Colouring: Taking A Risk And Seeing The Benefits

At the beginning of the month, I wrote a blog post contemplating the use of colouring in the classroom. This post led to a couple of interesting things. I had some wonderful conversations through my blog post and through Twitter with Lori St. Amand: a Grade 1 teacher in our Board. Lori decided to give colouring as an option to her Grade 1’s to help them get their “brains ready to learn.” She noticed some benefits when she did so, as she shared in her blog post hereHmmm … is this something that I would also be willing to try? I then read this blog post by Doug Peterson. He commented on my initial post and mentioned that maybe I was being too hard on colouring. It was during this time that I spoke to my teaching partner, and while we were both skeptical, we decided to get some colouring books, and put them in the Cozy Corner to see what happened. What happened was actually quite remarkable.

For the first couple of days, nobody even looked at the colouring books. We put them in the middle of the area. At one point, we even laid them out, but they just stayed there. Then one day, at the end of a nutrition break time, my teaching partner noticed that the students seemed very up-regulated, and she went into the Cozy Corner and pulled out some of the colouring books. Students saw her exploring them, and they also wanted to do so. Pretty soon, I came back from duty, and over half of the students in the class were colouring. This didn’t last for long, but for the students that chose to colour, it helped them calm down. Since then, there are usually only 3-5 students that choose to colour during the day. While we thought that students might like this option at the beginning of the day to get their “brains ready to learn” (as Lori noted in her post), we actually noticed that colouring is more popular in the middle or later on in the day. The students that choose it are usually more up-regulated, and they colour to calm down. They can’t always express this to us, but we’re trying to help them label what they feel. One student actually brought in a colouring book from home, and when he feels really up-regulated, he gets the book, colours for a few minutes, puts it away, and re-joins his peers. Sometimes he asks a friend to colour with him, and this provides an opportunity to socialize while also calming down.

Many of our students never colour. Even those that do, don’t do so at the expense of Art. They still engage in Visual Arts opportunities where they experiment with the elements of design and create artworks. Despite all of our reservations, in the end, colouring turned out not to be a problem, and in fact, to benefit some students that needed a different way to self-regulate. It’s strange to think of allowing colouring as “taking a risk,” but based on our beliefs, it really was that. This experience has been a good example for me that sometimes we have to try things that scare us because they could be best for our students — a few, some, or allWhat scares you? How might you give it a try? Maybe we all need to consider some risk-taking opportunities.


16 thoughts on “Colouring: Taking A Risk And Seeing The Benefits

  1. Love this! I’ve have “choice writing” during lit centres (and during choice time). All kinds of different paper, including colouring sheets. They use paper, glue, scissors, tape etc – whatever is on the shelf. Create! Create! Create! 🙂 . They are sort of obsessed with making crowns right now…. But they are measuring, using shapes, cutting, patterning and having so much fun! Thanks for the post! I love reading about your thoughts and ideas!

    • Thanks for sharing, Danielle! I’m curious to know about the colouring sheets that students use during this time. How do they use them? How do/might they extend their learning beyond the sheet? It’s also interesting to hear that so many of your students are interested in making crowns. I wonder if there could be a literacy connection to fairytales or even storytelling that includes princesses, princes, queens, and kings. What do you think? Have students taken any interest in this?


  2. Thanks for the followup, Aviva. It sounds like it’s a nice addition to your collection of activities and not a distraction. It will be interesting for you to follow up and see how it’s received as time goes on.

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! I’m curious to see what happens. If the students are using the colouring for self-regulation versus Visual Arts and academic learning per se, I’d expect that that the use will vary as the students become more self-regulated. That said, at heightened times of stress, I’d expect that more students will choose this option. I’ll be following along to see if my theory is right. 🙂


  3. Well I’m headed into week 3 and it is successful but….I see a real need for it after each break. In my head I know if we just do the same procedure after each nutrition break the kids will be much calmer and ready to learn but…..the teacher in my says that’s 15 less minutes of Guided Exploration and that’s yet another transition and the kids colouring miss out on lots of reading time. Silly to debate in my head as I also know without it those same kids are missing out because they are not calm and ready to learn. Also a few kids have been asking to colour instead of read to start the day and I’ve decided absolutely not as this is quiet reading time by self or with friends and I’ve told the readers that this is what they told me calmed them and I’ve also told them we are all different and the goal is for eventually everyone to be able to find reading enjoyable and calming. Saying this there are times when certain kids would benefit from colouring and I approach and ask. Observing kids closely as they take of their outdoor clothes and as they enter the classroom tells a teacher a lot. Even the tone of their answer to good morning or how was your weekend tells you lots. Often I get an email from a parent about a death of a pet or family member or a bad sleep so I have been offering colouring to those children to help them gather their thoughts in the morning. As the kids colour the room has only lamp light and I insist those colouring sit at seperate tables so we get the best use out of this time. I feel it’s very important for them to know the purpose of it. I remind them to breathe, to think about their breath and the colours and to remain silent. I think if kids are not aware of a purpose often the child will sit and colour and still have the same thoughts racing through their heads so it defeats the purpose. I may be wrong in thinking that unless one is aware they are learning to use strategies to help them self regulate then there is no point in doing so but that’s my current thought. I’m going to add in more colouring time after second break to see if my second guided exploration block goes as wel as my first. I’ll keep you posted! One good news story is a little girl has jumped to a DRA 10 from a 4 in just this time. I know reading is a developmental skill and all children progress at their own rate and you can’t hurry it by offering extra this and extra that as I’ve got enough data over the past 15 years to tell me that but….this little one had all the signs of a successful reader (meaning rote skills and phonemic awareness) but couldn’t apply anything to become one and I had figured, of course not, look how distracted she is all the time. Figured she would be a good LLI candidate as it is small group and she could focus better. Parents talked Oxford too which is great for distracted kids as they learn how to learn and it’s small group. Well my $1.25 colouring book from The Dollar Tree sure was a lot cheaper then the $400.00 a month Oxford charges! Hoping to report more successes! Also waiting for my first student to tell me they no longer are interested in colouring. I wonder if that will happen?

    • Lori, I really appreciate you sharing your latest thoughts. I think that it makes a lot of sense for students to make the connection between colouring and self-regulation. I’m wondering about your breathing suggestion. As I read more about self-regulation and take the self-regulation courses, I’m learning that deep breathing can calm some students, but increase stress for others. Are you noticing this with any of your students? I wonder if any students that chose colouring would find deep breathing stressful, or if the relaxing nature of colouring would align with the relaxing nature of deep breathing? I’m going to tweet Stuart Shanker and see if he has any thoughts on this.

      It’s interesting that you note that some students need this time again after the second nutrition break. If they’re losing out on reading time then, is there another time that they could read? Would some of this happen during your exploration time? I think that you make a good point that students need to be calm in order to learn, and this would be true of reading too (especially if reading is not something that calms them). That’s fantastic news about one of your students. I think that this shows the tremendous value of self-regulation. I wonder if you’ll see this again with some other students. It would be interesting to see if some students switch from colouring to reading as the year goes on. Maybe as they gain a better understanding of self-regulation and why they’re making the choices that they are, they will consider making this switch. Please let me know if they do.


  4. I should also say that I run a fully play based, interest based grade one program with some inquiry or at least something like that I’m unsure. I rarely assign tasks and most of the day is “free choice” or as we call it Guided Exploration. There are some parameters of course and these become more important to follow as the year goes on but……a wide open day kids doing basically what they want and what interests them and no one has touched the colouring sheets that sit in a basket at the front of the room! I was worried this would be the new thing for eveyone to do and had decided to be okay with them doing it as like eveything the novelty wears off but not one kid has taken a sheet during Guided Exploration. I find this interesting!

    • Thanks for adding this point, Lori! It’s interesting to hear this. Maybe the students only choose colouring when they really need it to self-regulate, and if not, they prefer the other options. This is certainly what I’m noticing in our classroom as well.


  5. Breathing has been a huge hit probably as they all love the belly breathing Sesame Street song and the breathing we do each day with many of the Go Noodle. Although saying this all kids breathe differently. It’s more the thinking about breathing I’m going for. Takes their mind off the chaos and stress some of them live.

    • I can see that, Lori! Also, if it seems to be working, then it could be valuable for all of your students. I know that breathing works well for me. This point about breathing was just an interesting one that I learned in the past year, and it’s made me think slightly differently about breathing as a full-class option. I’m not sure that it works well for all of my students.


  6. I find breathing annoying and have always pretened during Go Noodle. But started a beginner yoga class a now get it. Another one of those things I think you have to have the understanding of why you do it.

    • That’s a great point, Lori! The interesting thing that I’m learning and observing in my own students this year is that something like yoga doesn’t work for all students. While it calms some students (and adults), it actually causes stress for others and increases behaviour. I wonder about this when I think about the push for mindfulness. Is this a good option for everyone? (That said, from your classroom experience, it looks like breathing is a good option. Yoga may also be. I wonder what others have observed in their classrooms.)


  7. I belief is that there is never a “fix” or “one fit for all”. We have a class of “X” number of students. I do what works for the majority (and me as I have to be in the room too) and support the others as needed. I am one person. I don’t stress about that as it is reality in my job. I also always keep in mind it’s not my job to “fix” just to “support as best as I can” as I’m a teacher not a psychologist/psychaitrist/mental health worker. I read and I research but know I’m not an expert by any means as I don’t have the background knowledge that those experts have to connect my reading and researching too. Most of my background knowledge is from the courses I took in University and Teachers College. Generally about how schemas develop so children can acquire math, oral language and literacy skills. I do wonder if teachers college currently offers courses that more align with the most current brain research surrounding mental health? I also know I can’t undo many problems children face, I can’t change their home life and in most cases I don’t even always know that child’s full story. I have these children 6.5 hours a day and we work together to try our best…the students and I! I hope everything I do and try to do is helpful for every student but I can’t dwell on it as it wil drive me crazy. Also I always have in the back of my mind that I’m about half way through my career and see that pendulum I learned about in teachers college swinging and I have to wonder at the end of my career what will have been uncovered to further help children succeed. Always ???? Never answers in our job!

    • Thanks for sharing more, Lori! These are wonderful points, and I think, from what I’ve seen, you do try to make changes to accommodate for all of the different needs even given one big overall approach. It can be hard though. I have a partner and an EA, and sometimes, even with three adults in the room, I wonder what we can do to meet more needs. You’re doing this alone (or at least the implementation part). There’s definitely a greater focus on Mental Health these days, and I do wonder if this focus is apparent in Faculties of Education as well. Your last question about the “swinging pendulum” also has me thinking. Even as I look at some of our new approaches (or maybe it’s old approaches, updated, and used again — sometimes it’s hard to know), I continue to think about what works, what doesn’t, where are the gaps, and what might help narrow them. I haven’t figured out any answers necessarily yet, but I will say, that as I learn more about self-regulation and consider its use more in the classroom, I am seeing positive differences. That’s a good thing.


  8. I have used coloring books with 3-4 yr. olds in a slightly different way. The ones I used had pages which were perforated. When it seemed like a good time to color, I would sit near the child as she paged through the book looking for the page she wanted to tear out to color. Often children gathered to look over a shoulder. This was a way children could talk about what they were seeing in the book, discuss likes and dislikes, make plans ( I’ll do that one first and then I’ll do that one.), and often have to negotiate with other children who wanted the same page. Sometimes we would have to look for another “kitten with a ball” page and this would be a great activity that felt like important work towards literacy while meeting social needs. The coloring pages were signed by the child, dated, punch with 3 holes and added to their portfolio notebooks. I would write down conversations and descriptions of social learning for families to read. It was another helpful bit of info for parents about how their children use materials, especially traditional ones like these. Sometimes we cut out the pictures to use in collage or home-made books with text.

    • Thanks for the comment, Robin! I really like how you write down the conversations that students were having. Such a great way to look at the connection between colouring and oral language + social skills. It’s great that you share this information with parents, as then maybe they can extend these discussions at home. I really like the sound of that! While it’s fantastic to hear the different ways that you use these more “traditional materials,” I wonder, are all traditional materials still worth using? Are they worth using for everyone? If parents still may want the use of them, do we continue supporting this, or do we help educate parents about other options? How do we decide? You’re giving me a lot more to think about!


Leave a Reply

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