Mark Making With Clay

How Can We Extend the Language of Clay?
A Writing Proposal

“Scribbles are products of a systematic investigation, rather than haphazard actions.”

-John Matthews

After the children had successfully created a rod with the clay (a result of working with clay for over five months), Ms. Diana and Ms. Karen allowed the clay to dry out and then presented them to the children. To extend the children’s interactions with and study of the clay, they invited them to use the clay pieces to create marks and designs on black paper. 

As the children held their dry clay, they began to press it against the paper, noticing how it left marks. Throughout the process, they were observed creating a new language… a new tool… a new form of expression unique to their study, portraying a story of their progression and growth in the language of clay.

Mark making is the first step in the progression of writing and is extremely beneficial for handwriting, coordination, finger dexterity and creativity. Initially, children enjoy making marks at random, noticing how their tool (in this case, the dried clay) leaves marks on their paper. Over time, children soon realize that they can control these marks, sparking creativity and more coherent writing.

From a small scribble to a masterpiece, drawing can enhance a child’s motor skills. It also helps them improve their hand and eye coordination, while fine-tuning their finger muscles that are critical for different tasks. Other benefits of mark making include establishing concentration and focus, encouraging visual analysis, self-expression, increasing confidence and development of important skills for early writing such as the tripod grasp.


As the children began to make marks, their actions and demeanor demonstrated that the clay was an easy material to handle and work with, creating marks similar to that of chalk. The children also realized that they did not need to place significant pressure on the clay to create marks, and they were quite intrigued every time they would make a mark. Throughout the course of the activity, the children analyzed the material and created marks through multiple methods including making dots, creating lines from the top to the bottom, and some even attempted to make circles!


Z.: Made a line from the top of her paper to the bottom, managing to hold the paper with one hand as she held the clay with the other (bilateral coordination).

A.: Used both of her hands to draw with the clay, holding a piece in each hand. She then used one of her hands to hold the paper down as she began to create different designs from one side to the other. 

E.: Drew from one side of her paper to the other while using her opposite hand to hold the paper (bilateral coordination).

S.: Hit the paper with her clay to leave marks. After noticing how the paper moved when she drew on it, she began to lean on the table, placing her body weight onto the paper to hold it in place as she drew (problem-solving).

Sk.: Enjoyed drawing horizontally as she used one hand to draw and the other to hold the paper (bilateral coordination).

K.: Began to draw but noticed how the paper kept moving. After several attempts to keep drawing, she leaned over the table and used her body to weigh down the paper as she drew (problem-solving).

El.: Picked up a piece of the clay, “Ball.” She then began to make large circles on her paper.

Skills and standards observed: Early writing skills – Fine motor development – Concentration and focus – Development of pincer and tripod grasp – Hand-eye coordination – Finger dexterity – Control of writing tool – Imagination and creativity – Observation and analysis – Visual attention – Artistic expression – Bilateral coordination

Contributing Researchers: Diana Hurtado, Karen Torres, Chelsie Braun

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