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Teaching for Creativity: Questioning Coloring Books

October 24, 2012

Perhaps you enjoyed coloring books as a child or have coloring books around your home for your children. Creativity specialist and University of Texas at Dallas professor, Magdalaena Grohman, provides insight into the creative value of coloring books and ideas for enriching the coloring experience.

As a psychologist and a mom of two, I have an unrelenting tendency to look for games, toys, and activities that teach children to think and communicate, that develop imagination, and that shape creativity and multiple intelligences. And recently, coloring books have caught my attention.

For the past couple years my two sons, ages 6 and almost 4 years old, have been bringing coloring sheets home. I’ve been thinking: What do coloring books teach our children? What is their educational value?

For starters, the act of filling in the color within boundaries plays an important role in the development of hand-eye coordination, a crucial component in mastering handwriting. I’m afraid, however, that’s about it. How so? Well, let’s look at the most accessible coloring books you can buy in a supermarket. Most of them include outlines of  popular movie and book characters. If a child is familiar with a given character, it may significantly restrict the color palette. Spiderman, for example, will most likely be red, blue and black. There are even more restrictive activity books, in which a specific color pigment is already embedded in the pages and ready to use. Just dip a brush in water and you’re good to go. How convenient! Not only does a child remain clean (so do walls and floors), she doesn’t have to think what colors need to be used. At the very least, coloring books reinforce mindless copying and schematic color use.

So, shall we throw them away? Well, here’s a caveat. Children do like coloring, and—let’s admit it—it is a perfect activity to keep them busy so we can catch up with chores or steal 10 minutes to pause and think.

But, if you have some time to sit down with your children and play with them, I suggest you try the following fun activities with your ordinary coloring book:

  • Use an atypical color scheme (Spiderman is yellow, pink and green) and discuss the character “wearing” different colors
  • Add different elements to the picture
  • Change a given outline into something completely different and give it funny titles
  • Glue small pieces of torn magazine pages within the outline

Thank you, Dr. Grohman for your ideas!

Dr. Grohman leads Think Creatively! workshops in the Center for Creative Connections on the first Thursday of every month.

Andrea V. Severin
Interpretation Specialist

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2012 4:15 pm

    Excellent suggestions! Go a step further and try the unconventional coloring books such as “Scribbles” designed by Taro Gomi which encourages imagination and thinking. In either case, an additional benefit to elaborating on a basic black outline of the coloring book is the extended language development and social engagement that the child derives from the parent’s participation. Great fun!

    • Andrea Severin permalink
      October 30, 2012 4:38 pm

      Thank you for your comments, Lisa! I LOVE Taro Gomi’s “Scribbles”!

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