How to Enhance Fine Motor Skills: Why Coloring Is Good for You and Your Kids

For me and others in the field of early childhood education, adult coloring books are both a source of amusement and irritation. When standing in the check-out line at the market looking at them, I chuckle to myself and think: What's next? Sticker books for grownups? Play-dough? Lace-up cards, puppet theaters, Geo-boards, and watercolor kits? 

Adult coloring books are all the rage. Their popularity reminds us why coloring is so valuable for kids, too.

Those of us with a background in childhood development, however, get frustrated because we've extolled the virtues of coloring forever. But we got pressured to cut the amount of time our students spent doing it along with other creative pursuits such as drawing, painting, and printmaking. Those at the top – politicians and administrators – ignored what we had to say in favor of a “rigorous curriculum.” They wanted early reading, paper-pencil tasks, test-taking, and more teacher-directed lessons. Kids have suffered because of it.

While everybody now appreciates the value of coloring for adults, let's celebrate its importance for preschoolers, kindergartners, and primary students as well. Here's 3 valuable things children gain from the experience:

1. Fine Motor Skills 

Unfortunately, many children today are not getting the early experiences they need to build strong pincer grasps (picking up items between their thumbs and index fingers). They enter kindergarten unable to hold a pencil correctly and comfortably. They have difficulty turning the pages of a book, cutting with scissors, and tracing a line.

 Coloring was once an essential way to promote the pincer grasp. But it's been pushed aside with other helpful activities such as peeling stickers, creating with play-dough, and stringing beads. We've put the cart before the horse by having youngsters write with pencils ahead of having them draw with crayons.

2. Relaxation

Many adults now use coloring as a way to decompress, but some wonder: Why do kids need that? Sadly, it's because our preschools and kindergartens have become stressful places for some young children, especially in our inner-cities. Once known for play, exploration, and creativity, they have turned into "early learning centers” where children get pushed to learn more and more at younger and younger ages. Some experts in early childhood education worry because the material is not developmentally appropriate, causing the youngsters a lot of needless frustration.

Kids get thrust into reading at an early age, solving math problems, learning a second language, playing an instrument, working on computers, and even taking tests. Though research shows there's no value in early reading, kindergartners get placed in groups according to their ability. Then their anxious parents get worried when they're put in the lowest group and sign them up for after-school tutoring! At the age of 5, they're already getting told they're behind. Coloring is a way for kids to deal with all these ridiculous adult-inflicted pressures and gain some peace and control.

3. Creativity

While coloring books don't allow for much independence and originality, a blank piece of paper and a box of crayons most certainly do. Drawing with crayons is a form of “open-ended art,” meaning it lets the artist have control. There's way too much “adult-directed art” going on in classrooms today. Teachers have a sample and the students dutifully copy it in a step-by-step way with no creativity whatever. 

Drawing a picture lets kids express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
It lets them communicate without words. This is especially valuable for kids who are shy or troubled. Creating with crayons empowers them.

Melissa and Doug are names you can trust for high-quality wood products for kids. I used this paper roll in my kindergarten classroom for years, and my students loved it. They would create fabulous drawings, practice their numbers and letters, write their names, and even author stories. It's an ideal item to have at your child's writing desk at home. Put some crayons, markers, and colored pencils by it and your youngster is all ready to go! 

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