Coloring: Not Just for Kindergartners

When was the last time you sat down with a coloring book? Although we tend to think of coloring as an activity for preschoolers and young children, it has benefits for people of all ages.

Like walking a labyrinth, coloring can be a form of active meditation. Focusing your attention on simple tasks that require repetitive motion can help you to relax and de-stress. It can also foster a sense of well-being and unleash your creative energies.

Australian neuropsychologist Dr. Stan Rodski has developed a line of coloring books specifically designed for use in an office environment. Dr. Rodski’s research indicates that the practice of coloring actually changes the brain waves associated with stress, helping to boost physical and mental health and increase productivity. Just as when listening to music or doing yoga, people who are coloring experience a decrease in levels of adrenaline in the brain and an increase in levels of dopamine.

At North 6th Agency in New York City, employees meet in the conference room on Friday afternoons for a coloring session and stress reduction. In January, Jenny Fenalson started a Ladies Coloring Club in Minnesota, and she’s gotten such a positive response (not to mention national media attention) that she wrote a blog post offering guidance on setting up clubs in other cities.

Last summer in France, coloring books were selling better than cookbooks. Right now, five of the top twenty Amazon bestselling books (25%) are adult coloring books. Publisher Matthew Lore told CNN, "Adult coloring is absolutely a growing trend and consumers are really taking to the idea. Not only is it calming and good for your health, it's just fun! The demand is increasing exponentially as the word spreads."

Gary Fitzgibbon, a business psychologist, told the Telegraph that adults are increasingly looking for temporary escapes from reality: “Whether it’s doing a crossword or a sudoku puzzle, a few minutes’ opting out will have an uplifting effect. Comedy and laughing aloud will also have a beneficial impact.” This desire for a diversion, he says, is behind the international phenomenon of viral pet videos.

On one of the college visits I went on with my son a couple of years ago, the common areas in the dorms featured not only televisions, but also coloring books and crayons. Interestingly, there are even coloring books meant as serious study aides for undergraduates taking science and geography courses – for example, the Biology Coloring Book or the Anatomy Coloring Book.

According to a review of the Zoology Coloring Book by Andi, “This book sounds ridiculous, and I was mocked by my roommates for using it in college, but it taught me more than my Zoology professor and text book combined. A great resource for passing the tests as well as retaining the knowledge.” Other positive reviewers of the books included high school teachers and homeschooling parents.

Yet, in most elementary and secondary schools, students rarely have an opportunity to color beyond the primary grades. Even first and second graders are often considered too old for coloring in a school culture that stresses achievement above all else. My colleagues in education have told me that over the past few years, coloring has been discouraged in favor of more “academic” pursuits like penmanship and phonics instruction.

Any skilled teacher can tell you that some students are visual learners. Even students who are good listeners often need visual stimuli to keep them on task. Hands-on experience provides learning experiences: that’s why teachers used to assign dioramas and science fair projects. Offering a range of options to learners, including pictures, videos, audio books, and creative activities, is just good practice.

Most schools will not be adding coloring to their curriculum in the near future and your boss probably isn’t going to be buying coloring books for your next staff meeting, though. So, you might need to take matters into your own hands for yourself and/or your children. Here is a list of 16 inspiring adult coloring books from Buzzfeed; if you search for “adult coloring book” on Amazon, there are almost 1,400 results.

Coloring offers benefits to humans of all ages, especially in a technologically focused society like ours. Taking time away from screens, to calm our senses and practice mindful relaxation, will have a positive impact on our work and our spirits. Just like recess and forest bathing, coloring may be just the break we need to revitalize our days.

This post also appeared at GoLocalProv.

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