Slice of Life: Coloring, Anyone?


When I taught 3rd grade, I had an assortment of activities available for children who finished their work early. I always had a worksheet (the shame, I know!) that had math fact practice in a hidden picture. The picture would be revealed when the facts were solved and the spaces were colored in according to a code. If, for example, the sum or difference was between 3 and 6, the space was colored green. Kids loved these sheets. They took them home if they didn’t have time to finish them during the day.

Then at some point I realized these really weren’t much of  a challenge. What kind of thinking was going on? Was the fact practice enough of a reason to continue using these sheets? I know that if I had still been in the classroom over the past five years I would have stopped using them. And that would have been my students’ loss.

The explosion in popularity of coloring books for adults seems to justify what I knew instinctively 20 years ago. After working on new math concepts, some of it beyond their still-concrete thinking brains, my students needed these coloring sheets to relax and give their brains time to get ready for the next challenging learning task. A plethora of recent articles extolling the benefits of coloring tend to focus on adults, but there are plenty of reasons to bring coloring back into the classroom, relaxation and improving focus among them. In fact, many studies have found that coloring actually increases creativity. Here’s a link to just one of the many articles I found supporting this practice.

If you feel like you’ve read a post like this recently, you probably have. Elisabeth Ellington wrote recently about how her college students reacted to being assigned coloring for homework. Their responses underscore the benefits of finding time in our busy lives for a little time to play. But I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. In fact, the last save on my page of notes for this post was on January 14th, and this list has been on my desk for at least two weeks:


But you know how these things go. Then yesterday I came across this in my Twitter feed:

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Read this post here.

I immediately thought of this passage from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books, 2015):

“I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you–but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator…This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book [or blog post!]…or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had…but had never entirely cultivated…Therefore, the idea went hunting for a new partner.”

So this idea has had more that one partner. Oh well. It’s an idea worth writing about. I hope more teachers decide to let their students color on a regular basis. Everyone will be happier if they do.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

17 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Coloring, Anyone?

  1. My students do a play at a historical home in December and there is a lot of down time between acts, so I brought coloring books (the adult kind). They really do enjoy them. It keeps them quiet and focused. Something to be said for this…


  2. Coloring is good for the soul, no matter how old you are! At church this weekend, we passed out markers and paper to have people practice “praying in color”. I can’t tell you how many smiles I saw as I passed out the Crayola markers. Play is vital and underrated in our lives! Thanks for the great slice!


  3. I found oodles of coloring books displayed at my local indie store recently, more than ever! And, I finally broke down and found one that appealed. It has a coloring page and a quote that goes with it. I still haven’t done anything with it, but hope to take some time soon. Now you’ve made me want to get back in the classroom to see what my middle school students would do. I know that they loved all the art projects, so bet they would love the coloring too, and the calmness it brings. Great to see that you put all this together, Catherine. I hope others read and listen!


  4. My daughter bought one over the holidays, and I watched her color away and it looked so soothing. Much to be said for this, Catherine – and there are so many lovely coloring books out there!


  5. Thank you! I have always loved to color. Sometimes, I’ve felt guilty for encouraging my students to add color to their projects or posters. I felt as if parents would complain that I was assigning “coloring.” I’m glad to see that other educators recognize a benefit in taking time to add a little color to the world.


  6. And doodling! Some of our great thinking happens while doodling on a napkin. Drawing and coloring are not “busy work” nor is play “not serious business.” Thanks for a thoughtful post.


  7. I love sitting down to color with Isabelle. We tend to color when we’re waiting at restaurants. She prefers free drawing while I prefer using a coloring book. She will do it with me though, which is always nice. It definitely helps pass the time (and keep her calm) while we’re waiting.


  8. I’ve been zentangling for a year and a half or so, I think. Badly. But I still enjoy it. I’ll have to share some on my blog sometime. It’s fun to try to let your mind express itself in different ways.


  9. I recently have noticing “adult” coloring books – in fact entire sections of book stores dedicated to coloring. I have always loved coloring — the research you shared is interesting. Puzzles have always served the same purpose for me. I tend toward puzzles in recent years – fun to do as a family and it is an ongoing project. I might have to give coloring a-go again!


  10. I’ve always loved coloring, too. I remember my talking about getting coloring books when she was young and coloring very lightly the first time so she could color them again. She also shared the game she and her friends made up of tracing the bottom of a glass, then coloring designs in the circles. My friends and I would have contests to decide the best design.


  11. Love your post about coloring. My daughter-in-law enjoyed coloring during the holidays. I’ve not given it a try, but perhaps it will open up some different creative avenue for me. It’s at least safe for those of us who have always found ourselves challenged in the art arena!


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