I always start off my day reading through tweets, blog posts, and newspaper articles while enjoying a morning coffee or two. This morning, I happened to catch this tweet from fellow educator, Doug Peterson.
I’ll admit that when I saw the title of this post, I thought back to a Staff Meeting that I had at my last school. In the meeting, our principal, Paul, talked about colouring. He specifically spoke about colouring in maps — the bane of my elementary school existence — and the value in doing so. He got all of us thinking about richer learning opportunities beyond colouring … and I’m grateful for this.
In the last few years, I’ve had a “colouring awakening.” Have I had students colour before? Yes. I’ll admit that it was usually a time filler. For example, the student would cut out the coins for the math worksheet, and then colour them in. An activity that could take two minutes could now stretch to 15 or 20 quiet minutes. Quiet can be a wonderful thing. But Paul’s Staff Meeting conversation and my evolving learning has made me start to question this kind of colouring. Why not create a store and let students purchase items with toy coins? What not photograph student work and/or record student thinking versus filling in a worksheet? What’s the reason that students are cutting out and colouring in coins, and do they really need to do this to show what they know? Does a worksheet meet everybody’s needs, and what might be a better option?
Now while I stand by and believe everything that I’ve shared so far, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and conversing about self-regulation in the past three years. This article is not suggesting that colouring helps develop fine motor skills or artistic abilities, but instead, looks at the benefits for self-regulation. Colouring calms some people. It calms some adults as well as students, which Laurel Fynes alluded to in her tweet this morning. This is likely the reason that I always found colouring to be a “quiet activity,” as for those that it benefits, it’s probably helping them self-regulate.
This was never my colouring experience. I couldn’t stay in the lines — ever. I had more maps and worksheets thrown out by my teachers because they were never good enough, and just the thought of colouring now, causes me stress. I think though of a Kindergarten student of mine. Yesterday, she came back from the holiday break, and when she walked in the room, she saw a table of empty water bottles and two bins full of Sharpie markers. Our class was inspired by Darla Myers and the chandelier that her class made out of recycled water bottles. They wanted to use our empty water bottles in a similar way.
This student went over right away to the table, sat down, and focused intently as she coloured the bottles. She used various colours. She tried going around in a circle as well as up and down. She was calm and quiet, and this is a student that often appears up-regulated. During the day, when she was feeling stressed, I noticed her go back to this table and colour another bottle or two. It calmed her down.
This wasn’t a colouring page, and students were encouraged to experiment with different types of lines and designs, as well as create patterns, but in many ways, it was just colouring. For this child though, it was a fantastic option for self-regulation. Did it work for everybody? No. But I think that Peter McAsh has the best response to that.
Maybe with colouring, we just have to stop pretending that it’s Art, and instead, explore its potential for self-regulation. Maybe those students that need it most will choose a colouring option when they need it, and for others, it doesn’t have to happen at all. What do you think? Am I being too hard on “colouring,” or is it just a matter of re-purposing it to maybe meet a different need than I intended to meet many years ago? I’d love to hear your thoughts!