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- Beginnings: explorations with intentional marks


We use the term graphicacy to encompass all aspects of visual signs and representations that children use, including drawings, children’s own maps, early (emergent) writing and Children’s Mathematical Graphics.  Communication is not only through speech, but also through graphical signs and marks that are embedded in the history of us all.


For a fuller description, see: Graphicacy


     These marks often include intentionally made scribble-marks and dots.

• The term ‘scribbles’ is largely used by adults as a derogatory term, suggesting that the person making them, shows lack of care or interest. 

• We identified scribble-marks (and sometimes multiple dots) as one of the earliest means children use to communicate their mathematical ideas.

• We use the term “scribble-marks” to refer to marks that adults would find difficult to interpret without the child’s verbal explanation.

• Within their pretend play, children often use scribble-marks as “shorthand” for writing, seemingly so that the course of their play is not interrupted.

Scribble-marks are the foundations of drawing, writing and mathematical notations.


Charlotte’s “hundreds and pounds!”

      Charlotte (4 years, 2 months) was with her

friend Jessica in the nursery.  They had each

selected a piece of paper and chosen coloured

pens, holding as many as they could in each 

hand. As they excitedly covered their papers

with numerous dots, Charlotte told her teacher,

Look! I’m doing hundreds and pounds!" She 

was making connections with the large quantity

 of dots she had made.

      Charlotte’s reference to ‘hundreds and

pounds’ suggests a quantity that seems a great

deal to her: both ‘hundreds’ and 'pounds’ fit into

her thinking about a lot. Charlotte used spoken language to express what her marks

suggested to her, attending to the link between her marks and the mathematical vocabulary of quantity in a general sense.


  • Taxonomy - written number and quantities: Representing quantities that are not counted
  • Number                                                                                       

"Fifty pounds please"


     Stacey (3 years, 2 months) was playing in

the little house outside, pretending to serve

food. Picking up a pen and notebook she

asked her friend, “What do you like?” 

     Her friend replied “Chicken Tikka please” 

as Stacey began to make circular scribble-

marks, dots and scribble-marks in her 

notebook, she asked, “Chicken and chips?”  

adding, “Fifty pounds please.” 

    Stacey’s friend pretended to give her some

money, and in turn, Stacey pretended to put

it in her pocket.

    Stacey drew on her home knowledge of

ordering a take-away meal, clear in her

understanding that orders were written down,

combined with her knowledge of asking for

and taking orders and money.


  • Taxonomy - written number and quantities: Early explorations with marks: attaching


  • Money

Sam and the calculator

     Bradley was playing with a calculator, making marks as he pressed buttons on the calculator. 

     Sam (3 years, 6 months) watched Bradley making marks on paper and decided to do the same, pressing several buttons and each time making his own marks on a piece of paper.


  • Taxonomy- written number and quantities: Early explorations with marks: attaching mathematical meanings
  • Familiarisation with calculators


Weighing David

  During a small group time featuring

kitchen weights and bathroom scales, 

David stood on the  scales. Isaac (4 years,

months) used his understanding of a 

variety of measuring units to talk about

 David’s weight. As he made circular 

scribble-marks on paper, Isaac explained,

David weighs 700 kilos, he’s 60 metres 


       Next David (4 years, 1 month) stood

on the scales, and looking at the dial he

announced, “I’m 15, so I need to write it

down.” He made some letter-like signs (as

numerals) on the whiteboard (not shown



  •  Taxonomy - written number and

          quantities: Early explorations with

          marks: attaching mathematical


  • Weight / bathroom scales






'Drawing' numbers? 

   Matt (3 years, 0 months) had just had his

third birthday. At home he sat on the kitchen 

floor near his aunt who was writing postcards.

Matt announced that he was "drawing". He

rapidly covered many sheets of scrap paper

with a range of marks, some which he named

as ‘drawings’ and others were written

messages, explaining the content of each. 

Showing this piece to his aunt, he ‘read’ it as, "My number's 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11", later, (showing it to his Mum), "I spell 80354."

    This was the first time that he had attached

any mathematical (numerical) meanings to any marks he had made. At home reading books,

using the computer and writing are all daily

family events and part of everyone’s


    This example shows that Matt understands

that marks can carry meanings and are

sometimes be used to represent numerals. 

     Perhaps he was thinking about a phone

number he’d heard, recalling it as a reference point for his number-string. Talk about how

to ‘spell’ may also be something he’d heard discussed with regard to spelling and writing

his brother’s name, or his own.


  • Taxonomy - written number and quantities:  Early explorations with

         marks: attaching mathematical meanings

  • Number