Staying Inside the Lines

I walked into my daughter's daycare classroom a couple of weeks ago to find her and her classmates in the middle of coloring pages from a coloring book. My daughter was very proud of her work, which consisted of broad crayon strokes right across the page, with little regard to the picture she had been given. That's how she colors, and I thought it was typical for her age.

Then the picture in front of the child across the table from her caught my eye. It had two bright red seemingly perfect balloons. "Did he color that?" I wondered. I took a step closer and noticed small tell-tale traces of color outside the lines. It was, in fact, his own handiwork.

And just like that, I began worrying that I had been doing my child a disservice by having never encouraged her to color within the lines. Until that moment, I had a laid-back approach to whether she colored "right" or not.

"I wouldn't worry about it," my friend told me. "I think forcing them to color within the lines stifles their creativity." Her daughter, she explained, didn't like coloring within the lines when she was my daughter's age.

Perhaps she had a point, but nonetheless, I decided I would at least see if I could get my daughter to try coloring within the lines.

So the next time she asked me for crayons, I sat down with her.

"Can you color in the lines, like this?" I said as I filled in a flower.

To my surprise, she started coloring within the lines on another part of the page ... for about five seconds, then she started coloring straight across the page again, just like always. "I do this," she told me.

I'm not sure what the takeaway from that should be. She obviously can color within the lines, so does she not do it because she doesn't like to or because it takes too long? The former means my friend might be right and forcing my daughter to color within the lines could be stifling her creativity. The latter means she lacks the patience to do it right.

My plan: Continue to start each coloring session with the suggestion that she color within the lines, but until she starts coloring for homework and has a grade that depends on it, I won't sweat whether she does it "right" or not.

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