Expressive Arts & Design

Preschool colouring fun: learning within the lines

Why do children enjoy colouring so much? Perhaps it’s because, like adults, many children find colouring both absorbing, relaxing and creatively fulfilling.  

Most adults appreciate that colouring has some parenting value, at least because it holds a child’s attention without much need for supervision – it’s a great way to encourage focused quiet time, which can seem increasingly difficult to create in our highly connected world. 

But there are so many other unseen benefits to colouring: regular colouring activity helps to promote a good pencil grip and encourages preschool children to practise their pencil control and concentration. It’s a colourful change from following dotted lines of patterns across a page, as many children will when practicing letter formation. It needn’t be a solo activity, either: when shared with an adult it’s a great opportunity to talk and develop language.

My granddaughter Daisy has always enjoyed the opportunity to make marks via any available medium. However, until relatively recently this kind of activity was one that she would rarely instigate herself or pursue without a colouring companion – she usually required the prompting and accompaniment of an adult.

Now Daisy is coming up with her own images, such as the daffodil pictures she created recently, and has started to make interesting and unprompted creative decisions: recently she drew around several 3D animals to create 2D outlines that she then embellished.

I’m wondering if Daisy has developed this sudden interest in colouring because she finds the process to be a relaxing break after a busy schedule at her recently reopened nursery or at the childminder!

Setting up the ‘studio’

When we talk on our frequent video calls, I regularly see that Daisy has chosen to do some colouring. We’ve been encouraging her and enabling her to enjoy this activity, ensuring that she has access to a variety of images for colouring that suit her age and interests. 

When selecting colouring books, it’s worth considering the quality of the paper, to make sure that the colouring activity can be a success and that there’s no frustration because, for instance, the crayons don’t work well on the paper, or the designs are too detailed for a preschool child to complete. 

I also try to select images that are seasonal or that link with a story that we’ve been reading to Daisy. At other times I’ll select images that I’m sure Daisy will enjoy colouring purely because of the subject matter: nautical, animal and dinosaur scenes are all particular favourites.

Having age-appropriate art tools available for your child can be very helpful in making the most of colouring activities. Last week, we found ourselves in a park for our first post-lockdown reunion and I was ‘invited’ to sit with Daisy for some colouring. This seemed a good moment to unveil my latest purchase: a set of Crayola Easy-grip Jumbo Pencil Crayons. They are hexagonal in shape, which is helping to encourage Daisy to grip the crayons properly. Daisy also enjoyed ‘sorting’ the crayons into the appropriate order when she decided to add a rainbow to one of her pictures.

Staying sharp

At the end of our lengthy colouring session I wanted to sharpen the crayons but found that I didn’t own a suitable pencil sharpener. It was just like a scene from Goldilocks and the Three Bears! The standard pencil sharpener was too small and a very chunky sharpener (intended for some very chunky ‘starter’ crayons) was too large! I’ve since purchased a pencil sharpener that is just right and will sharpen crayons that are 1 cm wide.

Having the right art supplies to hand will encourage independence and creativity – Daisy’s colouring books, rough sketching paper, crayons and pens are easily accessible near the family’s dining table and she now feels confident in setting herself up without much assistance.

This independence was demonstrated when Daisy brought home a small slip of paper from nursery school, on which her parents were encouraged to record one of Daisy’s recent ‘wow moments’. While Daddy was occupied with preparing her lunch, Daisy retrieved the note and took it upon herself to both write and draw her wow moment on the paper herself, to the eventual delight of her teachers.

A preschooler practices her letter formation
Daisy decided to record her own ‘wow’ moment for her nursery school

What’s the story?

During our recent outdoor reunion we decided to colour some seasonally themed images of chicks, birds and eggs. When we do this activity together, I like Daisy to give me directions about what areas she would like me to help with colouring and what colours she would like me to use. Then we can have a chat as we work!

Daisy usually has a narrative to go along with the picture we’re working on. She likes to tell me about what is happening in the picture and occasionally I will ask her about one of her subjects – ‘what shall we call this bird?’ ‘what does this chick like to eat?’ etc. That seems to trigger a ‘back story’ narrative and Daisy will tell me what’s going to happen next. 

We certainly never do a whole colouring session in silence and sometimes the colouring inspires us to sing nursery rhymes that fit the picture! Is it a chick or a duckling? We might sing ‘Chick, Chick, Chicken’ or ‘Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day’, or sing both!

Staying within the lines

Occasionally, an aspect of the picture requires more attention from Daisy: she considers what colour to use and then carefully colours some finer detail, for instance, a bird’s beak or its eyes. Daisy now prefers to colour within the lines and has begun to understand that she is more successful if she colours a bit more slowly, giving herself greater control over the crayon. 

The finer details require concentration and an increased degree of coordination and pencil control. The fine manipulative skills that Daisy is developing are valuable for her as she begins to understand how she can control and move the crayons in preparation for the process of handwriting.

Daisy usually wants to colour in her entire picture. Sometimes she is satisfied with colouring the main feature and leaving the background. We leave it up to Daisy when she wants to stop and the coloured piece is considered complete. Then she can also experience the universal pleasure that comes with completing a creative project, especially if she can also give her picture to a relative or a retired neighbour.

As her skill develops, the only challenge I can foresee is having enough wall space for all this artwork!

Granny Smith says

  • Colouring books are widely available, but a quick internet search will reveal an array of different colouring pages that are free to download and print.

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