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Blend “Right and Wrong” with Self-Expression and Adventure

Imagine if you as a parent, grandparent or teacher, could enhance confidence and creativity in a child you love by altering one of your small behaviors. Good news! You can do this without stress, strain, or extra money. The key involves allowing the child to work freely in the area of creative expression instead of trying to control the child’s artistic attempts.

The ideas I share today come from courses, books, and most of all — personal experiences. Through the years, I feared that —

  1. When I gave a coloring book to a child, I sent a subtle negative message. The child determined that drawings in a coloring book far surpassed the child’s artistic ability.

  2. With a coloring book, the issue became about coloring within the lines. As a pre-writing activity this promised some benefits toward eye-hand coordination. In the area of creativity, a coloring book became a giant put-down. When I urged a child to accomplish a feat that did not fit the child’s developmental level, I promoted insecurity.

I now realize that coloring books become metaphors for life. All parents, grandparents and teachers want to teach children right and wrong ways to accomplish tasks. In fact, we owe children information that can guide them into beneficial choices. I believe we must also weight the values of flexibility and individual expression. One particularly difficult challenge lies in blending right and wrong with adventure and self-expression.

That brings me to the question, “What do I want adults to do to promote artistic expression?” Life experiences support the following.

  1. Provide young children with blank pieces of paper and resilient crayons or markers. Some children require no prompting. Some make marks for the sheer joy of discovering what happens when a pen meets paper. Others need gentle suggestions to get started such as, “What do you like to do with your daddy?” Drawing easily follows listening to a story with, “What idea in the story can you draw?”

  2. Although any plain paper will work, larger paper provides opportunities for big movements. Many experts advocate large crayons. Handwriting Without Tears recommends short, small crayons, which the company believes foster greater control.

  3. Avoid asking a child of any age, “What is it?” Imagine the insult. Instead, say “Tell me about your drawing.” In doing so, you encourage communication. Expand on the idea by inquiring about actions, “What is dad doing?” How does he feel? Do you want to join him?

  4. At early ages, avoid “teaching” a child how to draw a particular object. I once watched a pre-school boy draw a remarkable bird. His mother swooped in and said, “Let me show you the right way to draw a bird.” I watched his face drop. Mother’s message was, “Your bird is not good enough.”

  5. At early stages, children do not connect colors with real objects. Accept all preferences. No such thing as a purple cow? Of course cows can be purple! The time will come when a child will become rigid about colors and shapes for grass, houses, birds, and skies. Be patient and respectful at all stages of development.

Providing blank pieces of paper over coloring books seems like a trivial issue. On the other hand, perhaps everything we say and do with a young child goes into the brain and psychic. We can avoid many mistakes by providing open and accepting territory for creativity. How wonderful when a child we love develops an attitude of “I can do it!” Yes! Sweetheart, you CAN do it.


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