OK, so clearly this is a rant. Sometimes rants aren’t productive, but sometimes they’re a funny and loud way to start a conversation (especially when they’re not being yelled into your face). As someone who is passionate about open-ended creativity and art, who has studied and practiced art in a variety of formats as well as been a children’s librarian, I do feel passionately about the subject.
Coloring pages are a great child-calmer, and we have some in the library. I’ve recently whipped up a couple that are a little more open-ended and they go like hotcakes, but I’ve also been experimenting with putting out blank sheets and they get filled up even faster!
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with having fond memories of doing coloring pages as a child, and they can be quite meditative. But if we’re going to be intentional with our storytimes – which is so important and I’m so grateful for the storytime warriors who are outlining this so clearly – I say we need to be equally intentional with our crafts and activities. Art has an incredible potential for plugging into early literacy practices and inspiring kids to be confident and self-actualizing, if we let it.
And if we let kids do it! Letting kids get messy, make mistakes, and learn that their work and process are valid are steps to building happy and healthy adults. A recent Opinion piece in the New York Times shows that over-structured classrooms don’t intervene in educational slides, and “Other research has found that early didactic instruction might actually worsen academic performance.” Instead, children need space to play and discover things on their own – and though the article doesn’t touch on them, I believe coloring pages are an example of overly-didactic art instruction. Another study, for instance, shows that creativity is decreasing in American schoolchildren, and points to the lack of freedom kids are given as the main reason. There is a lot of freedom in a blank page and an encouraging adult, and in the informal learning space a library can provide.
At the suggestion of the wonderful ALSC member and former president Mary Fellows, I’m hosting a caption contest (ala the New Yorker) for my next post! Give your best shot in the comments. Winner to be announced next post (sorry, no prizes, just glorious celebration of your wit).
More resources on process art and alternatives to coloring pages:
- A summary of process art: http://frenchizal.blogspot.com/2015/04/open-process-art-different-type-of.html
- Helpful tips to foster creativity: http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=349
- The Facebook post on Storytime Underground that has inspired me to no end: https://www.facebook.com/groups/storytimeunderground/permalink/896936777024186
- A layman’s summary of the creativity study: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201209/children-s-freedom-has-declined-so-has-their-creativity
- Crafting in libraries 101: http://www.slj.com/2015/05/programs/craft-work-the-maker-issue/
- Anti-coloring book pages to download: http://www.susanstriker.com/printable_pages.html
Lisa Nowlain is the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Fellow and Children’s Librarian at Darien Library in Darien, CT. She is also an artist-type (see more at www.lisanowlain.com).