When I taught 3rd grade, I had an assortment of activities available for children who finished their work early. I always had a worksheet (the shame, I know!) that had math fact practice in a hidden picture. The picture would be revealed when the facts were solved and the spaces were colored in according to a code. If, for example, the sum or difference was between 3 and 6, the space was colored green. Kids loved these sheets. They took them home if they didn’t have time to finish them during the day.
Then at some point I realized these really weren’t much of a challenge. What kind of thinking was going on? Was the fact practice enough of a reason to continue using these sheets? I know that if I had still been in the classroom over the past five years I would have stopped using them. And that would have been my students’ loss.
The explosion in popularity of coloring books for adults seems to justify what I knew instinctively 20 years ago. After working on new math concepts, some of it beyond their still-concrete thinking brains, my students needed these coloring sheets to relax and give their brains time to get ready for the next challenging learning task. A plethora of recent articles extolling the benefits of coloring tend to focus on adults, but there are plenty of reasons to bring coloring back into the classroom, relaxation and improving focus among them. In fact, many studies have found that coloring actually increases creativity. Here’s a link to just one of the many articles I found supporting this practice.
If you feel like you’ve read a post like this recently, you probably have. Elisabeth Ellington wrote recently about how her college students reacted to being assigned coloring for homework. Their responses underscore the benefits of finding time in our busy lives for a little time to play. But I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. In fact, the last save on my page of notes for this post was on January 14th, and this list has been on my desk for at least two weeks:
But you know how these things go. Then yesterday I came across this in my Twitter feed:
I immediately thought of this passage from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books, 2015):
“I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you–but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator…This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book [or blog post!]…or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had…but had never entirely cultivated…Therefore, the idea went hunting for a new partner.”
So this idea has had more that one partner. Oh well. It’s an idea worth writing about. I hope more teachers decide to let their students color on a regular basis. Everyone will be happier if they do.
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, Beth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.