Coloring Books-Not My Idea of a Good Time

Any student who has taken a class from me at the university knows how I feel about coloring books and other pre-drawn images for children. Some adults tell me it is ‘relaxing’ for children to just color. Coloring books are designed to occupy a child’s time. For some adults that is a good thing. If you have ever taken young children on a long car trip or to the doctor with a long wait, coloring books may serve a purpose. If for no other reason than to spread out the time between, “Are we there yet?” questions.
In school, however, color book-type pages are not appropriate, especially for young children. Teachers sometimes use those pages to keep a child busy so they can work with other children. Reading the research of Victor Lowenfeld, we find out that coloring book pages can take almost all creative thinking away from 50-60% of children. The other 40% may be effected as well, but may have been nourished enough to at least maintain some creativity. In fact, if a child continually uses pre-made pages, he may never be satisfied with anything that he draws. He will be upset that his drawings look like a child’s drawings, not the adult drawings in coloring books.

There are much better things to give children to occupy their time. Crayons and a blank sheet of paper are much more appropriate. Paints and watercolors are also effective to allow the child to create. One of my favorite activities is to give children construction paper and glue (scissors for 4+ children). I ask them to create a picture of themselves using just tearing/cutting the paper and the glue. This can be done with any theme or activity. Many adults would be shocked at the amazing projects that the children create. So, in my 30+ years working with children, I am even more convinced that coloring books can be the enemy. I want the children I have in my care to be thinkers and creaters, not colorers.


25 responses

  1. I've never really thought about that before – but it makes such perfect sense. I enrolled in the Intro to Drawing for non-majors course this semester, the first day we did an activity of drawing a subject using one continuous line – Without looking at the paper! It was so interesting to see who's creativity and fun is wa stifled by the idea of perfection and who enjoyed the process of drawing itself. u0522871

  2. I believe that you are right about coloring books, creativity is clearly not used while children are coloring in a pre-drawn book. I know when i was younger, when I would color out of a coloring book I would try and make it look as similar to the colors that the picture is supposed to look like.. I believe that is the case for most young children, they want to do a good job while coloring so they make it the same colors and no learning is involved what so ever. Coloring books should not be used in early childhood programs ever because you want the children to learn as much as possible, not waste time coloring useless drawings. Haley Hintze 4330

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  4. Wow, I found this statement very interesting and something that I had not really thought about before. You would think with children using coloring books use their imagination by choosing and deciding different colors for different objects. But giving a child a blank sheet a paper they figure out more of what an object looks like in both shape and size then from there decide the colors. Personally, when I was little and I will admit for my age now I still enjoy coloring books. I am not much of a creative persona but coloring books I find very relaxing and enjoyable.u0571320

  5. I heard this research in school, my mom kept telling me (she has her masters in ECE) and now I teach preschool and get frustrated when parents want me to use more coloring pages and worksheets. I didn't know where to turn for a reference so THANK YOU! I am going to find a way to put this into my news letter next month!

  6. I totally agree with your comments about coloring books. My issue with them is that I have a daughter who is almost 4 years old and is already a perfectionist. Well, one little mark outside the lines of a coloring page and she is having a fit that she "messed up". That is not the type of activity that I'd like to be promoting to young children. She is way more creative when she's just given some paper and art materials.

  7. My five-year-old daughter loves to color, draw, cut, paste, and all of those visually artistic talents she gets from her mother. She draws better than I do and this is not an exaggeration. To that end, I fully agree that coloring books are not the ideal medium for her expression. She has a much greater opportunity to improve her expressive abilities if she can bring her ideas out instead of following the ideas printed by another person. She does like to color in coloring books, but not very often. We just give her a stack of different paper to choose from, different types of scissors, glue sticks, colored pencils, and crayons and let her go to town. She does a lot better on her own than with any guidance or lines to follow.

  8. You know, I am an early childhood educator also, but I don't agree 100% of the time. When my child was in preschool, he was given a paper of a horse and was asked to color it. He drew a horse with a blue leg, an orange leg, etc. That was the most colorful horse in the world. He was so proud of it! We framed that horse. Sometimes children just need an idea of what to do and then they can be creative. (I have found this to be true more with boys than girls). Today, 28 years later we have that picture-still framed! Judy

  9. I have coloring sheets of famous paintings, including those from our local Art Museum. I do like to give the children them to watercolor. I feel it helps familiarize them with important works of art. Using watercolors give them a chance to make it their own.

  10. Coloring pages aren't just about creativity – coloring can be a great way to improve fine motor skills, among other things. That said, I provide my after school playcampers w/all kinds of coloring pages, markers, pencils, crayons & glue to stimulate their imaginations – & drawing/scrap paper right alongside – as an alternate choice to the projects we do during our 'art time', not as a substitute. I have a BFA, BTW…

  11. Wow!! I never thought so far!! Coloring books is also a early childhood activities to learn and concentrate in pictures.

  12. Yay! It's great to see someone speaking up about the value of simple paper and crayons/markers instead of coloring sheets. I teach workshops on using art in child care programs, and I cringe when I see coloring sheets!

  13. To Anonymous BFA, BTWWhile I agree that there could be some fine motor development while using coloring books, I still think there are better, more appropriate methods. Having my students create a self-portrait with construction paper not only works on fine motor skills but allows the child to think, organize and create, as well.

  14. Hi John,I had no idea how megative coloring books could be to a child's learning before this. But it does make sense for sure. How can a child use his/her imagination of what to create if he/she is given a premade coloring page to color. I agree with you that using a coloring book during a long trip could be ok, but I think using construction paper, scissors and glue and other art supplies like plain paper and playdough could come along on the trip just as easily. There might be a mess, but after a long car ride there is always a mess in the car to clean up anyways. I had my children use the construction paper scissors and glue activity about a week ago and they both made a dinosaur scene. It was pretty amazing! Thanks for the tip!H. SaltasFCS5170

  15. Yes, I agree with that concept because it does not allow children to use their own creativity and/or authentic ideas. I do not like precut images at all because each child is an individual and each project should have its own character

  16. I’m big on children utilizing their creativity in non-conventional ways. I loved the idea you provided of the children tearing or cutting paper to create a picture of choice. Let’s not underestimate or inhibit the creativity of these little ones by plopping coloring books or pre-lined pictures as a project of choice for our children because their potential is exponential. THANKS FOR SHARING!

  17. Now that I'm older coloring books is not MY idea of a good time. But when I was younger…man, I had lots of those things. My cousins and I would lie on the floor flipping through pages looking for the perfect page so we each could color at the same time without ripping the pages out. After each masterpiece we'd write our name on "our page." So proud of our work. Since I understand my idea doesn't necessarily reflect the ideas of my students I do keep coloring books available (just in case) it's their idea of a good time.

  18. I agree with one the anonymous posting above that coloring sheets may not meet the creative needs of students, but I value their importance in aiding in the improvement of fine motor skills. As a Pre-Kindergarten teacher, the most important thing for me to provide my students with is exposure and variety when it comes to all aspects of learning. My students are not given coloring pages often and I do not view them as mere “time-wasters.” I give coloring sheets to students as models for drawing and they are allowed to color them however they would like. During this time I hear and engage in some of the most interesting conversations between students. Students recognize they are coloring something a different color than they may see in reality and are able to find humor in what they are doing. My students also compare what they are doing to their classmates. They are able to see that even though they were given the same outline, everyone has unique abilities and can make any work their own. Along with the occasional coloring sheet, my students are given time daily at our “writing center” where students will find blank paper, scissors, glue, stickers, stamps, stencils, crayons, markers, and pencils. As you stated in your post, I am sure that outsiders would truly be amazed at the work students create with simply supplying them the raw materials. Like many other things in education I think the key to this discussion is balance and student choice.

  19. Can't help but think, "Make a picture of yourself"– out of construction paper or anything else– is awfully product-oriented for young children.

  20. It takes work to inspire creativity and risk taking in some young children. Coloring books are relaxing for both children and adults. I think some children are hard wired to be perfectionists. Coloring books probably don't make them that way. My youngest son is a perfectionist. It took some encouraging to get him to draw. Creativity and risk taking should be inspired and encouraged. A child should have blank paper available and all drawings should be considered works of art. I always say drawings are better than the real thing. Art comes from the artist, that is what makes it special. Forcing a child to draw every picture instead of coloring in a coloring book is as bad as the opposite. Children should be given a little of both and be allowed to choose sometimes.Children should be seen as invididuals. If a child loves to color and is encouraged to take risks and create art, I don't think coloring books will cause too much harm. It can be relaxing for some who can't always come up with an idea to draw.Children will go through phases. If coloring is a child's idea of a good time for awhile, I hope it isn't taken away.

  21. When my oldest daughter was 4 we used to draw pictures together. I would draw a line and she would draw and we would take turns. One day after we drew a picture that I thought was pretty cool I told her she could draw on the other side. When her father came home she proudly showed him her drawing- not our group drawing. Our group drawing was not her lone accomplishment – it had less value to her. I provide my children with blank paper and encourage them to draw what interests them and I find them to be very creative thinkers. I don't really care that their handwriting isn't super neat or that they aren't staying in the lines – as an artist I myself tend not to stay in the lines either.

  22. Since I enjoyed coloring books very much as a child, I was beginning to take offense of this article. Then suddenly I realized why it may have been so hard for me to grasp and be creative in the abstract art form when I was going to junior college. On the other hand, I excelled at drawing anything else where I had a subject matter in front of me. What an intriguing realization! I wouldn't go as far as saying coloring books are useless though. I enjoyed them thoroughly and I believe it did encourage my imagination, and later on, attention to technical detail. Thanks for the article!

  23. Here again, educators and psychologists are faced with a debatable topic. As with most educational issues, there are proponents and opponents campaigning their stance on the topic. Just as with any educational activity, all efforts in balance will most likely be the best practice for creating a framework for understanding, learning, and creativity. Can you imagine two children having a conversation where one has experienced a coloring book, and the other has not? Who is missing out on practical experience in this picture?If we are to give our children well-rounded learning experiences, then by no means is a coloring book harmful or cumbersome to the process of creativity.

  24. Please read my book "The Story in the Picture: Inquiry and Artmaking with Young Children." The book focuses on enriching art activities for young children.Christine

  25. I've been an art teacher for 30 years. Coloring books are not the enemy. All things in moderation. The value of coloring books: fine motor, decision making, seeing proportion. While its true that creativity is very important, gaining skill is too. Somewhere along the line the ability to draw comes in. Almost every student I've ever had that loves art loves to draw and is good at it. This developes through good observation, and yes, even copying things that they love. I learned to draw by copying cartoons as a child. Eventually I became interested in moving on to more complex things and challenging myself. But my love of art, colors and the "visual" began with the crayola 64 and my coloring book. Coloring books do not destroy the joy of creating as much as not making time to create does… over scheduling children, video games and general laziness.

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