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The Pros and Cons of Coloring Books and Their Effects on Children's Creativity

Updated on November 15, 2013

Some people think that there are more pros than cons of coloring books.

The books that children color in with crayons, markers, or other art media have been around since the late 19th century. They were first implemented for use with paints. Since about the early-mid to mid-20th century, they became the basis for learning, promoting animated and comic characters, and just having fun.

Some have pages that are activity-oriented (such as mazes, crosswords, and word searches). Some are promotional materials for movies, cartoon shows, and other licensed media. Some are for teaching children about something, like ballet and baseball. Let's not forget that some are themed to particular holidays like Christmas and Easter.

As well as there are people who think that children learn things and have fun with coloring books, there are also those who are not keen on it. The latter group believes that they squelch children's creativity rather than foster it.

Color in the Dinosaur...

Some people are fans of coloring books (or pages, like this one) because they keep their kids occupied.
Some people are fans of coloring books (or pages, like this one) because they keep their kids occupied. | Source

The Pros

There are reasons why some people support coloring books. First of all, the main goal of them is to keep kids busy. Most children have short attention spans, and waiting for their turn to, say, be examined by their pediatricians seems like "waiting forever." The same holds true with long car trips - even an hour's drive to Grandpa's farm seems like driving from New York to Los Angeles.

Secondly, children are learning to draw, but proponents think that they aren't quite ready to make "pretty pictures" by freehand drawing alone. They teach children obedience - two of the important rules of the books being that children must color in the pre-drawn lines and that no white areas (including small scribbles) are showing.

Also, coloring books enforce and develop perceptual skills. "When a child colors in set spaces 'inside the lines', so to speak, she must coordinate a complex set of skills that we call 'perceptual'; this category includes eye-hand and eye-arm." wrote homeschool teacher Marilisa Sachteleben, "In other words, when a child colors within spaces, she must train her hand to move within a confined area."

"She learns to use her eyes to control all the gross and fine muscles in her arms, hands, fingers and wrists. Her eye tracking and focusing improves (a pre-reading skill). She develops attention to detail and visual acuity." And coloring books teach children that importance of such attention to detail.

Scribble Scrabbles are OK!

Sure, somebody didn't color the car neatly, but most people can STILL appreciate it. That's probably why opponents of coloring books think that it's OK to color outside the lines sometimes.
Sure, somebody didn't color the car neatly, but most people can STILL appreciate it. That's probably why opponents of coloring books think that it's OK to color outside the lines sometimes. | Source

The Cons

Not everyone is impressed with the coloring book idea.

Since the time when the popularity of them boomed in the mid-1900s, some people have cried foul on them. They range from art experts, childhood development specialists, educators, and even parents.

So why do they bash something as innocuous as somebody's collection of line art ready to be colored in by kids? Well, the main reason why is because they believe that they stifle creativity rather than foster it. If creativity is defeated, then individuality also goes down the tubes.

Scores of children are naturally "bad drawers," and that's OK. They naturally scribble until age 5-7. But coloring books force them to trade in the scribbling for staying within the lines and coloring in them completely.

They also believe that the books teach them that adults are much superior drawers than them. "By the time they have completed the first few pages of the average coloring book, the only thing they will have learned is that adults draw better, by adult standards, than they do." wrote art teacher Susan Striker on her introduction of The First Anti-Coloring Book, "At this point most children spurn their own refreshing and creative drawings."

In some cases, that belief becomes a huge detriment to art appreciation because they think that their own drawings are bad. Drawing, as well as coloring, is one of the many vital fine motor skills children should develop, and opponents of coloring books believe that such material disallows it for the same reasons.

Thus, opponents believe that coloring books deter children from thinking outside the box.

"The youngster is supposed to color within the lines and some youngsters seem to enjoy this activity," said Dr. Viktor Lowenfield, director of art education at Pennsylvania State University, "This enjoyment may be because these youngsters do not have to think for themselves. The dependency upon someone else's outline if an object makes the child much less confidant in his own means of expression."

Such closed-mind, concrete thinking teaches children what certain things are, coloring book opponents say. For instance, they believe that they want kids to think that all elephants are grey, even when dirty. But in reality they appear some shade of brown when they are dirty until they are washed.

The scoops of ice cream on the sundaes are some of the exceptions in the line art book depictions. Kids know that they come in different colors because there are many flavors of ice cream.

But such claimed confinement and hampered ability for kids to think for themselves and be themselves are why some people think that coloring books are bad.

Though there are some people who think that coloring books are bad as there are some others who believe that they are good materials for children, some others think there's simply a time and place for them.

Those people in that said group believe that though they are aware of the criticisms of the books as well as their benefits, they think that they are good. They would have kids use them at certain occasions when they are necessary or once in a while. (Kids can balance creating own pictures on blank paper and coloring in coloring books. Most of the time doing so has no profound effect on creativity.)

Despite some people lauding them as well as some others condemning them, coloring books are still here to stay.

Note: they apply also to online printable or interactive coloring pages as well.

What do you think of coloring books (or pages)?

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    • profile image

      Thomas Robertson 

      7 months ago

      Most of the arguments advanced by the coloring page lobby apply to a blank sheet of paper as well. Doesn't original art work also hold kids' attention, develop fine motor skills, offer stress reduction, help build an art vocabulary, and don't kids love it?

      There is the argument that a coloring page could serve as a catalyst for original art work, I admit that a coloring page might have an advantage over a blank sheet of paper.

      But there are alternatives here, too. Have you noticed that children tend to draw geometrically simple items? Hearts, rainbows, rainbows, square houses with triangular roofs--all of these are subjects which recur over and over in children's artwork. Perhaps they are trying to tell us that they want art instruction using simple shapes as a starting point. On the Amazon website, there are several books which can help a child learn to draw different subjects using letters, numbers, and shapes as starting points.

    • profile image

      linda 

      2 years ago

      I teach special needs preschoolers and have taught art to this population as well as others. Currently I'm a classroom teacher. I try to get these kids to draw, paint and create collages with as much independence as possible. My heart sings when I see their little wheels turning and they make their one of a kind creations. On the other hand, when an assistant teacher or therapist gives them a coloring page, my heart sinks as I know this undermines their newly developing confidence in their creative efforts.

    • profile image

      denice 

      3 years ago

      coloring books

      i think coloring books are good for young children because they learn about shapes and animals.

    • profile image

      David 

      3 years ago

      Coring books are the bane of all art educators. Sounds like everyone's art education as a child and later was so insufficient to give you this pathetic perspective of how regressive so unchallenging and without expressive creativity. Shame on you all.

    • talfonso profile imageAUTHOR

      talfonso 

      5 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      Vanika, thanks for commenting. I have a question though - do your kids use coloring books exclusively or draw in addition to using them? Don't be afraid to chime in.

    • Vanika Knowles profile image

      Vanika Knowles 

      5 years ago

      I think colouring books are an awesome way for children to learn about art and drawing. It also develops their aesthetics. Nice read. Thank u for sharing. Voted up and shared.

    • talfonso profile imageAUTHOR

      talfonso 

      5 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      The Unlearner, thanks for the kind comment. As a kid, I balanced time coloring in coloring books and drawing own pictures and my creativity really was preserved. I'm aware that some people have no problem with coloring books and some don't want their kids coloring in them. But I'm one of some people who agree with you that kids can't rely on too much time coloring in coloring books.

    • The Unlearner profile image

      Jo 

      5 years ago from Isle of Wight UK

      I love this article. I loved colouring pages when I was younger, and my girls do today. They are 5 and 7, but I never attempt to get them to colour inside the the lines.

      I do think that some colouring books can reduce creativity, but I do think as long as you don't fully rely on them for a resource, then that is fine :)

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 

      5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      We too had both growing up, I still have crayons, markers, colored pencils, paper and coloring books. They teach us many things. Great hub, I never thought about coloring books having pros and cons!

    • tbsingh profile image

      tbsingh 

      5 years ago from INDIA

      good information.

    • talfonso profile imageAUTHOR

      talfonso 

      6 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      Chloelozano, I feel the same way too. As a kid I colored in coloring books, yet I drew on blank paper. Did my imagination and creativity suffer? Well, of course not! I had never compared my art to a coloring book and that's fine!

      Well, thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      chloelozano 

      6 years ago

      My kids both color in coloring books as well as create their own pictures. They like coloring books because they get to color their favorite characters and hang them up in their room. I don't think they stifle creativity. My kids have never compared their own art to that in a coloring book. I think it depends on the child though.

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