Kids who doodle? Scribble away!

I thought my kids and I were just lazy! My sons draw detailed dragons and superheroes all over their binders during lectures. I trace little triangles and squares mindlessly during phone calls and meetings—but it turns out DOODLING is a smart choice to stay alert.

One of my earliest memories is watching my mother sketch happy, attractive, whimsical faces while talking on the phone.  Her knack for doodling was passed down to me and later, my sons. I thought doodling was a lazy habit, but a new study says there are positive benefits for memory and concentration.

Scribble Research
Current research suggests the state of the brain during boredom looks more like a busy bee than a lazy bum. In an article in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, Jackie Andrade, professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth, says when people are bored they actually have high levels of brain activity.

In Andrade’s recent study, participants listened to a boring phone message and half were introduced to a doodling task. The doodlers dominated non-doodlers in retaining information, recalling 29% more information. She writes, "When you're bored, you think nothing much is going on, but actually your brain is looking for something to do." She says the brain is designed to constantly process information and when it encounters a lack of stimulation it’s a problem.

Bored? Doodling to the Rescue
Doodling helps in a state of boredom by minimizing the need to resort to daydreams when stimulation is low. Andrade believes her study’s results suggest that “doodling may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing.”

The act of doodling seems to aid in concentration by providing just the right amount of stimulation to keep the brain busy and avoid retreating to fantasy world mode. You always knew penning those sweet French poodles and shading those balloons during boring calls and board meetings were helpful!

Doodling Students
The ramifications for classroom doodling are intriguing. If doodling is a simple way for the brain to remain on task and a tool which prevents “drifting,” it could possibly become an effective memory aid for learning. Perhaps, inviting students to doodle during complex lectures will become commonplace in the future.

It certainly seems worth a try in certain contexts given the prevalence of attention issues at school.
Doodling requires little mental energy and may be a smart choice for kids needing an extra tool in their concentration arsenal. Who knows? Maybe the next Picasso or Matisse will be discovered during a dry science lecture on sound waves!

Michele Ranard is passionate about helping children learn. She is a professional counselor, academic tutor and a freelancer.

Andrade, Jackie. “What Does Doodling Do?”. Applied Cognitive Psychology (Feb 27 2009).