One of the most common gifts that children get during the early years is a colouring book. Children can be budding Hussains and Picassos and create drawings based on their fantasy and imagination but that would not impress adults as much as ‘how well you have coloured within the lines!’
So should we stop giving colouring activities to young children? No, we should but we should understand the stage and age in which colouring activities have relevance.
So lets understand the first 4 friends that help children write well, they are called Scribbling, Doodling, Drawing, And Colouring. Let us meet Mr. Scribbling- ( please don’t look for any gender bias here!) he is a free bird, loves to just move around the paper and let the crayon or colouring pencil take charge. Loops, twirls, straight lines, curves, all excite Mr. Scribbling and make him happy. He is happy because this activity helps the child exercise the wrist and finger muscles and have fun. This activity also helps children explore with the movement of the writing implement without being tied down to ‘fitting into a shape’. Mr. Scribbling also nurtures children free expression and helps them love the feel of the crayon or colouring pencil on paper. Mr. Scribbling is most happy with very young children up to the age of 3 years.
The second friend is Ms. Doodling and her forte is a repeat in forms and shapes. Ms. Doodling makes kids repeat the patterns in their scribbling. Common shapes that now emerge in children’s doodling are rounds and lines, you can see some repeat patterns emerging. Ms. Doodling is also happy that at this stage kids are able to talk about their doodles, though not in too much detail but will be able to name what they have made. But when they begin doodling they have no idea what they are going to doodle, after they doodle they start seeing pictures in their doodles and start talking about them. Ms. Doodling also is most happy with very young children up to the age of 3 years.
The third friend is Mr. Drawing and he is the master of imagination, thinking, creating. He helps children think and plan what to draw and paint before they begin the drawing. Their drawings now look like representations of the real world. Size and proportion may not be correct and they may end up drawing all over the page. Simple details may be missing from their drawings like fingers or nose or ears. Mr. Drawing does not like restricting children during drawing, he wants kids to have the freedom to draw what they want, how they want and with whatever colour they want. So don’t reprimand or correct children if they draw a red sun or green sea.
The fourth friend is Ms. Colouring and she is actually the first cousin of Mr. Writing, she lays the foundation of form, structure, and focus. She wants children to colour a picture within a form outline given. She says it helps kids control their hand movements to fit within a given area or line and this will help them in future to write the letters within a given area (lines in a sheet). She advices adults to give colouring activities before giving writing to children and to start with smaller, simpler shapes before giving them big shapes and pictures. She says that 3-sided crayons and 3 sided colour pencils are the best implements to use for colouring activities and that magic colouring or colouring with paintbrush is not recommended. We asked her why and she said, paintbrush is to paint a picture, silly, not to colour a picture! Ms. Colouring also says that when children are given colouring activities after having given enough opportunities to scribble, doodle and draw then they are not frustrated and are able to now fall into a controlled colouring activity. But she also warns, that is children are given colouring activities all the time and not given the freedom to express with drawings then it can lead to frustration and children will end up scribbling instead of colouring (naturally as they have not enough experience of scribbling so they will scribble at any given opportunity).
So we asked the 4 friends for their final advice for all adults on when to guide children and when not to, and this is what they had to say-
1. Mr. Scribbling said ‘Do not guide’- let kids choose when they want to scribble, with what they want to scribble and if they start scribbling on walls and tables just gently put a paper or slate in front of them and remember they are scribbling for fun not to create master pieces!
2. Ms. Doodling said ‘Do not guide’- kids love me and now doodle a round and say it is an apple or the sun, they draw a line and say it is my mummy, don’t try to correct them as it is a stage of seeing forms and pictures within different shapes. Just let them doodle.
3. Mr. Drawing said ‘Do not guide’- fantasy and imagination are with me and so when kids draw don’t correct them or guide them. Let them imagine, let them create, if you allow them to imagine then they will be able to colour. And if you want to know about their drawings then say, “Tell me about your drawing” instead of saying “What have you drawn?”
4. Ms. Colouring said ‘Do guide’ - my stage is important for children to understand how to control their hand movements and limit their lines and scribbles to a given form. If children have enjoyed Mr. Drawing before me then they will be able to colour well, if not then….and if children are able to colour well then they will be able to write within lines. And yes children will need guidance as they colour, guide them gently by saying, ‘the apple does not like it when you colour outside the line’. And here is a secret, if kids are able to eat on their own without spilling from their bowl or plate then they are able to colour well within the picture lines. That is why in the Montessori method self-help skills are given importance before writing skills.