A six-year-old who has never held a pencil: the importance of early childhood development

“His drawings were completely unstructured fine scribbles without shape, or spatial awareness of the page.”


A young leaner doing a drawing of her home


Sizwe is six. He could not write anything and when we tried to encourage him to draw, his drawings were incredibly fine scribbles without shape, or spatial awareness of the page. Between the tutors we weren’t sure whether he struggled with developmental challenges or whether he had simply been deprived of a chance to use resources that would have aided his development. This story highlights how thin this line can sometimes be.

He did not know how to hold a pencil. He did not know which end was up, and often found it more comfortable to hold a pencil in his fist and draw with the bottom end, as opposed to holding it with his fingers and drawing. It took a while for me to realise that he had not actually held pencils before.

His lack of ability to draw, lack of fine motor coordination, and his difficulty with spatial planning, was in fact simply not having had exposure to pencils, crayons or paper before. We have since discovered with other learners not yet of school-going age that it is a common phenomenon: the drawings look similarly disjointed and holding pencils is not natural. It seems, therefore, fairly common that children are only exposed to pencils when they start school.

Two weeks have made a remarkable difference in Sizwe’s ability to draw. Through practice with larger markers, rulers and colouring-in pictures, his ability has already drastically improved. He is now able to copy squares, triangles and even circles from a board, and plan lines and spatial arrangement.

By the end of two months, it is hoped that he will be a fully competent drawer and will have acquired the ability to use colour effectively, and start writing letters.

Though he has been hampered by lack of exposure to drawing aids and visual stimuli, the ability to pick up and improve in a relatively short period of time (approximately 30 hours) provides hope for creating interventions that are not completely intensive, but do allow for exposure to certain key developmental tools and skills which will greatly assist young learners later.

Source: Melanie Smuts, Founder. October, 2013


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