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Our 4 year old is in junior kindergarten and we've received multiple letters from his teacher regarding his refusal to color in class. He also refuses at home when we try to encourage him to color. We've tried to get coloring books featuring his favorite cartoon characters, but it seems the more we try the stronger he resists.

Any suggestions?

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My suggestion is to tell the teachers to relax and let him do something else that he likes. He's 4 years old, not a graduate student. –  Dave Clarke Oct 25 '12 at 7:07
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Children, especially at the age around four and five years, where they develop their own will and test your boundaries, are naturally curious. There is no need to force them to learn, they are made by nature to learn. The more parents meddle in this natural learning instinct, the more they block it. It has been proven again and again, that children's motivation to learn strongly declines once they enter school. Because they can no longer follow their learning needs, but have to follow the rhythm and topics prescribed by the teacher. An adult's should support a child's learning, not direct it. –  user3140 Oct 28 '12 at 9:30
    
Try colored markers to see if it's the crayons or the activity. If it's the crayons, you have an easy fix. –  Marc Jul 30 at 15:44
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He is not color-blind, perhaps? –  Per Alexandersson Aug 3 at 6:08

5 Answers 5

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We had a somewhat similar situation with my son when he started pre-K this past August. He would refuse to do any activities that involved cutting with scissors. There were a couple of reasons for this:

  1. I'd never actually let him hold scissors prior to that, so he didn't have any experience with them.
  2. He's left-handed, he's the only kid in the class who's left-handed, and they only had right-handed scissors. Once we got him a pair of the correctly oriented scissors, it helped a lot.
  3. He wasn't very good at it (obviously) so he wasn't exactly inclined to do it more.

I guess I would assess a couple of other things first: Does he know how to hold a pen/pencil/crayon correctly? Could that be the issue? If he hasn't had much experience holding a writing utensil correctly, the newness of it might be off-putting to him. Has he ever liked to color? I only ask because my son doesn't especially LOVE to color. He'll draw stuff, but he isn't really into coloring unless he has to.

While the ability to hold and manipulate a writing utensil appropriately is an important fine motor skill, I've always sort of viewed coloring as practice of that fine motor skill. Maybe I'm wrong...

After a couple of incidents where his refusal to even attempt classwork lead to behavior problems, we sat down with him and made it abundantly clear that it was NOT acceptable for him to simply refuse to even try. If he needed help, he needed to ask for help, but he HAD to at least try. We were understanding and we made it clear that we understood that cutting was difficult for him, but that he needed to attempt the activity. His teacher is also good about sending work home with him that he doesn't complete in class (which never happens now). He was pretty chastened. We have also worked extremely closely with his teacher so that he knows there is no disconnect between school and home. Whatever he does at school, we pretty much always know about it--good or bad.

However, I would say: IF his refusal to do the activity or assignment in class isn't leading to bigger behavior problems and IF his writing/fine motor skills are progressing normally otherwise, I wouldn't push the coloring at home if he doesn't seem interested. I would stress the importance of him attempting the activity/assignment because it could simply be a case of him needing more practice to get better at it. And I would work very closely with his teacher to try to figure out exactly what the hang-up is and what seems to work and what doesn't. You might luck out and he might just tell you what the problem is, but we were never that lucky and had to piece it together ourselves.

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Indeed, our son was self-conscious with regards to how he was holding the crayon. After we showed him how to hold it properly, he was at least willing to spend periods of time working on it and has finally completed his assignment, although still reluctantly. He finds it "boring". Regardless, this is much better than outright refusal. Thanks everyone for the advice! –  Riko Oct 27 '12 at 14:35

My son has the same issue. He is fine with using a pen or paint and likes school work, but refuses to use crayons. He screams and cries. After a lot of research and questioning, I found out that some people apparently have sensory issues where the feeling of a wax crayon or the feeling of a crayon against a piece of paper is intolerable for them. Also, I learned, some people have allergies to the soy, dye, or other chemicals in crayons that can make it physically uncomfortable to use them.

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I hate the feel of a cheap pencil on paper, so I can understand this. It makes my skin crawl! My suggestion would be to try markers! –  Marc Jul 30 at 15:43

Have you tried just giving him blank paper and see if he prefers coloring his own pictures?

Scribbling is actually an important pre-writing skill, but there are a lot of different things that could be making this activity less desirable for him.

It might be that he is intimidated by the idea of having to color inside lines. In which case, offering him blank paper will make all the difference.

He may also have some strength/grip issues. You can try other types of writing materials that do not require pressing as hard. colored chalks and oil pastel crayons are a little messier, but don't require quite as much force for application. If you find he needs better strength. Play dough is the answer! the more he plays with and kneads dough, the stronger his little hands will get - and it is fun.

It may be an issue where he is asserting independence. He is pushing boundaries and buttons because he is about four and it is his job to do so. If he is feeling forced, he may have an issue with being told he absolutely must sit and color right now. At this age, a really great way to give him a sense of control and independence, without losing your ability to guide him where he needs to go is to offer choice. "Would you like to color Pooh Bear today, or make your own picture?" This way, he knows it is coloring time, but he still has a sense of control over how he uses that coloring time. He should also be allowed to decide when he done. Even four year olds deserve a little respect and control over their own activities to some degree.

It is also possible your son has a sensory problem with the feel of paper or the sound of writing. If he likes to write/draw under other circumstances, this is not an issue. If he does not ever want to write at all, you might eventually look into sensory issues. Give it a little time first, try some of the other suggestions and see if he just grows out of it in six months or so. If not, look into possible sensory challenges. There are actually a lot of ways to help with sensory issues as well, but he may need professional intervention for a little while if this is the case.

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My son (now 8) also did not want to color! I think it takes a certain kind of personality to be able to sit there and perform all these small repetitive motions over a long period of time. My son was an active kid who was pragmatic in his own way: he would much rather draw pictures from scratch himself, whether it is with crayons or paint. He just didn't have the patience and/or didn't see much benefit to filling in something already laid out. A coloring sheet picture of a dog already looks like a dog, and coloring it didn't change anything important about the dog (in his point of view).

Also, if your child is high-achieving or a perfectionist at all, he may be frustrated at not being able to color and shade the drawing to what he had originally envisioned due to the limitations inherent in crayons and 4-year-old hands.

My son's kindergarten teacher was concerned at first, because she wanted to gauge his fine motor skills, his ability to follow directions, and have him participate with the others. I asked her to please evaluate those skills in other realms as well (drawing, writing letters, etc.), because he just hated coloring. And luckily for all involved, she did.

He is now a very bright, enthusiastic learner, and is a pretty impressive artist to boot (his preferred medium is pencil drawing).

I say all this to say that lots of truly creative kids find coloring too limiting, so maybe if you can convince your son how to make coloring fun (maybe challenge him to use every color in his crayon box), or just wait for this phase that emphasizes coloring to end. In the long run, it has absolutely no bearing on his future academic performance, and he should be able to demonstrate his love of learning and creating in other ways.

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Exactly. If the goal is to develop and practice fine-motor skills, then they should find a different medium! –  Christine Gordon Oct 26 '12 at 0:41
    
Thank-you for a thoughtful response! Indeed, he told me he finds coloring "boring". –  Riko Oct 27 '12 at 14:29
    
Thanks for joining the community –  balanced mama Oct 30 '12 at 1:03

Why force a child to color? Is he destined to take over the family coloring business? The best is to just let him be. My wife is 30 now and has never colored. Didn't stop her from getting a phd in math.

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I refused to colour when I was in the fifth grade and they made me return to kindergarden for a day. I too have a PhD, but not in colouring. –  Dave Clarke Oct 25 '12 at 10:13
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The problem is that part of school, for better or for worse, is about learning how to follow instructions. Supporting a child in refusing to do what the teacher asks because you don't see the point of it is establishing precedence for further refusals, such as "why should I do any of my math assignments? I don't intend to get a phd in math". That being said, this describes fairly well how I went through school myself, and all that you really wind up with is lots of frustrating encounters with teachers, and a need for the child to learn the lesson on their own later in life. –  Beofett Oct 25 '12 at 13:07
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As a teacher, I get so frustrated with parents who don't believe that learning or at least practicing a certain skill isn't important simply because THEY don't see the relevance of it. Eventually, they pass that mentality on to their children and it bleeds into other areas of their lives. I am terrible in math, but my parents never once let me cop-out of it, and my mom even insisted that I take a math class my senior year of high school even though it wasn't required. Now that I'm older, I appreciate her stance and even periodically use what little math has stuck with me. –  Meg Coates Oct 25 '12 at 13:56
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To build a collaborative, peaceful community we do not need authority for the sake of authority. A small child uninterested in something is not the same as being rude or obstinate. There is a good reason why an older child should practice math (though hw may arguably not be the best method), but a small child could develop the (I'm assuming) fine motor skills and preparation for holding a pencil by doing something other than coloring. We are talking about a preschool child, not a teenager here. –  Christine Gordon Oct 26 '12 at 0:50
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I don't think its "letting him get away with it". I think there should be a conversation with the teacher about what the goals of the activity are and how to best accomplish those goals. If the teacher is wrapped up in getting 'control' then that's something I would want to figure out right away as a parent. –  Christine Gordon Oct 26 '12 at 16:06

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