Teaching Children to Color Outside the Lines
By Renee Howard Cassese

“It is our imagination that gives shape to the universe.”
-Barry Lopez

The classroom is quiet as the children look toward their teacher. Each child has a red crayon and a worksheet with pictures of “things that are red.” They are waiting for permission to pick up their crayons and begin to color.
“Okay, boys and girls. Pick up the red crayon and color your pictures. Remember to color inside the lines.”
Tommy turns his paper over and begins to draw an abstract design. As soon as the teacher sees this she steps over to him and turns the paper back over so the printed picture of “things that are red” faces up.
“This side, Tommy. You must color these pictures,” she says.
Tommy’s moment of creative expression is over.
Creative thinking and artistic energy are essentially good qualities. They enable human beings to discover new solutions to old problems. They allow writers, painters, and politicians to view things differently and to express their inner feelings in new and exciting ways. The nurturing of the creative artist in each of us is necessary so that we can live our lives true to ourselves.
In light of this, why do teachers sometimes try so hard to make everyone do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way? Can we encourage our young students to color and think outside of the lines? We focus on skills we feel children need to succeed in academic learning. We notice whether they can attend to instruction, follow directions, and be still and quiet. But do we know how to look for, find and nurture the creative artist in each child who enters our classroom?
Keen observation enables teachers to glean much information about young children. We should be in search of creative thinking and artistic energy and the many behaviors that indicate their presence. These were the sort of qualities that Tommy exhibited and his teacher stifled. His creative thinking led him to turn the paper over to the other side so that his artistic energy could be used to draw his own picture. If the teacher’s goal was to teach the color red, then Tommy would have learned that as well as the other children in class who colored pictures of “things which are red.” But he would have also learned something else in the process. He would have learned that he has a free, creative spirit. He would have figured out how to think of different ways to accomplish one goal. And he would have realized that it is safe to release his creative spirit in front of others. These skills are just as functional and important as academic skills. If the teacher had praised his picture, his creative spirit would have been nurtured and made capable of growing even larger. Nurturing the creative artist is a teacher’s most vital role and obligation. Here are some suggestions for achieving this goal.
“...music gives flight to the imagination.”

The Use of Music in the Classroom
Music is a wonderful medium for facilitating a child’s creative artist. Teachers are familiar with playing songs to sing along with, using soft music at naptime, or playing aerobic tapes for movement time. But there are other times that music can be played in class.
The human body, especially a child’s body, is quite responsive to sound in general and music in particular. The music we listen to can reflect our mood or be used to change it. According to Julia Cameron, in the book, The Vein of Gold, music reaches the inner consciousness to open us up to creativity. This is what we want to achieve in our classrooms.
The impact of music can be employed in the classroom very effectively. Music can be played during free play, center time, dismissal time, snack time, lunchtime, and, of course, rest time. Music and songs can also help carry children smoothly through transitions from one activity to another. Soft, easy rhythms at low volume can calm children who are overactive and inattentive after returning from outside play. On rainy days, when the children are sleepy and lethargic, Native American drum tapes or disco music can energize their bodies and spirits. Background music can enhance children’s creativity and increase their learning by touching and awakening a deeper part of the consciousness.
Playing music in the classroom will free children to absorb new concepts and use their knowledge in creative ways.
"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”
-Joseph Chilton Pearce

In the Housekeeping Center
The materials you provide here can either nourish or starve the creativity of the children who play in this center. Kitchen appliances, dolls, doll carriages, dishes, and plastic food are great for facilitating language development and representational play skills. There is no argument that these are valuable learning experiences. But we can offer more. Supply the housekeeping center with empty boxes of all sizes, old sheets and blankets to make tents, discarded plastic jars and containers, boxes and old cookbooks. Now step back and watch the creative artists emerge as they play camp, store, or restaurant. The children will devise all kinds of play when given open-ended materials with which to work. Provide markers and paints that will be used to turn the empty boxes into stores, banks or other specialty shops. Include a bulletin board and/or a white wipe-off board or chalkboard and chalk. (You might already have one in your kitchen.)

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
-Albert Einstein

At the Science Center
The variety here is endless. The opportunity to explore new objects and experiment to learn new concepts is attractive to young children.
You can pair the materials here with lessons you have already presented, or if you really want to provide a creative learning experience, set out materials with no previous introduction and sit back and watch the emerging creative artists at work. The possibilities go on and on. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • A basin of water and a box of objects that either float or sink.
  • Potting soil, pebbles, flower pots, plastic spoons, seeds and bulbs.
  • In autumn, include acorns, Indian corn, various squashes, pumpkins, gourds, sweet gum burrs, pinecones and colored leaves. You can take the children on a nature walk to collect these items themselves. You might find some of these things showing up in the art center--but then that’s the idea!
  • Magnets with metal and non-metal objects.
  • A sensory surprise box.
  • An assortment of food items to be smelled.

Let your imagination take you to new places. Be a creative artist yourself. Ask the children to bring in contributions for the science center.

“Scratch an artist and you surprise a child.”
-James Gibbons Huneker

The Library Center
 Statistics show that children who were read to as young children and are given time to enjoy a good book score higher on standardized tests and do better in courses across the curriculum. (Bauer, 1998) In order to facilitate this process we need to give children many opportunities to read a book simply for the pleasure of it. We need to allow children to ask questions and make comments when we read to them out loud. One way to achieve these goals is to create a reading center.

This center is not only for books but a cozy place to curl up and read. A tenet or parachute hung from the ceiling makes it a more sheltered and private space. You can include story character puppets (bought or child-created), dioramas to go with books you have read to the class, character masks, a puppet theater, word cards, literature-related posters, student-made books, or  even materials to make books with, audio tapes, puppets of familiar stories, and flannel board story patterns. Some ideas:

  • The Three Bears – stuffed teddy bears
  • The Three Little Pigs – pig puppets and materials to make different houses.

Make your storytime exciting and interactive. Extend the time to include having children act out the story. Cook some food related to the story like Green Eggs and Ham. Use props and visuals when reading out loud.