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The Anti-Coloring Book Phenomenon

Coloring, an activity that consumes many hours of a developing child's youth, is timeless, or so I used to think ...

Coloring, an activity that consumes many hours of a developing child's youth, is timeless, or so I used to think... Living in an era of increasing gravitation towards technology and instant gratification, I still somehow find solace in the crinkled pages of a coloring book or sudoko as an adult, but what about the next generation?  While some critics argue that coloring books "increase controlled motor movements" in children, isn't the mere replication of art, well not art?  

With July coming to a close, Summer Academy in full swing at the Green Street Arts Center, where I work, and my summer session classes still percolating, I began to wonder: how do coloring books relate to child development, social interaction, creativity and happiness? 

Unfortunately, the answer is not simple, though. Whether it be at a mall, on the internet or the Wesleyan bookstore, I thoroughly enjoy finding a good read. This week, I sought to channel my inner youth and unearthed an exceptional find beneath some dusty coloring books at Book Bower: Susan Striker's Fourth Anti-Coloring Book.

It's nice to know that the Anti-Coloring Book of my youth is still around for me to share with my friends and family. Unlike a traditional coloring book, this book gives children prompts that encourage self-expressiveness, not mere drawing between the lines. 

Susan Striker insists that the typical coloring book stifles creativity and even likens coloring in an adult drawing to giving a child all of the answers on a math test.  However extreme, her books prove: drawing within lines inhibits problem-solving.  I remember many days that I would just sit down and spend a couple of hours doodling, until my parents brought this book home and I was thrilled! 

It's nice to see the same pleasure and excitement when I shared these interactive books with my family. From both personal experience with this classic book, to seeing the pleasure on my cousin's face as she threw caution to the winds and let her imagination run wild, as the book recommends, I assure you that their value is crucial in the development of a youth's creativity.

With further research and reflection I have come to the conclusion: interactive activity books, like that of Susan Striker's Anti-Coloring Book Series, are far more likely to increase the development of executive functioning skills of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, memory, motor movement and artistic expression, than  traditional standard coloring books.  

They also provide children the opportunity to "think outside of the box," developing higher cognitive abilities, such as the visuospatial association of objects with words, shapes and thoughts. Very similar to psychological tests measure executive function, such as the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, that measures one's ability to adapt to changes, and the Rey-O figure test, that measures one's ability to remember and copy an object, Anti-Coloring Books provide children the opportunity to test their abilities, yet still allowing space for creativity.

Yes, this is what I think of in my spare time, weird, right? What are your thoughts?

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Money Man July 30, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Jeez, more helicopter parents. I thought coloring was just supposed to be fun. But, I guess, in post-modern 21st century America, everything has to be a meaningful developmental experience. When I was a child, grown ups looked askance at comic books as some sort of mildly degenerate activity engaged in by children who weren't smart enough to read books without pictures, not to mention their violent content. Now they are blockbuster movies, and the comics themselves are considered a virtual art-form. What are your thoughts on finger painting, hopscotch and hide-n-seek?
Nunya Zness July 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM
I still have a couple of Altair design books from my childhood. They were geometrical coloring books, where you could choose your own way to color, that would bring out different patterns. Hard to describe here, but it was great fun, and the opposite of the constricting world of traditional coloring books. No two kids would get the same picture out of a given page.
Tommy August 08, 2011 at 05:30 PM
I'm a coloring survivor - It didn't hurt my self-esteem or stunt my intellectual growth and believe it or not I actually have a job! Wow...I'm glad I escaped my miserable childhood.
Mike April 29, 2012 at 01:54 AM
What a great concept to teach and foster creativity. It is like a creative writing assignment, but with visual arts. Completely brilliant. If I end up having kids, this will definitely be something for them. Hopefully it would lead to them starting with completely blank pages with their own ideas.

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