becoming authors

So many times, I have parents roll their eyes when their kids take home page after page after page of mark making work. Comments like, “Really? More scribbling?” and “This isn’t a nice picture” or “Sure, sure… it’s a dinosaur” as they dismiss the picture all together.

STOP PARENTS!!!! You need to flip the script. The evolution of writing begins with the act of making marks on a page. If the child wants to take home their artwork (read: scribbles) its because there IS a story there on the page.  If they are bringing their work home–they want to share it. If they want to put it on the fridge–it’s important to them.

Let me tell you a bit about what happens in the classroom to help you make sense of their thinking (and some ideas you can use at home too!)

For the past few weeks, my students have been showing off what their big bodies can do. Some showed us how they can balance on a foot, use a screwdriver, ride a two-wheeler, and go to the dentist.

But the most exciting thing their big bodies can do is draw pictures and tell stories. Using their knowledge of shapes and colors, we’ve worked as a class to retell a story from the day’s activities–like the day our friend played his guitar, when another friend made a Valentine, or when another student read the class calendar. While I acted as their hands, the children told me what shapes and colors to use to make an illustration. Now, they walk around the room “reading” the stories we wrote together.


Taking this activity further, I worked with small groups to model how the children can write their own story. While listening to each student tell me the story that they wanted to draw (“the day I went down the blue slide at the hotel” or “I saw a sad dinosaur who was hungry”), I drew my own interpretation of their story.

My 3- and 4-year old students used my work as their mentor text to create their beautiful stories.



The green grass, the yellow sun, and the blue slide. The purple grass is at the hotel when it has the lights on and you get a buggy to drive… But it’s not here because you have to wait for it.

nb: did you notice that when she was telling me about her story, the slide was blue but in her artistic recreation of the story, the slide is green? So young and already using artistic license!



There isn’t any food for the dinosaur. He must wait for people to give some seeds and then put some water so it will grow food. It is going to rain. I need a rain. (the student then drew some raindrops) But I put the sun. That’s OK. I will make more rain. (he then added more raindrops)



Version 2


Mio heart eat sandwich [and] yellow cheese.






The joy of watching preschool-aged students create more approximate illustrations is amazing. They are beginning to feel like authors. They get confirmation from their peers and parents who say, “Wow! Your car is so nice!” or “That monster looks sad. Why is he sad?” When someone can actually understand their story, their face just lights up!


So if your child is a “scribbler”, don’t dismiss their work. They are on step one of their developmental journey to becoming an author. The most important question you can ask is, “Can you tell me about your story?” If you don’t… you’ll miss out on the genius of their creations.

The bad guy is hurting him. The green is for his bat wings. He is flying to get the eggs. The bad guy monster steals his eggs.

Of course… wasn’t it obvious?!?!


use your words!


This image, mouth of amanda by Bradley Gordon is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from flickr.

Words are important. But as adults, we sometimes assume a child’s needs instead of waiting for them to articulate themselves. It’s faster. It’s easier. And it often alleviates a lot of stress on both of our parts.

For me, I did it all wrong! (…And after last week’s discussion with my pubescent teen, I still haven’t perfected the art.) When my son was a wee one I gave in to his tantrums and screams by learning his language or anticipating his needs instead of challenging him to use words to communicate his desires. In the long run… I didn’t do him (or my family) any favors.

For the Wee Ones:

It’s crucial that we encourage children to use their words rather than grunting, pointing, or resorting to tantrums and outbursts. You can help your young child meet these goals by saying, “I don’t understand you when…”, “Mommy can’t hear you when you yell…” or [when pointing] “Do you want the milk or juice?” to prompt word usage. If tantrums persist, model the words you’d like your child to use. Approximating or attempting to use words is the beginning of communication. As long as you’re not pedantic about your expectations, your child will continue to practice and improve.

For more information read this article from the Hanen Centre for language development.

For the Puberty Stricken:

For our tween and teen children, choices don’t work as well. It can often give kids a way out. The best solution is to first empathize with them, “I know you’re sad about missing the birthday party…” or “I imagine you are hurt when you learned that people gossiped about you…” Empathy often promotes trust which will give your child the confidence to open up and share their real feelings. If not, some open-ended questions may help, “What other ideas do you suggest?” or “What alternatives would you make to your friends?” You an also utilize your own village to help you engage with your child. Having a dear friend or family member to dinner and having them gently probe your tween or teen for information can open up a world of conversation. For some parents, meeting their kids where they are with tech tools is a good solution. Creating a WhatsApp or chat group for the family can maintain open communication without face-to-face communication. Whatever solution works this week might not work the next, but keep at it. Your kid (and you) need it!

For more information on communicating with your teen, here’s a source my husband and I have turned to.