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When little ones pick up crayons to color they do so with a joyful abandonment, not the least concerned with the lines on the page or realistic colors. Our grown up reaction might be control or admonishment not to waste paper. These early days of coloring abandonment are also often the time when kids are asking a hundred questions a day. As the free spirited coloring behavior disappears so too does the intensity for questioning. When young artists grow and develop the fine motor skills to stay within lines and manage the spaces with generally expected colors adults tend to congratulate the child on doing such neat work without considering what may have been lost in this transformation. Finding ways to mitigate the difference between these stages is the subject of a new kind of coloring book by local author, artist and former occupational therapist (OT), Laura Hebenstreit.
During her years as an O T working in schools, Hebenstreit focused on helping children develop their motor and perceptual skills. As an artist she gained insights about how children develop creativity, emotional awareness and cooperative problem solving. The outcome is, Beyond The Usual Coloring Book: Help Your Child Create, Express & Adapt.
According to Hebenstreit, “The idea for an alternative-type coloring book came from watching kids start out very exploratory and self-expressive when first using crayons. They picked colors just for effect, variably combined many colors or used only one for any or all picture areas and produced vibrant, individualized pictures. But by around the age of 6, most of them were convinced that one appropriate color to a space, coloring all spaces evenly, & leaving no parts blank were the appropriate norms. So they did that consistently.”
As adults we can think of many times when that kind of conformity is useful and it is, up to a point. A Newsweek cover story reported that, for the first time, research reveals that American creativity is declining just when projections for future careers suggest that creativity will be an important skill.
According to Hebenstreit, “Jobs involving information that is presented and then simply repeated are the most likely to be automated in the coming years. This trend is already in process.”
Research carried out by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) found that linking creativity through arts and literacy was a powerful tool for sustained learning as the children make strong connections between reading, writing and creative arts. Creativity enhances oral language skills, and a workshop atmosphere promotes concentration and confidence and deepens understanding so children can reflect on their learning. It also encourages the children to work as a team.
“Kids who are taught to imagine, apply information in new ways, refine methods while adapting to changes, and work with others to develop ideas will have an advantage over those who may be excellent at repeating information. Creativity, emotional awareness, and cooperative problem-solving can all be taught. Kids are beginning to develop these skills by the time they are in preschool and kindergarten. I decided to design a coloring book to specifically practice these abilities, because they seem so important for kids and our future.
Teaching creativity is tricky. The challenge is to avoid defining what a self-guided standard should be for someone else. Praise and reward can be as limiting as criticism. Both may limit what might have been a broader focus. One strategy is to encourage and share engagement with the task more than opinions about whatever is produced (process over product). Checking in with what the child likes about his/her work and supporting continued challenge for that can help develop a path. In the book, I suggest setting up a child with materials and modeling various techniques as introduction, which can then be imitated and expanded upon in a self-directed way.”
The first part of the book features information and examples with suggestions for adults and helpers. The second part provides pictures designed to encourage types of coloring. There is a brief section for helping a child explore his/her own crayons and their possibilities for use. Other sections have pictures designed to be used for practicing different skills, including blending/experimenting with colors, understanding/expressing emotions related to pictures, and cooperating to produce a colored picture with one or more partners of various skill levels.
More information can be found at Hebenstreit’s website: http://beyondtheusualcolorbook.com/
Books are available at Spirit Winds in Las Cruces and online through Amazon.com