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Coloring Inside the Lines

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Q: My son just turned 4 and started preschool. I notice that all or most the other children are holding their pencils properly and coloring well within the lines. My son still grips his pencil and scribbles all over the place. He moves from color to color and makes little blobs of color all over the place without regard to the picture. He doesn't do drawings. The teacher mentioned his holding the pencil incorrectly. Is this something I should worry about? Is there something I can do to help?

A: I had to smile when I read your question about "coloring in the lines." When I was in kindergarten my mom was brought into school because I was not able to color in the lines like the other kids. I too drew on top of the picture and added blobs of color here and there. Interestingly, it was because I was a bit of a "free thinker" and not totally because I couldn't do the work (although it was difficult for me). I preferred doing my own art more than the ditto sheet drawings the teacher wanted us to color. I was the youngest in the group and my way to deal with the age difference was to get creative!

Happily, my mother understood and allowed me plenty of time and materials to play with color and lines without expecting me to make or write something. Preschool (and kindergarten) is a time of exploration, experimentation, and creativity. It is best not to expect your child to try to work within the lines or to try to make perfect letters at this stage. Invite your child to explore the color blobs he makes on plain paper. Give him large brushes, crayons, and markers to experiment with. It will be easier for him to learn how to hold something larger and move it in big ways than to try to fit something on a coloring-book page or ditto. If your child is feeling badly that his art and writing does not look like the others, show him the work of great artists (such as Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock, and Joán Miró) whose drawings are more childlike and non-representational!

It is important to remember that not all children learn to write and draw at the same time. Your child's coordination (or even his interest) may not be ready for more controlled writing and drawing. If he were having these difficulties at the end of the kindergarten year, I would be worried; but at his age it is within the normal range of child development. Allow your child the gift of time to grow into this skill while providing a progression of writing activities that will support both his interests and his skills.

About the Author

Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.

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