Doodling Matters


By Senior Lecturer, Sylvia Foo


One of my dyslexic students was an avid doodler. His worksheets were often filled with spontaneous drawings of whatever caught his imagination or fancy at that point in time. I am sure parents (and other teachers) would identify with the horror I felt when I discovered that margins and empty spaces of learning materials became an artist’s canvas. In my opinion, doodling was simply a distraction. That student has since graduated and I have begun to see doodling in a more positive light, especially if it helps reluctant writers. We just need to channel the doodler’s energy and artistic works into meaningful creativity. Learners with dyslexia can be reluctant writers but otherwise take to art and drawing with enthusiasm. Why not harness what dyslexic learners prefer doing to help them see that writing can be fun and creative too? When you catch your child doodling, do not berate him for being distracted. Instead, ask him what that doodle means and see if it can be a springboard for writing.


Doodles can be an expression of imagination; a story may be in the making. Even if the doodle has no potential to be a narrative, you may want to get your child, when he is free, to transfer that doodle to an empty exercise book. That exercise book can become the doodler’s special notebook and canvas where he not only doodles but he can also write one or two sentences on his drawing. Encourage your child to use that notebook when he has the urge to doodle. A story may be woven in time. Another way doodling can help with writing is when your child is stuck and he cannot seem to get his creative juices going. Getting him to doodle may remove that writer’s block and start him thinking about possible storylines. It is worth noting that some research has indicated that doodling, contrary to popular belief, can also be an aid to increased memory and focus. Doodling is a common strategy employed to counter daydreaming. In 2009, psychologist Andrade asked 40 people to monitor a 2½ minute voice mail message that was dull and rambling. Half of the group doodled as they did this while the other half did not. There was a surprise memory test after the call. The doodlers recalled 29% more details from the call compared to the non-doodlers. The science here seems to indicate that doodling requires enough mental energy to help the brain to focus. There is clearly more to doodling than meets the eye. The next time you catch your child doodling, rather than reprimanding him, look at the circumstances in which he was spontaneously drawing. You might see an opening for encouraging creative writing or even better learning for your child.


References: Andrade, J. What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology.2010; 24(1), 100-106.

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