There's A Picasso In Every Child

With All India Handicrafts Week coming up, here’s how you can encourage the hidden Picasso in your child and help him colour his world wild!

By Aparna Vikram

There's A Picasso In Every Child

"Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons," says Al Hirschfield, the famous American caricaturist. Colouring is an activity we encourage our children to take up from a very young age, both at home and at school. On one hand, it is a good way to keep the little ones engaged, and on the other, it is an important means of developing motor skills, imagination and creativity. Preschools and primary schools set aside time for such activity, and assess children based on their abilities in this area.

While most children are natural artists who get wide-eyed at the sight of colouring supplies like painting kits and crayon sets, there are some who bolt at the very sight of them. Both are extreme reactions and can be worrying.

Before we delve deeper into the two extreme reactions to colours and colouring, let us look at what science has to say about children and colours. Art labs for children from around the world are unanimous in their view that babies and toddlers love bright colours. They are particularly attracted to primary colours (red, blue and green) in addition to orange, purple and pink. Grey, brown and black do not attract them or hold their attention for long.

Researchers suggest that introducing toddlers and preschoolers to colouring tools improves their hand-eye coordination and stimulates creative expression. The ability to hold colouring tools and colour a sheet helps in advancing toddlers’ fine motor skills and helps them develop a better pincer grip (pencil hold) at a later stage. Colouring also spurs innovation and problem-solving skills.

Coming back to the child’s reaction to colouring supplies – the spectrum ranges from 'grab everything in the kit and colour everything in sight' to pouting and throwing tantrums. Everything in between is manageable.

For parents who have to deal with little colour 'extremists', we present a plan of action. It involves commitment on your part though!

When your child is an eager artist 

What happens:

- No holds barred! Your child might colour everything – the wall, the mirror and the forehead of a sleeping grandpa.

- Your child may devote too much time to colouring exercises.

What you can do:

Take it outside. If you are tired of clearing the mess your child makes with the colouring supplies, take her outside. Spread some sheets of old newspaper or towels on the porch or balcony, give her an apron, and let her enjoy. Set rules in the form of a game, instead of issuing them as commands. You will find that your child will try to contain her activities within the prescribed area. She will also be motivated to clean up herself once the activity is over. It is a good idea to stick a few chart papers across the walls at a height your child can reach. Children love to tear paper, so be prepared for the sheets to be ripped off initially. But soon, your child will get to love this new canvas space. When you want to see your pristine walls, just take down the double-taped sheets. This way you won’t stifle your child’s creativity, while also protecting your walls. Consider introducing another activity that will have similar benefits, such as play dough or paper craft. Both these activities will enhance fine motor skills and develop understanding of shapes and structures, while retaining the fun factor.

When your child is a reluctant artist 

What happens: 

Colour phobia! Your child does not enjoy colouring or painting. At the sight of a crayon box, he disappears.

What you can do:

Choose the right tools. Children love bright colours. If your child does not show interest in colouring activities, re-look at the supplies you are presenting him with. Many toddlers get put off by colouring sheets that adults insist they must shade to perfection. Try giving your child plain sheets of paper to colour on, or sheets with simple shapes drawn on them.

Children who have not yet mastered the grip may also find crayons intimidating. Give your child a painting kit instead. Let him use his fingers to simply dab colour on paper. The objective is to get him interested in colouring as an activity.

Children who are highly energetic and do not like to sit idle for even short periods of time (five minutes or less) are not known to show a lot of enthusiasm for colouring activities. After all, colouring activities require patience and focus. Parents can engage the child by telling a story as he colours. That will keep him interested throughout the process. And if you make him the hero of the story, he’ll like it even better.

Appreciate your child’s efforts, particularly if he was reluctant to try it in the first place. Do not nag your child to colour within the lines or choose what you think are the right colours for different objects. If he wants to colour an elephant purple with shades of blue mixed in it, so be it. If you force your choice of colours on him, he may lose whatever little interest he has in the activity. You can always ask him why he chose a particular colour after he has finished colouring, but take care not to mock his reasons or choice. We, as adults, are conditioned to conform to rules, but children are free thinkers, always asking ‘why?’ or ‘why not?’

Why appreciating your child is important 

Children thrive on appreciation. Always make a big deal about their attempts to colour or paint. Let your child hear you telling others about his ‘fantastic skills’. It gives such an immense boost to his confidence. Hang your child’s handiwork on the wall or stick the artwork on the fridge where he can see it. Show him you are proud of his efforts.

Finally, if all attempts to get your child interested in colouring fails, make sure you do not pass on your anxiety to your child. Remember, there are many around us who have never shown any interest in colouring but have turned out to be achievers in various fields, and fine human beings as well.

Age-wise recommendation

If you’re not sure what to expect from your child at different stages of development, here are age-wise recommendations that will certainly guide you with key steps:

13–18 Months

Colouring Ability

Your child will be able to scribble on a sheet of paper but may lose interest after a short time.

Suitable Colouring Tools

Ball crayons or Grasp crayons with bulbous bottoms (These will enable the child to hold the crayons with all the five fingers.)

Your Feedback

Be positive and encouraging. Your child may not be concerned about the sheet. She may tear it or move on to another activity quickly. Do not force her to continue colouring.

19–25 Months

Colouring Ability

Your child’s ability to hold a crayon or any writing tool (pencil/ pen) is improving. This is the time when you will find it hard to get your child to confine himself to the sheet of paper. The attention and focus on colouring activity is increasing. He may attempt to colour the full sheet of paper, not satisfied with just a scrawl or a swirl in the middle of the sheet. Give him only a few colours at a time. When you feel he is losing focus, hand him a few more colours.

Suitable Colouring Tools 

First Grip crayons (They are triangular and enable easier hold.)

Your Feedback 

Encourage him to fill the sheet. Give him positive and short feedback (say things like, “Oh, that’s very good!” or “Beautiful! Well done!”).

26–30 Months

Colouring Ability 

At this stage, children are trying to represent real objects and shapes through their art. They also show interest in using unconventional colours for different objects (for instance, they may like to use purple for a tree trunk and blue for leaves). The shapes might not be perfect but they certainly attempt different strokes.

Suitable Colouring Tools

  1. First Grip crayons
  2. Jumbo wax crayons

Your Feedback

Show interest in your child’s art. Ask her to explain why she has chosen to draw and colour in certain ways. She may try to voice her thoughts. Respect the reasons. You can teach her to draw straight lines, but remember, she may not be able to achieve perfection. Keep her motivated.

31–36 Months

Colouring Ability

 Your child will show remarkable improvement in pincer grip and will attempt up and down strokes. Her dexterity will increase with regular practice. This is the right age to introduce other fine motor skill activities such as play dough, painting sets or paper craft.

Suitable Colouring Tools

  1. Jumbo wax crayons
  2. Regular crayons if the child has developed pincer grip

Your Feedback

Give him a sandwich feed – in other words, begin with a positive comment, then suggest one or two improvements and conclude with another positive remark about the art. Remember not to tire or bore the child with lengthy explanations and instructions

Colouring ability aids the development of pincer grip. However, these age slabs are only indicative. Children may fall into different categories depending on their ability. Adult supervision is mandatory when children use crayons or painting tools.

Aparna Vikram is the proprietor of TIME Kids Preschool, K.K.Nagar, Madurai 

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