Coloring: Not Just Child’s Play

Coloring: Not Just Child’s Play

People tend to put limits on themselves. We say, “I’m too old/too young/too fat/too thin/too broke/too cool/too smart/too stupid/too short/too tall/too shy/too loud/too awkward/too afraid to do _____ (insert a choice activity here).” We allow what others might think about us to determine who and what we are, rather than just trusting our hearts and minds to guide us.

I frequently hear this mantra about coloring. “That’s really just for kids,” people say. “It’s just too silly.”

If that’s the case, I guess I should attend a 12-step self-help group for middle-aged silliness because I’ve been coloring since I could hold a crayon. Though coloring for grown ups has recently become popular, I spent many decades being ribbed over my love of paper and ink. (I’m reminded of the old Barbara Mandrell song, “I Was Country when Country Wasn’t Cool.”) Luckily, at least in this aspect of my life, I ignored the (usually) friendly jibes and continued to color because it provided me with a creative outlet when I needed one, a sense of solace when I was sad, and a way to clear my mind when I just had to think. Interestingly, researchers are discovering that coloring isn’t just for kids any more.

Articles from Fox News, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, and Medical Daily (to name a only a few) expound the benefits of coloring:

  1. It reduces stress by calming the fear center in the brain. (As a matter of fact, doctors have been prescribing coloring as an anxiety reliever for over 100 years.)
  2. It promotes focus by opening up the frontal lobe of the brain.
  3. It promotes hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
  4. It can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  5. It can promote positive thoughts because people respond to the “happy” patterns and colors, or they fondly remember their childhood.

While many specialists don’t consider coloring to be “art therapy” since a person is not necessarily creating art, they do consider it to be “therapeutic” since it has positive effects on people (like Julie Beck who describes her recent conversion to the activity in “The Zen of Adult Coloring Books” ).

The trend seems to be spreading quickly among those of us who are crafters, who are middle-aged, who have high stress jobs or who have young children, but I’ve noticed a gap in the ages: teens, twenty somethings, and young professionals (who don’t yet have children with whom to color) seem to poo-poo the idea of coloring.

This year the high school where I teach has added a “Care to Color?” table in the media center, but I’ve never seen students sitting around it. So, today when one of the small groups in my class complained that they were “stuck” and had seemingly irreconcilable ideas about where to go with the research project they’re conducting, I directed them to the table. The two girls regarded me with skepticism while the boy laughed derisively. Needless to say, they were a little shocked when I repeated the directive of “Go color for a few minutes,” and led them to the table where I sat down with them and picked up one of the free form design pages and a few pencils. They stared blankly as I began to color.

“Sit down,” I said, and they complied.

“Choose a design,” I said without looking up from my page, and they complied.

“Now, color,” I said, but they didn’t. Instead they started to object calling it “silly” and “childish,” so I ignored them, and then (after an awkward silence) one of the girls responded, “I don’t know what color to choose.”

“This one,” I said handing her a purple pencil. “Just find a place on the design and color it. Don’t talk. Don’t discuss the project. Just let your mind mull it over for a little while.” And I left them there for about 10 minutes. When I came back to check on them, even the young man had succumbed to the temptation of red and orange blazoned across a page, and they were visibly less stressed. Did the activity solve their research problems? Of course not. But it did allow them to take a break and destress for a few minutes so they could work together on a compromise.

Thus, we should view coloring as a tool. It won’t fix anything, but it might help us cope a little more easily. It might allow us to forget the problems of the day so we can sleep a little more soundly. It might give us a chance to take a breath and regroup our thoughts so we can listen a little more carefully.




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