In the age of iPad and electronics, coloring books are not as prominent in children’s backpacks these days. There are huge benefits to sitting down and completing a coloring page with a pack of good old fashioned Crayola crayons.
First, the practice of following through with a considerably monotonous task is a valuable means for a child to build sustained attention. It takes time and concentration to fill in an entire page, which is a great challenge for kids. Second, a child’s fine motor skills benefit greatly from coloring. Think of it as an endurance work out for your hand; using a crayon to color a complete page provides a great opportunity to build the strength of all the tiny muscles in your hand. When a child colors, they are having to control a tool with their fingers in order to stay in a boundary. A child’s fine motor control and handwriting will greatly benefit from this practice.
There is absolutely a right way and a wrong way to color, and it’s all about grasp. Here is a great image that shows a child’s grasp development, and gives parents an idea of the progression that we want to see.
If children color using an immature grasp, such as a cylindrical “fisted” grasp after 2 years of age, no real muscle work is getting done and bad habits are being built. As an OT that is often leading groups, I’ve discovered that providing the right crayons for children naturalistically encourages the grasp I want them to use. As a general rule, broken crayons are best! I tend to stay away from Markers and Jumbo Crayons; these are large for little hands and encourage that fisted grasp, which is the opposite of what I want when building fine motor skill past 2 years of age.
Below are the shaped crayons I use for children of the corresponding age groups. Individual children’s needs may vary, so these are meant to be general guidelines. Try them with your child at home and get those coloring pages out!
These crayons give young kiddos a nice round bulb to put in their palm and start to encourage fingers pointed towards the tip.
The small size of these crayons encourage a nice pincer grasp and encourage a child to use their fingers instead of their whole hand.
Broken Large Crayons
The same concept of the crayon rocks; broken crayons encourage the fingers to have the most involvement when coloring, because the small size does not allow for a fisted grasp.
Large Triangle Crayons
Triangle crayons help cue and teach the tripod grasp we’re looking for by naturally providing a space for each finger to rest on when grasping the crayon. I still break the triangle crayons at this age.
By this age, your child can hold the skinniest level of crayon and build up the endurance and musculature to fine tune their maturing grasp. You can still break them at this point if need be!
6-7 years and up: Colored pencils/Crayola Twistables
Colored pencils are the highest level for coloring and are the same diameter as the pencils your child will be using for writing in school.
If you have any specific questions about your child’s grasp, feel free to reach out!