The Nature of Creativity: Why Is Scribbling Important?

Early childhood educators appreciate that growth and development happen in stages. Our job is to cultivate growth through understanding the behaviors that characterize each stage, and hold space for children to progress to further stages. At Children’s Garden Montessori, we recognize that just as a seed holds the potential to develop spontaneously into a plant, children too will blossom if they are provided with nourishment from their environment.

Creativity in young children also develops in stages. Rhoda Kellogg describes eight stages of growth in children’s creative work, progressing from scribbles to pictures that tell stories:

  1. Scribbles
  2. Scribbles become shapes
  3. Shapes are combined with lines and outlines
  4. Outline shapes become designs
  5. Designs become symbols
  6. Symbols become pictures of humans, plants and animals
  7. Symbols are used to create pictures
  8. Pictures tell stories

Each stage of development is identified by certain characteristics, which describe the child’s needs at a given stage as well as their aptitude for fulfilling those needs. For our purposes today, we will focus on the first stage.

Typically observed in children ages two through five, scribbles are one of the earliest and most important spontaneous expressions of creativity. Scribbles are marks made at random for the sheer joy of doing, without premeditation or intent. Although scribbling seems chaotic and crude, it fulfills the child’s developing need to express themselves. If given the chance, children will often describe their scribbles with elaborate stories and language that the adult would not have perceived simply by looking at the seemingly random markings.

Just as in all other forms of development, a child can only progress to the next stage if their needs are recognized and nourished with experiences from their environment. If their needs are not nourished, they are neither able to progress nor able to return to fulfill that need. By allowing them to scribble at this time, they will gain the strength, skill and confidence to progress to the line and shape stage. And by encouraging and accepting their scribble work, they feel safe and supported to risk expressing themselves again as they continue to develop.


References and Further Reading

Let Out The Sunshine: A Montessori Approach to Creative Activities by Regina Reynolds Barnett

Psychology of Children’s Art by Rhoda Kellogg