Action Research into Children’s Mark Making/ Writing Outside 2012


To find out if and how children are writing and mark making outside.


Record children’s mark making over a period of four weeks.

What we did…

  • Week One: A4 and A5 clipboards – no introduction from staff.
  • Week Two: Same equipment as in week one, but within children’s view – still no introduction from staff.
  • Week Three: Clipboards were hung on hooks outside within children’s view.
  • Week Four: Different materials introduced to children.

“I’m writing down what they’re playing with”

“I’m doing writing. I got a clippy thing like you”

“I’m practising writing my name … see!”

“What you like to dinner? I write it down”

“I’ll write down your dinner. You want pasta?”


  • Plain paper and lined paper.
  • Difference between boys and girls.
  • Mark making and pictures.
  • Use of clipboards.
  • Use of notebooks.
  • EAL and SEN children.

Questions we asked ourselves…

  • Does it make any difference if the writing materials are placed in different areas?
  • Would there have been an increase in writing materials if the weather had been better?
  • If bikes are accessible for play, does it influence how the writing materials are used?

“Writing needs to be exciting, fun, meaningful, useful and part of play. It can happen anywhere that play takes place. Outside is a fantastic place for writing, especially for boys as the majority prefer to learn and play outside. They enjoy the space, the ability to move and the opportunity to make noise without disturbing others. It is important that boys do not see writing as a quiet, indoor, table top activity.”

Article from ‘eye’ magazine, written by Jenni Clarke (Writer and workshop leader specialising in early education), 2008

Making it fun and meaningful…

“I’m going to make a map. Start here at nursery…. all the way to Grandad’s house”

“I’m doing important work”


  • How to widen our provision?
  • Could the introduction of words, letters and print in the outside areas have an impact? Do we need to look at the resources we provide?
  • What do we know now and where do we go from here?
  • How do we ensure that all of our children: girls, boys, EAL and SEN access the materials?

“From a very young age, children recognise the elements of writing, particularly those associated with their own names. They make marks which approximate the symbols they see – straight lines, radials, circles and dots all represent the letters they see. Wiggly lines, zigzags, rows of marks all represent the lines and blocks in our writing.

This stage is often referred to as ‘emergent’ writing, sometimes described as the ‘apprentice’ stage or ‘have a go’ stage. It develops best through first hand experience at home and in the settings. Opportunities for apprentice writing arise in all areas of learning and at all stages of development. Two vital components are supporting adults and interesting experiences which stimulate excitement, curiosity and imagination.”

The Little Book of Props for Early Writing by Ann Roberts, 2002


  • EAL and SEN children.
  • CPrint in the environment.
  • Lined and squared paper.
  • Writing boxes.
  • Different materials.