You know that smell, right? It’s kind of waxy and flaky (if that’s a smell…) and so distinctive! If you open a box of crayons that have the little marks of each crayon inside the cardboard box, it has an even stronger smell. Crayons smell like childhood! Today, I’m sharing the latest post in my 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series, where each day is a creative activity using OT treatment materials that are free or almost free. Crayons are something that most homes have in a pencil box, in an old tin, or in a drawer somewhere. Did you know those childhood memory sticks (aka Crayons) can be used in SO many skill areas? Consider fine and gross motor strength, tool use, sensory processing, pencil grasp, line awareness, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, endurance, self-confidence, creativity, task completion, and learning objectives like color identification, and color matching. Whew! No wonder crayons get worn down to nubs with all of those areas that they are working on!
Benefits of Coloring for Children
Related Read: Read about how we worked on carryover of pencil grasp and strengthened fine motor skills and so many other areas with our 3 Crayon Challenge activity.
Coloring allows kids to explore a writing utensil that is fun and creative. They can use different colors by placing crayons back into the box with a coordinated manner. Provide a crayon sharpener for more tool use and dexterity.
Using both hands together in a coordinated manner is a skill needed for handwriting, scissor use, and many functional tasks. When coloring, a child needs to hold the paper as they color. Using the assisting, non-dominant hand as a stabilizer allows a child to build strength and dexterity in their dominant hand. This skill will carry over to writing tasks, and makes coloring a great activity for kids who are switching hands in activities.
Building on the fine motor skill areas, coloring can deepen a child’s endurance in completing writing tasks. Many times, kids will complain of hand fatigue while coloring. They can build muscle endurance by coloring with the small muscles of their hands and allow for greater endurance when writing, too. Instruct a child how to color in small circles to work on the strength and endurance of the intrinsic muscles. If a child needs to work on this area, you can show the student how to color on a slanted surface like an easel or slanted table surface.
Fine Motor Skills and Tripod Pencil Grasp
Coloring is a fine motor strengthening tool that many Occupational Therapists recommend and use in treatment sessions. Coloring is a reisistive task that provides the small muscles in the hand to work the waxy crayon onto coloring sheets. When a child holds a crayon, they are working on the strength of the intrinsic muscles of the hand. Using broken crayons requires more work and is a greater strengthening task for kids who need to work on their tripod grasp. For more strengthening, encourage your child to color more resistive surfaces such as construction paper, cardboard, or even sand paper.
Unlike a marker, children can color lightly or very dark by exerting more pressure. The proprioceptive system comes into play when a child attempts to vary the amount of pressure they are exerting through the crayon. Coloring with markers just doesn’t provide that resistive feedback that coloring with a waxy crayon does. Markers are smooth and don’t give kids the sensory input that help with learning letters. For a fun twist on letter formation activities, grab a box of crayons! Encourage children to shade and combine colors by being aware of how lightly or darkly they are coloring. There is also that crayon scent that children are aware of, either consciously or unconsciously. If you recall the scent of crayons from your childhood, then you know what I’m talking about here!
Visual perception is so important to many functional skills in handwriting: awareness of the body’s position as it moves through space, line awareness, using margins on a page, and writing within a given space. Coloring is a great tool in working on these areas as children color within lines and given spaces. But sometimes, kids have trouble staying in the lines or coloring in areas without leaving large spaces uncolored. Verbal and visual cues can help with this.
When writing or coloring, children must coordinate their physical movements with information received from their visual system. Controlled movements are essential for handwriting, letter formation, and neatness in handwriting. Coloring helps with practicing coordination of the visual input with physical movements of the hands in very small spaces or large areas. Providing smaller areas of coloring require more controlled movements and dexterity. For difficulties in this area, consider adding boundaries to coloring areas, with darkened and thicker lines or raised boundaries like using Wikki Stix around the coloring area.
Creativity and Self-Confidence
Coloring inspires creativity. A blank piece of paper and a box of crayons can inspire stories and pictures. Being creative allows a child to build their self-confidence in other areas, especially handwriting and pencil tasks. If you’ve ever received a coloring masterpiece from a child, then you know the pure delight they have when giving a creation they have made. That boost of self-confidence will entice them to complete other paper/pencil tasks.
Color Identification and Color Matching
Crayons are color! Kids can be encouraged to practice color identification with the bright and vivid colors in a crayon box. Use a color by number activity to work on color matching skills.
So, now you know the many benefits of coloring with crayons. How can you use crayons in developmental and functional tasks? Here are some creative learning and play ideas that kids will love. Some of these are more pricey than just a box of crayons, but your crayon fan will enjoy using these toys and games and won’t even realize they are working on so many skills!
Crayon Tools and Toys for Developing Functional Skills: Toys for kids who love to Color!
by Drew Dewalt. This is a book for crayon fans! We grab this book from the library anytime we see it, and it’s got a great message, too. Kids will be inspired to color after reading this book about crayons.
It’s no secret that crayons are a fine motor powerhouse when it comes to developing that tripod grasp! You can use larger crayons for smaller kids or children who need to work on other grasps, like a lateral key grasp, or children who need to work on thumb adduction in functional tasks like scissoring. These ALEX Jr. Tots First Crayons
are just the thing to try!
Work on more fine motor skills, like finger isolation when using Finger Crayons.
Kids can get creative and explore sensory play while using crayons in the bathtub.
These Bath Time Crayons are on my list to try!
Do you remember rubbing crayons over fashion design kits as a kid? There is a reason to do this play activity with kids!
This Fashion Design Activity Kit
provides proprioceptive input and strength to little hands in a fun and creative way.
With 152 colors, this Crayola Ultimate Crayon Case
will give your kiddo a color for every creative whim. This looks so inviting!
There is a coloring book out there for everyone! Even adults can get in on the coloring fun with creative coloring like this Art Nouveau Animal Designs Coloring Book . Color alongside your child for calming and relaxing art time.
I love the large size and big pictures of the Melissa & Doug Jumbo Coloring Pads. They are perfect for the youngest colorers.
For more creative fun, try Dry Erase Crayons
right on a dry erase surface. This is a great way to practice spelling words on a resistive surface.
Little artists will love to create their own t-shirt designs using Fabric Crayons
. This is a fun way to work on fine motor strength and bilateral coordination. Holding down that cotton t-shirt is a bilateral coordination workout!
You will love our crayon activities: