How has the most humble classroom activity – coloring in – become the hottest new trend in relaxation for adults? Coloring in books for grown-ups are dominating bookshops and bestseller lists, with top titles selling over 36,000 copies in a single week. So why the sudden interest in a task teachers have been assigning elementary students for decades? It’s about far more than just making pretty pictures – coloring in can have significant physical and psychological benefits for both students and stressed-out teachers!
The simple act of coloring is said to help with relaxation and reduce stress – Carl Jung used to prescribe coloring books to his psychiatry patients. Because coloring is simple, stress-free and non-competitive, it allows the amygdala (the fear center of the brain) to relax. Resting the amygdala prevents panic and anxiety and can help train the brain to respond more calmly in stressful situations.
Wielding a crayon, pencil or coloring implement of choice facilitates the development of fine motor skills. Learning to stay inside the lines isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it also activates both the logical and creative hemispheres of the brain and helps improve hand-eye coordination. Smaller children can develop a solid foundation for handwriting by practicing grasping and guiding their pencils.
Coloring a printed page helps kids identify colors, lines, perspectives and shapes, building a valuable framework for mathematics and reading. Good pattern recognition is said to be closely linked to high general intelligence and social development. Choosing and applying colors also requires memory skills, creativity, logic and planning as well as a sense of visual and spatial awareness.
It takes focus and concentration to finish a sheet of coloring, particularly if it’s detailed. Coloring employs the frontal lobe of the brain (the part responsible for organizing and problem-solving) and demands focus on one activity at a time. Kids also need to pay attention to detail – selecting different colors for different parts of the picture – and consider how the parts of the image fit together to form a cohesive whole.
Coloring is a simple art form that can nonetheless give students a great sense of satisfaction. Completing a piece of coloring provides a sense of worth as well as encouraging multisensory creativity and artistic expression, which are linked to the development of key social, emotional and cognitive skills. As an added plus, it’s also a cheap, cheerful and personal way to decorate a classroom!
Nick Nedeljkovic is a freelance writer and blogger from Sydney. With a love of learning and more degrees than he can afford, he’s a passionate advocate for education in all its forms.