Coloring books are back big time, especially coloring books for adults! They are dominating Amazon best seller list for adults. After nearly four decades of Early Childhood Education practices recommending creative alternatives to “coloring in the lines” and the popular classic Anti-Coloring Book series, there might be new reasons and benefits to the hottest coloring book trend in history? Are you an in-the-lines parent or an outside-the-lines parent?
In today’s world, it may be that children, families, and parents are desperately in need of both…lines and empty white pages, structure and freedom, predictability and innovation. In a busy, over-scheduled world where we, by choice and habit, are continually engaged with screens and technology, where accelerated learning feels oppressive and the urgency to innovate is exhausting, maybe we need to return to simpler times. The simplicity of paper and crayons slows down a frantic world.
Coloring books for adults might be the easiest retreat available to an over-doing, over-thinking parent. Certainly, coloring alongside a child is beneficial to both parent and child. Parents are unplugged in a peaceful, shared activity. The stress of multi-tasking is well documented and who multi-tasks more than parents. Coloring book authors like Jessie Riley of the Kitanie Coloring Books advocate for the healing power of coloring books and describes her series as a “portal to the ‘place of wonder’…the place we all go to dream.”
Coloring books become a mindful alternative to excessive screen time and the Digital Eye Strain that accompanies it. Riley promotes her coloring books as a form of visual therapy that helped re-wire her brain after experiencing sports related concussions. A discussion with psychologists in the HuffPost confirm the power of coloring books to combat stress, with Luis Rojas Marcos recommending the use of crayons over markers for a softer gentler experience.
Can children benefit in the same ways? For decades, coloring books were used “to keep children quiet”. Times are different in many ways. While we don’t want to stifle children’s exuberance or creativity, they may need activities that encourage focus and self-regulation. Louise Goldberg, author and educator with Creative Relaxation Yoga, believes coloring helps in “slowing the respiration and quieting the nervous system.” She goes on to say that
“coloring is an excellent example of ‘being in the moment’ – combining movement and focused attention. With the mind/imagination fully engaged in a pleasurable physical activity like coloring, it serves as a sort of meditation.”
Every child deserves an opportunity to connect with a quieter space. Sometimes, coloring books are an example of lines and structure creating a calming anti-anxiety experience, particularly on hectic days or when routines are upended.
Yet, too much quiet and too many artistic limits can also be in opposition to developmental practices. Here is Christine McLean’s 2009 position on What’s Wrong with Coloring Books?
“…Just as I wouldn’t advocate the elimination of occasional instances of chocolate from breakfast or Saturday morning cartoons, coloring books are bound to be a regular part of children’s lives. Should coloring book be a regular part of an early childhood program? Again, the answer is absolutely no. Coloring books represent inadequate practice. They are simply not good enough for what our children need in order to reach their optimal potential.”
Young children need to create their own representations of what they see in the world, which includes pictures of people that can only be recognized with a child’s personal explanation of why things are drawn the way they are – mom is mom because of her smile, the dog is the dog because he is big and noisy. Preschool age children need various kinds of art experiences in order to express their inner thoughts and feelings. Toddlers need to scribble over top of the lines as they discover what crayons can do and how their bodies need to move to make different kinds of marks on a page.
Young children need big and small art, dripping and splattering art, foot painting and body painting, construction art, original art and inventive art. They need art without lines and with very few rules. Art is calming and art is loud. Art is comforting and art is disruptive. Art, just like parenting, changes with the child, the family and the needs of any given day. All parents need time staying-in-the-lines and time making new lines all their own.