Who Is Colouring For?

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.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 20.09.43

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.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 20.18.57

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!


30 thoughts on “Who Is Colouring For?

  1. Hi Aviva,

    Colouring through the self reg lens reminds me of doodling…doesn’t that help some of us to better focus? Some students (and adults) need more stimulation than just listening, or whatever the method of instruction/dissemination of info is, and doodling can help with focus for some of us. I think of someone near and dear to me who would have gone out of her mind in school if she didn’t sketch/colour during class – she just wasn’t stimulated enough and needed that extra engagement.

    Perhaps it’s all about choice, and individualization, as we’re learning about in our Self Reg Foundations course via Mehrit. Does that mean I’d put out colouring pages in my Kindergarten program…argh, the thought of doing so disturbs me. Have I had colouring activities in my past? Yes, though not in Kindergarten…more like the ones you describe when I taught Grade One. Do my Kindergarten students colour? Yes, every day, on blank pieces of paper. A colouring page though…not sure but now you have me thinking about the why/why not.

    Nancy 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Nancy! Your comment actually has me thinking more. I would have thought of doodling more as drawing, and does this free exploration of materials — even if the materials just happen to be crayons and/or markers — count more as Visual Arts than colouring? I’m not sure.

      I have huge reservations about bringing out colouring books and pages. But that being said, I think of this same student that had success with the water bottles. Drawing on a piece of paper doesn’t help her self-regulate. Is the space too open? Does a colouring book — just like the lines on the bottles — provide a more confined area with clearly determined lines and spaces? Is this what some students need for self-regulation? I’m not sure.

      I’d be curious to know what you and others do. Maybe there is a small place for a colouring book for those students that need it … not for art, but for self-regulation. Thoughts anyone?


  2. In an online ECE page there has just been a huge debate about colouring sheets. I find the water bottles so much more acceptable in my mind and I mean my o personal choices I think because it isn’t some one else picture it’s still an blank slate. So to speak. I don’t see doddleing and drawing as the same thing . When I doodle it helps me concrete when I draw I concentrate on that my doodles are often repetitive shapes or same directional mark making . I also take notes in mirror writting of I’m getting bored as it helps me concentrate. I need to be doing to focus. I cna see why some children and some adults need to be doing to calm colouring is most often a repetitive movement. Like rocking for your hand 🙂 however I’m not convinced we need colouring sheets to meet this need. Many of the children I work with like to draw on blank labels or just colour them in a solid colour . It’s still colouring but it just sits better with me than a colouring sheet

    • Thanks Gill for sharing your thoughts as well as your experiences! I tend to agree with you. For some reason, even though your label idea and the water bottle one are still colouring, they don’t feel quite as limited as a colouring sheet.

      Thanks for also sharing your thoughts on doodling versus drawing. I like this distinction. As someone that isn’t much of a doodler, I never really thought of the difference, but this makes sense to me.

      I’m very curious to hear what others have to say on this topic! I really appreciate you joining the discussion.

  3. In the past, I was somewhat apprehensive about giving children colouring sheets and wondered about the benefit of them. I also believed they were a time filler and avoided using them. However, this year I have started to rethink this and change my thoughts. My grade ones this year are often asking me to provide them with colouring sheets during discovery centres time. They specifically ask to colour nature scenes, animals, dinosaurs, birds, butterflies… And so much more!! I encouraged the children to use a sketch book, providing real life pictures from old calendars and non- fiction texts. Still, the children continued to ask for sheets to colour. As the interest grew and became more pronounced, I felt that I really needed to listen to my kids. I provided the sheets of interest and many different colouring materials ( various crayons, markers, pastels, chalk) as well as foamies, different stickers, letter stamps, animal stamps… Anything I could get my hands on!! My kids were excited, engaged, motivated, calm and happy. The kids thanked me for providing the colouring sheets and some even told me they have never had s colouring book at home.

  4. I realized that ” hearing” what my kids were asking for and what they were really interested in helped with their self regulation skills. The conversations I heard, the sharing and collaboration was also wonderful to witness. I’m not sure if it was the materials that so enthralled the children, or the fact that some kids really do enjoying colouring during some free time. I’ve given myself permission to say … Hey, it’s okay. After all, inquiry is based on the interests and wonders of our kids.

    • Thanks for the comments, Josie! You have me thinking more now. If the colouring sheets help the students self-regulate, how do they recognize when they’re “calm,” so that they can move beyond this activity to something that may require more thinking and learning? Do the students move beyond the outline to creating their own pieces (so, is the colouring sheet just a starting point?), and if so, does this make it a richer learning experience? I’d be curious to hear what others think about this!


      • I find that once my kids are ” calm”, they are apt to try centres that involve more attention and focus, such as creating patterns with beads, planning and building some amazing 3D structures, or reading quietly in our “chill out zone.” To answer your question… Yes I do believe that the colouring sheets are definitely a starting point for kids who are fearful or hesitant to make their own art piece. I find the colouring provides them with the confidence and belief in themselves that yes… I am an artist, I CAN try something new like drawing on my own around the picture that is on the page. As teachers, I think it’s really important that we remember that all kids are different and learn in different ways… And colouring works for some of our kids. Perhaps it is not appropriate for all, but definitely some. 😀

        • Thanks Josie! I think your last point is an important one. All kids are different, and it seems as though you’re really trying to meet these different needs with the use of colouring sheets and other options. I really appreciate you sharing more about how the students transition and the impact that this colouring has on them.


  5. I would rather read at night than colour but eveyone is different! The thought of spending time colouring sounds irritating to me but one day I may just try it as everyone seems to love it and as Nancy points out I’m a doodler for sure! I’ve never used colouring sheets until this year. A supply EA who was actually an ECE was helping me out with a student who had sensory issues at recess and asked if he could try colouring rather than the sensory room with him. I was hesitant at first as this child seems to not like paper or any type of writing materials but said sure give it a try! They worked together to find colouring sheets of what he was interested in (Mario and Minecraft), printed them and this student was thrilled to show me the picture that he coloured. He now has is his own folder of colouring sheets in a special folder. My thoughts are: for this child who stays far away from the creative centre and never chooses to do anything that involves recording anything (including on an iPad or computer) on paper that he could feel successful as there was no pressure to produce. Once again I’m back to the belief that every child is their own person bringing their own experiences to the classroom or program so that’s why play based with some inquiry learning works for me in my first grade room!

    • Thanks for your comment, Lori! I think your final point is so important. It’s about finding what works best for each individual student. When that child can then choose the colouring sheet to self-regulate, that becomes the ideal situation. I wonder if other students may benefit in some way too. What do you think?


  6. Somewhere along this journey, colouring began to take a bad rap. Well, not colouring in general, but tasks like colouring maps as we question the “why”. Why do we want kids to colour maps? Is to to identify Provincial boundaries or a great way to kill a Friday afternoon. As long as we question ourselves and what we wish to accomplish, I can sleep at night. There is a big difference between colouring for colouring’s sake versus colouring as an artistic freedom. It is a rarity that I have kids code just to code.

    However, colouring as a form of expression may be just as important to an artist and writing is to a novelist. Check out this TED talk by Kaki King where she uses colour as a supplement to her music. Groovy!


    • Thanks Brian for your comment and for sharing this Ted Talk. I haven’t seen it before, and I’m excited to watch it. I’m actually a HUGE believer in the benefits of art in the classroom, and read some books this summer that actually looks at Visual Arts as a language, and the benefits of this for children. Every day, all day long, our students are creating and colouring on blank pieces of paper, and I think there can be value in this in terms of artistic expression, language development, and fine motor skills. To me though, this is different than colouring a worksheet: where students are more restricted and there’s less thinking involved. Is this because of what I’ve read and heard over the years? Is this because of my own experiences with colouring? Maybe it does come down to asking ourselves why we do what we do, what the benefits and drawbacks may be, and which students might benefit the most. Getting student feedback is also so important. I love that Austin chimed in on this discussion, and I hope that more students do as well. I think, like everything else, colouring works for some students and not others, so maybe if we examine why colouring could be beneficial, we can figure out how it could be an option for those students that need it. Thoughts?


      P.S. I liked your parallel to coding. In many places in my response, you could replace “colouring” with “coding” and have a similar point.

  7. Hey Aviva,

    I really enjoyed this post this morning. I think it’s a great idea for younger students to have a “store” to buy things from, very engaging. Even in Grade 8, I find that colouring releves stress when I get stressed from school work. We still color maps and school work at this grade and I don’t really like that, I don’t find it to be art.

  8. Aviva,

    I loved the idea of having a store for students to buy things, it is very engaging.
    I in grade 8 still love the color, and it helps relieve stress for me. We still color maps and worksheets, but my question is Why? How is this engaging to us? I, personally, do not find it very engaging or find it as art. I like the freehand color when I want to color, not color a worksheet.

    • Austin, thank you so much for your comment! As a teacher, I’m inferring what students might be thinking, and it’s great to have this student voice. I’m glad that you’re asking these questions. I wonder if colouring a map or a worksheet is really just “colouring,” where if colouring on a blank piece of paper is creating “Art.” For some, colouring the map or worksheet may help them self-regulate, but for others, it may be stressful or boring. That’s why I’m thinking about colouring more as a self-selected choice: not for Art, but for helping students self-regulate if this option works for them and if/when they need it. That said, I haven’t had colouring books in the classroom for many years, and I don’t know how I feel about them coming back in. Maybe this has to be about the kids though (and what some of them may need) and not about me. More to think about on a Wednesday morning …


  9. haven’t read all the comments yet, Aviva, but feel compelled to add that i connect coloring with “making” in general, and have found that “making” is about the best self-reg activity i’ve stumbled upon. never intended it for self-reg, it’s something discovered after the fact.

    • Thanks Cynthia for sharing your thoughts! I never really thought about colouring as “making,” or even “making” as being a great option for self-regulation. I’d love to hear more. I really need to consider this more too.


  10. Most kids do love to colour and there are hundreds of thousands of colouring books sold every year that prove that! Now someone is making big money off of these $20.00 adult colouring books too!! I think I just may add some colouring sheets to the classroom as something you can do in the morning upon entry instead of talking or reading with your friends. I think I will preface it as “I never thought to mention this but our morning entry time is used to help us get our brains ready to learn after the chaotic lines and hallways.” We will brainstorm a few things we could do to help calm us and get our brains ready to learn and I’ll go from there. I have one student who rocks each morning on my rocking chair so they will buy into this quickly. Keep you posted. This night also help those kids who go to the cosy corner first thing from staying there so long.

    • Lori, I’d love to know how this goes! I’m contemplating trying something similar, but my concern is that the students will be focused on the colouring sheets, and that may make for a harder transition. Right now, they come in, and after signing their name (or making their mark), they move freely to an area of their choice. We could put some colouring sheets or books in our cozy corner, and see what happens. A few students may congregate there when they need this opportunity to self-regulate, and if this colouring becomes a problem, we could consider other options. Maybe even some small labels — like Gill suggested — or tiny pieces of paper would work. I need to talk to my partner. We can think more together. 🙂


  11. I agree with your suggestion that colouring can be a helpful way for some children to self-regulate. I personally do logic puzzles for this reason. But I teach preschool children and my problem with having colouring in the classroom is that those students who have never done drawing at home, have often done colouring. They need to be challenged and given the confidence to make art, but may choose only colouring (the familiar choice) if it is an option.

    • Thanks for your comment, Catherine! Have you ever tried putting out the colouring sheets before? Is this what happens? I wonder if they could come out only at certain times of the day, or only be in a place where students know they can go if they do need this choice for self-regulating? I wonder what would happen. I’ll admit that I have some similar concerns, and I’m vacillating between putting and not putting these sheets out in the classroom. I made a similar comment to Lori. I’m wondering about trying, seeing what happens, and making changes from there. What do you think?


  12. This is fascinating. The variety of voices/perspectives in this discussion is wonderful. Adding my two cents, from a couple different perspectives in this house.

    I, like you, Aviva, was one of those who had innumerable maps deemed “not good enough” in elementary school, and that has flavoured my approach to colouring. However, I am a maker, and doodling/zentangling, knitting, baking/cooking or spinning all soothe me (probably because I can go outside the lines) I really appreciated the comment that put colouring into the making category.

    Every year, at least once, I offer my intermediate French students the option of creating a detailed coloured piece (from some adult-type colouring books) and then talk/write about their colour choices. Some students jump at the chance, others want nothing to do with it. It’s about having the choice. For some, the small spaces and detailed work are an invitation to creativity, for others, a guaranteed frustration.

    My younger son is a talented artist, but balks at adding colour to his drawings. It’s too stress-inducing to get it just right. Colouring books only attracted him because of the drawing ideas they could give him.

    Older is in Grade 9 this year and yes, to my horror, you know what he’s doing in geography. :(. Doesn’t seem to be doing much soothing.

    Which makes me wonder. With older students in particular, is there a gender difference here? There are always more girls eager to colour in my classes than boys. What do people think?

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! I always appreciate hearing your perspective (and I love how you added the perspective of your two boys). I never really considered colouring “making” before. I guess that I always thought of “making” as a higher-level thinking or doing activity, and I always considered colouring, lower-level. Is this just my own bias?

      It’s really interesting to hear that both of your boys dislike colouring, but for different reasons (or so it seems). Austin is another student that chimed in on this post, and he also dislikes colouring. I wonder what would happen if we asked our students what they think of it. Would it vary grade by grade and gender by gender? I wonder why. If colouring was presented more as a way to self-regulate versus as an “artistic exercise,” would students feel differently? I wonder how much pressure students feel to “stay in the lines,” versus if they saw this exercise just as a way to release stress. Maybe staying in the lines isn’t that important after all. As for your gender wonder, I’m not sure, but when I taught Grades 5 and 6, there certainly seemed to be more girls that enjoyed “colouring,” and most “fine motor activities” for that matter, versus boys. Is there a way to change this, or does this matter? You’ve given me even more to think about.


  13. So many interesting thoughts and comments. I did use coloring pages as part of lesson in some units of study, but never thought of it as self-reg issue. We always had coloring option in the mornings as a center choice before morning meeting. This was on blank paper and a hub hub of activity with delightful conversation. As an adult I often doodled to help me stay focused at meetings or lectures. I think that’s why I took so many notes while attending classes or PD seminars. We each have our own way to “be present” and I would surmise so would our students.

    • Thanks for adding to this discussion, Faige! I think your last point is so important. I must admit that I do think that drawing or colouring on blank paper is different than doing so on a colouring page or in a colouring book. The first option seems more open-ended to me — with the possibility of producing works of art — where the second option seems more restricted. It’s interesting to read what others think/feel about this. On Twitter the other night, Lisa Noble helped me see the thinking that can go into colouring. I wonder how many students and adults do this thinking.

      Faige, you shared different times that your students coloured. Did you notice any students resist this time? If so, what did you do? I’m always curious to hear!


      • Some really enjoyed it. Others were reluctant & just wanted it finished. As with other activites I tried to observe and understand. Sometimes I encouraged more effort. Some kinders looked at their peers work and were motivated others were discouraged that they couldn’t do as well. I coloring pages were not a big part of the “picture” for us.

        • Thanks for the reply, Faige! I always find it interesting to hear different choices and why we make them. It definitely sounds like you didn’t do much colouring in the classroom. I’m just curious on why it would matter if students finished a colouring activity. I’m thinking back to the past where I had the same expectations. In retrospect, I don’t think that colouring met any of our curriculum expectations, so did I just link it with art? Was it about learning skills (and taking responsibility)? I know that you don’t teach in Ontario, so I’m curious to know if it links to curriculum expectations in other places. Colouring has had me thinking a lot this week … 🙂


          • Coloring not a curriculum expectation so to speak. I taught in a private school so am not sure what the public school requirements are. Over the years my focus was geared to what was the optumum way to reach/teach my students. So I tried where I could to let their choice and voice guide me. Kinders do go to art as a specialist class. And with many things in the curriculum we all look at involvement, interest, follow directions and complete work in a timely manner. But you are right Coloring In the lines, never seemed like “art” to me. If you look at it in the realm of fine motor or completion of task those are different kinder thresholds.

          • Thanks for explaining more, Faige! I always find this interesting, as I do think that curriculums vary by provinces and states, and it’s interesting to know what’s expected of students. I think that we have some similar thoughts here. While I can see the connection to fine motor skills, I do wonder if there are richer ways to develop these skills (but then again, maybe that depends on students in some cases). Thank you for always giving me something new to think about!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *