Marks and Early Childhood
The program described in this book uses children’s mark-making in a comprehensive training program designed to strengthen attention, positive emotion, confidence and trust, autonomy, empathy, speech and literacy---the special cognitive skills and brain states that characterize functional, effective human beings. This program is designed not only for children, but for their caregivers, too. It’s a speech and literacy program for everyone!
From the first random scribblings and careful drawings and topsy turvy printed words, children’s marks are not just where their love of reading and writing begin, but marks are where their commitment to attentive thinking begins, and where self-knowledge and self-confidence begin. Marks are important seeds in the garden of the child’s development.
Babies start to “read” their worlds from the moment they are born, using all of their senses. Babies are designed to read their worlds and to express their needs.
Little children start to “write” their worlds the first time they pick up a crayon. They are composing their inner worlds. They are beginning to record, change, and control their outer worlds. This is what “reading” and “writing” really mean; taking the tangle of feelings and thoughts, then swirling them into patterns and forms that make sense to the child’s body and to the child’s mind, and, with time, to other people in the world.
Birds build nests. Humans make meaning. Literacy builds meaning by using dots and dashes, lines and squiggles the way birds use twigs and leaves and grass and bits of string to make nests to hold their young. Our brains are coded to become nests for the birth of our ideas.
Ever so delicately and skillfully, the beak of the bird picks up a twig; ever so delicately, the fingers of the child hold the pencil to make its first tentative marks of meaning. The child is building its brain. And like some birds with their nests, children are intent on building beautiful brains. Art and music, literature and mathematics are part of that beautiful construction.
To build a log cabin with Lincoln logs, you need Lincoln logs. To build a tower of blocks, you need blocks. To be literate, the brain needs something to work with; it has to have symbols. This sounds obvious until you start to think about what a symbol is, where it comes from, and how it gets into the child’s brain. A symbol is a mark made by the child which gives pleasure to the child, and, with time, has meaning for the child. The symbolic mark enters the child’s brain through the hands and eyes. Symbolic marks are like nourishment to the brain, food taken in by the eyes and hands, rather than by the mouth.
The freedom and fun of scribbling and drawing -- actions shared between caregiver and child -- are where confidence in communication begins, where a love of reading and writing begins. Children need to explain, and understand, and express, and adapt to and organize and change the world around them through personal, hands-on practice with marks that carry meaning.
This book is the story of how young children learn to read and write and feel about their worlds. The story starts with flailing arms and legs, focusing eyes, searching mouths, smiles, babbles, and coos.
Our part of the story begins when a pudgy little hand first grabs a crayon. That very first scribble starts the special human adventure into symbolic communication: mathematics and music, art, science, and literature, the world of computer technology, the world of marks and meaning.
Toward a new, brain-based science of early childhood: Neuroconstructivism and meaning-making
The brain constructs itself according to genetic blueprints and experience. Infancy and early childhood are extremely sensitive and influential times for brain growth. Anyone who has enjoyed a positive, nurturing childhood experience knows the far-reaching effect of that experience. Childhood is hugely formative for a human’s lifetime capacity for, and confidence in, loving and learning. The young brain is extremely susceptible to influence. No matter how young or how old the brain is, it benefits from strongly attentional, bodily, bilateral, integrative activities, like Scribbling/Drawing/Writing.
Neurobeneficial caregiving simply means participating in responsive exchanges with a young child through invested conversation and play, for the sake of nurturing a good human brain. Neurobeneficial parenting includes some new elements, like emotional coaching, and scribbling and drawing, but caregivers can easily learn to do these things.
A neuroconstructive childhood means a childhood where there is time and support for scribbling and drawing and talking as important building blocks in successful mental/emotional maturation. The time that caregivers spend with children is important. Marks of meaning --- a natural activity in little children --- is an important part of the time shared with children. In fact, scribbling and drawing are almost as important as talking and reading with children. Communication, including literacy, is of critical importance to the mental/emotional welfare of the child. How communication is encouraged in childhood strongly influences the emotional tone in adult life, as well as a host of “logical” and “rational” thinking skills.
A child’s adventure into the world of literacy is about making sense. It is about learning to work with the world, meeting its challenges, and enjoying its benefits. Launching a child into the world as a meaning-maker is one of a caregiver’s most important responsibilities and privileges. It can also be a lot of fun. This book is about the shared fun of the growth of literacy and of communication skills in a child’s life.