of magical quality to them… sometimes they are just a scribble, sometimes children observe their scribble and assign a symbol to it – an animal, flower, human, or number/letter – depending on what their eyes convey to the brain. Often I find children start writing almost before they start drawing… small tiny symbols start appearing in rows – lines, almost circles and squiggles, representing letters and words. Sometimes the scribbles, drawings and writing are interwoven on the same piece of paper… small intentional figures and things start to appear, that moves into a sensory need to scribble and end with a few intentional symbols – especially those children with older siblings or in mixed age groups. 

I really cannot sing the praise of mixed age groups enough for the genesis and growth of the children’s scribbles and drawing in an organic and joyous manner – that frequently leads to children teaching themselves and each other how to write with only the supporting hand of an adult.

This one year old had been watching the 4 and 5 year olds draw round their hands. Whilst scribbling their own hand became a part of the dialogue. Drawing around it, experiencing the tickle of pen between fingers, and reacting with intense focus to the whole process. Over and over the child tried to resist the tickle of the pen, time and time again the hand would retract involuntarily almost.

Only one thing is certain – that the written language of children develops in this fashion, shifting from drawings of things to drawings of words. The entire secret of teaching written language is to prepare and organize this natural transition appropriately…Make believe play, drawing, and writing can be viewed as different moments in an essentially unified program of development of written language. Lev Vygotsky, “The Prehistory of Writing,” an essay, c. 1930 in The Mind in Society, 1978

The scribbles of this three year old is the child writing a story, and reading aloud the story as they wrote. Several other three year olds sat at the table watching and listening to the story unfold with great joy.

Scribbling is an essential part of this process, as I already wrote it is like the roots, nourishing the soul of drawing, writing and expressing opinions and emotions. The roots don’t stop growing or evolving, just as a plant grows visibly upwards and outwards, so the roots grow downwards and outwards. Scribbling is something we need throughout our lives, and is not simply a phase of the very earliest years of childhood.

This post is part of the Grammar of Drawing project about the expressive language of drawing, in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

All the posts are translated in four languages:

You are welcome to join our journey on Facebook and Instagram

The hand-eye play of scribbles

Threads scrlbbles

by Roberta Pucci

What is the relationship between hands, eyes and the mind while drawing? So intriguing, isn’t it? The deepest essence will probably remain a mystery, but still we can know something about. Let’s start from the beginning.

The first lines emerges from a movement that leaves a trace of itself, or better, from the awareness of the sign left by a movement, as Nona Orbach describes in her post Genesis of line. The mind is involved since the early experiences in terms of awareness and intentionality, but the main player is the body.

In fact, all the basic scribbles drawn from 2 years old (accurately described by Rhoda Kellogg), derive from the natural movements of the child’s hand and arm, without the need of eye-control. The directions of lines correspond to the spontaneous articulation of wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.

The basic scribbles, from Analyzing Children’s Art by Rhoda Kellogg

Then, another important player soon comes in. It occurs when the child is drawing on a precisely delimited area, like a sheet of paper or any kind of surface with a well-defined perimeter. Here the eyes have an important role. After the child has drawn a scribble, the sheet of paper will send him back a visual stimulus. This will affect the next drawing step, which in turn will create another new stimulus and so on. 

Is the scribble in the center or close to the edges? Up or down, left or right? Horizontal or vertical? All this information can arise from the relationship between the scribble and the paper area only if the scribble is placed within a defined context: the child – perceiving the sheet of paper and the scribble as a whole – consequently reacts according to their relationship. Seeing a set of different things “as a whole” is a natural characteristic of human perception, studied by the Gestalt psychologists.

Some of the 17 position’s templates identified by Rhoda Kellogg

That’s how the process of drawing develops like an amazing play with its inner rules, continuously going back and forth, a series of mutual “provocations” and reactions: it is the the flow and play-frame of drawing that Suzanne Axelsson described in her post. 

In this stage, the action of drawing implies the hand’s movement and visual perception, with no other cognitive or symbolic aspects involved. Thus, asking “what have you drawn?” makes no sense here. 

Later on, as the drawing process unfolds through its next stages, this first active role of the eyes, as well as the importance of the body’s movement, will not disappear but progressively interweave with new skills and interests, like for example the symbolic or realistic representation. In fact, the aesthetic question that adults or even mature artists deal with, is still connected to the same “rules” of our visual perception (as well as to many further aspects, of course).  

In his book Art and Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim explains it very well, putting the Gestalt perception theories in connection with visual art works. For example, if we have a very quick look at the picture on the lower left, we immediately know that the circle is not in the middle of the square. How?

Graphic interpretation of an image from the book Art and Visual Perception by Rudolf Arnheim

Our eyes do not “measure” the distance between the circle and every side of the square for comparing them, but see the two geometric shapes “as a whole”, perceiving the asymmetric position of the circle in relation to the square.

Besides, there’s more. We also perceive the circle a bit unstable, or unquiet, as if it wanted to reach the center… or as if the center was attracting it. It’s because the visual perception is a dynamic experience: like a stone falling into the water, every element creates a kind of force lines and attractive points (for example the corners of the square, its median axes and its center, as shown in the upper right image). All of us have dealt with this kind of visual balance sometimes, maybe composing a greeting card:  a little further… the text is too high… maybe these two ones are a bit closer… perfect!

From the first scribbles of a child to the greatest masterpieces, from a toddler educator to the master of an art academy, let’s always observe with wonder and respect the constantly evolving process of drawing, one of our most precious gifts as human beings.

This is the third of many posts of the project Grammar of Drawing by Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

It is translated in four languages:

You are welcome to join our journey on the Facebook page the Grammar of Drawing or on Instagram Grammar of Drawing

The Genesis of Line

by Nona Orbach

Toddlers first lines are formed by chance from a sensory-motor need. They notice and discover that their body movements can leave a mark in substances.

Video by Jasmin Berman
Image by Gili Benders

They try this magic countless times, with immense enjoyment. They then create deliberate lines and marks in their porridge that smears on the table, in the sand, and later on paper.

In the beginning, the marks can migrate to the walls and furniture as well. As they grow up, they notice how marks can also turn out to be a sign.

Images by Orly Cohen Shulman and Ruth Hillel

I have always felt magic in those moments when I could witness how the brain and body collaborate.

Observing my toddler daughters, and later my grandchildren, while engaged in learning/living – always felt wondrous and sacred.

These young pioneers are discovering the universe, and we are privileged to notice their journey.

It is a completely personal, intimate process for each child, at the same time, all humanity has experienced these moments for centuries.

We are fortunate to notice such miraculous moments.  

Slow down. Look closely. Listen deeply. Take Notice.

Upper image by Nizan Sedler

This is the second of many posts of the Grammar of Drawing, a project about the expressive language of drawing in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

All the posts are translated in four languages:

The flow and play-frame of drawing

As a play-responsive educator I view children’s drawing with the same respect as I view children’s play. In play-work there is the theory of the “play-cycle”, where the idea to play first manifests in the imagination, a play cue is then signalled and responded to, which evolves into a back and forth of cues and responses that becomes the flow. This flow is found within a frame – a space that is physical/mental/emotional surrounding the flow (so it is not a fixed space but moves with the play). 

The flow of the play can be interrupted, annihilated in playwork language, by the cue not being responded to, or the frame being destroyed interrupting that flow. For example, a child may see a ball, get the idea to play catch, pick it up and signal to another child, through words or gestures, and throw the ball to that child. This child then responds by catching the ball, and sends a new cue when throwing back the ball to which the first child responds to by catching. Flow is created as the ball is passed back and forth. The space that the children are playing in is their frame.  If an adult (or a child) were to step in the middle of this frame/space there is the potential for a new cue, or for the flow to be ruined. 

As play-responsive adults, we have the responsibility to protect the frame to allow the children’s flow to continue until it comes to a natural conclusion, or it is paused to continue later or another day. We can use the same theory when children draw. 

A child could see pen and paper and be inspired to draw something. They pick up the pen and begin drawing on the paper, the paper and pen respond by marks appearing. Sometimes the pen and paper do not behave the way a child expects and therefore sends a cue back to the child, which the child can respond to (or not). A flow develops between the child, the pen and the paper. 

Just like in play, this flow is found within a frame. The flow can be disturbed by an adult (or child) sitting too close, or by asking questions about the drawing, or by moving the materials. Our role is to facilitate the children’s flow. This means we need to be aware of both the flow and the frame, and also the flow and frame of all the other children in the same space so that we do not cause the flow to decay prematurely.

This is the first of many posts of a project about the language of drawing in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci, where all our voices will be shared via our websites/blogs to share our collective wisdom. All the posts are translated in four languages:

  • Italiano
  • Svedese
  • Ebraico
  • Inglese
  • You are welcome to join our journey on the Facebook page or on Instagram

    Would you take a walk with a line?


    by Roberta Pucci and Michele Ferri

    In early life, the process of drawing naturally unfolds according to consequential phases: it is an organic, archetypal development that just needs a welcoming environment, respectful of individual paces.
    But what about adults, especially those who stopped drawing since a long time? Is it still possible to restart drawing just for the sake of it, without performance anxiety about the outcome?

    Here are some suggestions for all adults who think they are no longer able to draw and need a little help. Would you like to play?

    Going for a walk with a line

    First of all, let’s warm up your hand with a flowing, free movement on the sheet of paper. Draw two small signs of different colors, representing the starting and the arrival point, wherever you want. Then just let your hand go for a walk with a black pen or marker, freely exploring the space of the sheet without interrupting the line, in any direction, at the most comfortable speed and pace. If you no longer know where to go, just slow down, slower and slower… but keep going on.

    This activity can be repeated in different ways, for example by changing the travel speed, the drawing tool, the positions of the starting and arrival points. Perhaps a different color will suggest a different pace… And each tool will have its own “walking” qualities. Or you could imagine a line with a certain kind of personality, mood or feeling: happy, sad, angry, curious, bored, scared. How will be its journey?

    You can also create more interesting environments to explore, by placing cutouts and small objects hin the sheet of paper. Then explore these paper areas with a line.

    Now let’s go through more intricate paths, tracing lines that intersect in many points (preferably using a pen). Interesting shapes are hidden through your random scribbles: look and try to find them… What do you see? Once you have identified some shapes, make them more recognizable, for example filling them with colors or pointing the outline out with a different color or a thicker line.

    What about “dressing” your shapes? You can create endless textures combining different signs, points and lines. Then draw your shape on a textured cardboard you like and cut it out. How does it look now?

    Each shape can also be transformed by changing its size or proportions, stretching it, crushing it, as if it was of a plastic material that can be deformed as you like. Exploring these variations, you will create a group of shapes that are all a bit different but recognizable as belonging to the same “family”.

    At this point, you have various drawing tools for inventing imaginary worlds… Trace your lines, place and move your shapes in the sheet of paper: many stories will come out! Enjoy!

    This post is a small excerpt from the book A spasso con una linea, by Roberta Pucci and Michele Ferri, published by Artebambini (in Italian only… for now).

    The post is also part of the Grammar of Drawing project about the expressive language of drawing, in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

    It is translated in four languages:

    You are welcome to join our journey on Facebook and Instagram

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