The Negative Effects of Colouring Books

By: Author Tanja Mcilroy

Colouring books are a standard item on most children’s bookshelves. They look fun and creative and educational…but are they?

Why Colouring Books are Not Developmentally Appropriate

Children are creative by nature. They love drawing and using colour to express themselves.

This may not be something you have ever thought of as a parent (or teacher), but colouring in a pretty page is the least creative activity your child could possibly engage in! In fact, colouring books stifle creativity.

Some children enjoy these books, so it isn’t actually necessary to take them away completely. Just understand the impact they have so that you can minimise how much of your child’s creative time is actually spent on uncreative colouring.

When I first started teaching I remember a parent information evening where the head of our preschool spoke to parents about the negative effects of colouring pages. It was so impactful I never gave a child anything to colour in during the 11 years I taught after that.

I already knew from my studies that colouring pages are not beneficial and take away creativity but the example shown to us during the talk was what really drove the message home.

She showed us a picture of a bird that a child had been asked to draw. It was the most beautiful, detailed picture. The child had drawn every part of the bird, including the beak, eyes, details in the feathers, etc. It looked like an actual bird.

This is not the picture, but it had the same kind of detail shown in this drawing of a peacock.

The child was then exposed to colouring books and several weeks later was asked to draw a bird again. This time the picture looked something like this:

Line drawing of a bird


She had drawn a standard colouring book version of a flying bird – a picture she had seen and coloured in repeatedly.

Considering they are such a household favourite, colouring books really provide very little value for your child.

Apart from learning to colour within the lines – which a child would be able to do anyway if they had good pencil control – there isn’t really any great benefit from the activity. It certainly isn’t art and it doesn’t foster creativity in the least bit.

At best it might be relaxing and your child will develop their pencil grip. These outcomes can both be achieved through creative art as well.

It may not necessarily be harmful to a child to occasionally colour in, however it is an activity that is often encouraged, so many children spend time colouring book after book when they could be developing creativity in better ways.

Colouring page

Is Your Child Coming Home From School With Coloured-in Pages?

This one is a problem. If it happens occasionally, ok. If it happens every day, this means either:

  • The teacher is unqualified. No degree, course or any form of training will encourage this kind of artwork.
  • The school is poor and the activities are not monitored. Preschool activities should be planned. Your child should be “playing” all day but most of those activities should stem from careful planning, with clear goals for each activity. Giving children lots of printout activities is lazy and not considered teaching.

The same applies to beautiful artwork that is sent home that does not reflect your child’s work. The more teacher intervention and guidance went into the activity, the less educational it is.

What Are Some Age-Appropriate Colouring Activities?

How then, should you rather stimulate your child’s creative skills?

Children should be drawing freely every day for years. There are so many wonderful benefits of drawing. They should also be painting as often as possible.

Have paper and a variety of different tools available and accessible at all times.

Let your child draw with pencils, crayons, chalk, pastels, felt-tip pens, highlighters, etc., and different types of paper (or the pavement!)

Let your child paint with watercolours, thicker paints, finger paint, thin brushes, thick brushes, sponges, natural materials, etc.

When I taught, I had lots of quiet fine motor activities set up in the morning as the children were arriving. Free drawing was always one of them. Most children would voluntarily sit at the drawing table every single day. Some would draw multiple pictures every day.

Drawing develops so many vital skills – creativity, thinking skillsproblem-solving, planning, pencil grip and fine motor control.

As you look at your child’s drawings while they are growing up, you will notice how they are learning. Their perception of things changes and the following developments happen:

  • They add in more detail.
  • Things are drawn in the right place (e.g. the tree is firmly on the ground, no longer floating in the air.)
  • They show an understanding of depth (e.g. drawing a tree smaller to show it is far away.)
  • Drawings are to scale (e.g. the man is not bigger than the house anymore.)
  • They plan their picture (e.g. instead of drawing mom and dad and then running out of space to draw the rest of the family, they plan how they will fit everyone in before beginning.)
  • As they learn about their world their drawings start to incorporate more things – they initially draw themselves and then their families.
Child's drawing

Children progress through predictable stages of drawing when they have enough exposure to materials and drawing tools.

Don’t be afraid to let your child experiment with simple, old-fashioned activities. It is too tempting nowadays to make everything more fancy and shiny. Pre-made colouring packs and fancy drawing guides and stencils should not replace regular activities.

The basic, simple activities are the best for a reason!