The Artful Parent, a delightful blog on parenting kids with an eye to creativity and particularly the visual arts, recently published a post called Why I Don't Buy Coloring Books For My Kids.
I totally love her suggestions for coloring book alternatives. I am all for kids using their creativity and imagination to create their own art works. I will admit that I've never bought a coloring book for my kids, either. I think that there is definitely a place for coloring books, though, and I haven't gotten rid the coloring books that have been given to me.
Given the wide availability of adult coloring books, it seems that the general public has become at least somewhat aware of the benefits of coloring: stress relief, relaxation, mindfulness, and the pleasure of making something. Yes, creating from scratch can provide all of those benefits and even many more. However, free artistic expression also comes with potential negatives.
Facing down a blank page with only your creativity to guide you is challenging. Even prompts like the ones The Artful Parent suggests require a certain amount of personal investment.
What if the things a child has to express from inside himself are uncomfortable: confusing or painful emotions, traumatic memories, or worries and fears about the future? It's important for children to address those uncomfortable things, true, but that doesn't mean they have to be the focus of their energies at all times. Mindlessly coloring a dinosaur outlined by an anonymous adult gives a child the opportunity to relax and live in the present moment.
What if a child has been working hard on creative play, social interaction, or developmental learning for a long time? Most kids have only a few self-directed task that they have mastered to come back to as a break. Scribbling over a picture of a princess is simple, easy, and familiar. It offers a moment of respite from the challenges of learning.
While I think that forcing kids to sit down and complete a coloring sheet is nonsensical, offering coloring sheets as one of the options from which children are free to choose is perfectly reasonable. I'm keeping my coloring books.