Saturday, August 20, 2016

Coloring Inside The Lines, or Without Them

From Thoughts & Sketches: Gates & Gardens
I was at a book signing today featuring my Color/Write/Sketch journals when a lady I recognized as a local artist came over and looked at them. Leaning in, she said, "I wouldn't say this in front of your customers, but I always tell parents not to let their kids have coloring books because it inhibits them from drawing whatever they want."

Yes, I've heard the argument. I had a relative who taught art who said the same. I get the point. But this time, I had to answer it, so I told her that with my children and now with my grandchildren, I provide(d) coloring books, but also plenty of blank paper and sketch books. Both. Not one or the other. I told her that coloring books help develop fine motor skills because they have small spaces to fill in and that takes a good amount of control. Control takes practice. But they also have blank pages to do whatever pictures they want, with their own imagination.

The thing is: people are too directed toward one side or the other these days. I don't believe in that. I believe children should be given many options, many opinions, many interests from which to choose, and they should learn to color within the lines (stay in the boundaries when the time calls for that) and to color outside the lines or with no lines (create their own boundaries and then go past them when the time calls for that). They need both.

Children who never learn boundaries have a tough row to hoe dealing with a world full of necessary boundaries. Many boundaries are absolutely necessary. Don't cross a street by yourself until you're old enough. Don't drink or have sex until you're of age (important for health and brain development). Don't point a weapon unless you fully plan to use it. (Obvious reasons.) Don't look like you're dressed for a punk concert when you go to a job interview, unless it's for a punk band roadie. Don't lie to and look down on your parents while they're doing their best to help you up (at least if you're lucky enough to have parents doing their job as they should). Necessary boundaries.

However, I'm also against stifling children too far. Give them blank paper. Markers. Crayons. Colored Pencils. Regular pencils. Gel pens. Paint. Skip the name brand clothes and get the stuff that matters. Let them do free art. By free, I mean their choice. Let them draw whatever they think of and paint an elephant turquoise with red spots if they so choose. Absolutely. I agree with the artist on this one. They need to be creative in order to make their way through the adult jungle. When things don't work out as planned, they need to be able to come up with other options and possibilities, to set new goals and shoot up and beyond them. To do so, they must learn creative thinking in childhood. They must play. Create. Explore.

So give them coloring books with boundaries. Show them how to stay in the lines, even if they're making that elephant red and turquoise. Applaud them when they manage to control their little fingers and to concentrate enough to keep the drawing neat and in bounds. It matters that they learn to do so, just like it matters that they learn to write their letters neatly so others can read them. (And by all means, teach them cursive if their school doesn't! But that's another entry.)

Then give them blank paper, white clay, paints of all colors.... and let them explore, make mistakes, and try again.

Teach them to be open to possibilities within necessary boundaries.

Teach them to see more than one side, to try more than one path.

Well-rounded children grow up to be more successful adults. They're more flexible, more adaptable, more likely to thrive in hard times.

Yes, give them coloring books. Let them color within the lines and over them. And give them blank paper to create their own lines. They do need both. Don't let anyone who tends too far toward one side or the other tell you otherwise.  One side of a straight path is never enough, no matter where it leads.