One of the little things I take care of as a part of my job is coloring* sheets. The library keeps a selection of coloring sheets and crayons/colored pencils for children (or adults! whatever!) who want them. I make sure we maintain a good stock, replace broken crayons, and change over the picture selections every now and then. Pretty straight-forward, really, and not one of the most compelling parts of my day-to-day.
Last month I received a decree from on high (i.e. from the head of children’s services) suggesting that we start “scaling back” our offering of coloring sheets, in favour of activity sheets that call for more imagination/creativity and “complex thinking” (think ‘complete the image/story’ style prompts). To some extent, this is a fine idea, of course! And I am more than happy to include sheets like this alongside my more traditional coloring sheets.
I took umbrage, however, with the implication that coloring sheets can’t/don’t inspire creativity, and also with the unspoken implication that they don’t have value beyond the level of creativity they may or may not inspire.
There is, I think, a lot to be said for learning how to be creative within prescribed limits – it’s a stretch of an analogy perhaps, but some of the most celebrated acheivements in poetry were created within prescribed forms like sonnets. Artificial limitations sometimes beget *greater* creativity. And anyway, it’s not as if children can’t choose to add to a coloring sheet scene without being explicitly prompted to do so.
Even setting that aside though, I feel like this ‘new direction’ I’ve been pointed toward actually misses the real value of coloring sheets for young children (and I should clarify here that we are for the most part talking about pre-school age kids here). There are so many vitally important skills that are renforced and built in the simple activity of coloring things in!
Fine Motor Skills
Honestly, more than anything else, what coloring provides for very young children is an opportunity to practice moving their hands with some level of precision, to learn to have better and more precise control over their bodies. This isn’t something we are born with, and a kid who has practiced a lot of coloring in their early years will likely have an easier time with things like learning to write when they hit school age. This stuff is important! And for the very young, coloring is easier and potentially less frustrating than drawing.
Patience, Focus, Determination
Getting ‘good’ at coloring (in the sense of being able to stay in the lines) takes practice, and it takes determination. And once you’ve honed the ability to stay in the lines, actually doing so still requires patience and focus; if you’re not paying attention or if you rush, you might mess up! These are all important skills to cultivate early!
Coloring is an opportunity to teach children the names of colors! This may seem minor and silly, but also, they’ve got to learn this stuff somehow, and coloring provides an actual motivation for learning these words – how else can you ask your friend to hand you the crayon you want, and be sure they know which one you mean?
Any way you slice it, coloring sheets add value to young children’s lives. I mean, heck, they add value to adult’s lives as well. Activity sheets that call for more complex thinking are great too, of course! But children need to develop basic skills first, before they can start applying them to more complex tasks. So don’t malign my coloring sheets!
*Yes, I spell color the American way, despite being Canadian. Yes, this is particularly strange juxtaposed with my use of “favour” in this very same post. I just… think that “colour” is ugly, while I actually think most other cases of this spelling variation are prettier with the ‘u’. So yeah, for me it’s neighbour, favour, honour, color. Deal with it :P