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What are the pros and cons of colouring-in (as opposed to freehand drawing) for pre-school and primary age children?

I'm asking in response to this question: At what age should I tell my child to colour within the lines? where it looked like there was an interesting discussion kind of 'waiting in the sidelines' but a bit off-topic for that specific question.

When I was a kid my parents avoided colouring-in - I remember the good old 'anti-colouring book' - but it's not something I've ever thought about in a lot of depth.

I know the standard criticism is that it inhibits creativity in drawing - but is that true? What's the research evidence, for and against? Maybe there are other pro and cons that I'm not aware of (e.g. perhaps it encourages fine motor skills).

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    Anecdotally, I've always found the "pro" to be that it gave my kids enough guidance that they wouldn't just cover 50 pieces of paper with scribbles in two minutes and then demand more. It would be nice to see a more research-based approach to the issue, though :) – Acire Oct 12 '15 at 18:11
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    I'm trying hard, but I can't seem to remember if I ever gave my kids a coloring book or not. :( I remember buying them lots of crayons, paints, and markers and such, so I must have... but I honestly can't remember. I feel so irresponsible. :-/ – anongoodnurse Oct 13 '15 at 0:27
  • @anongoodnurse, I don't think we ever buy them either, but we have a bunch just from gifts. – Karl Bielefeldt Oct 13 '15 at 20:28
  • At first and around preschool age it seemed to always be coloring books. But gradually both my girls moved to freehand just as much as coloring. It tends to happen when they're into something and there isnt a coloring book for it. So they draw it themselves. Personally I would feel that a study on this particular subject would be superfluous and not only highly subjective but you'd need an enormous control group to even begin making sane conclusions. Early child psychology on a pastime. – Kai Qing Mar 23 '18 at 18:16
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I did quite a bit of searching, but couldn't find anything I would deem research-quality evidence. Perhaps it hasn't been studied to that degree. Anyway, here is a summary of the more anecdotal observations.

Cons:

  • Stifles creativity. Kids are just filling in pre-drawn images instead of creating their own.
  • Creates unrealistic standards. Kids may be reluctant to create their own drawings because they can't meet the standards of the pre-drawn adult ones.
  • Mindless escape. More akin to activities like watching TV than creating your own content.
  • Commercialized. Promotes the products and characters of corporations, etc.
  • Promotes conformity/blind obedience. Color within the lines is practically synonymous with sacrificing one's self in the name of conformity.

Pros:

  • Holds kids attention. Can keep them busy for a long time without adult intervention, even indoors or in a car.
  • Fine motor skills. Strengthens the muscles and coordination that will be needed later for writing.
  • Stress reduction. Same as any other escapist activity.
  • Catalyst for original creative work. Kids, like adults, are not bottomless sources of creative ideas. Sometimes pre-canned ideas help spawn more original ideas of their own.
  • Helps build art "vocabulary." Learning how colors mix, what colors look nice in what situations, etc. There's a lot of room for improvement and expression, even within the constraints of a limited medium.
  • Kids love it.

In my opinion, the last one is really the clincher. We've somehow gotten into a weird state of teaching/parenting where we see something a child loves to do, so we immediately take it away and give her the more "serious" version of that thing to learn. No child ever loved coloring books so much that she tried to make it her college major. Trust her enough to want to explore and branch out in her own time.

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Take a look at the pro's and ask yourself if coloring pages really have much of an advantage over a blank sheet of paper. 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?

That one about serving 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? I think they are trying to tell us something: 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 a starting point. enter image description here

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