There are many benefits of coloring with crayons in occupational therapy interventions. Coloring with crayons is a fine motor skill that builds other skills. Did you know that the act of coloring with a crayon can help children develop fine motor strength, dexterity, grasp, and endurance in their hands? And, coloring skills develop by more coloring. Here’s the thing: occupational therapists use crayons to help children develop fine motor skills, but they also work on the development of coloring skills as a functional task that is part of play, and typical child development. Let’s talk about all of the coloring skills that occupational therapy addresses with a simple box of crayons.
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! This post on coloring skills is part of my 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series, where each day is a creative activity using OT treatment materials that are free or almost free.
Fine Motor Skills with Crayons
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. Crayons develop the very skills needed for pencil grasp and carryover of that pencil grasp. Whew! No wonder crayons get worn down to nubs with all of those areas that they are working on!
Benefits of Coloring for Children
There are so many developmental benefits to coloring! It’s more than creating a colorful preschool work of art.
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 with crayons Improves Tool Use
Coloring with crayons improves a child’s ability to manipulate tools such as pencils, scissors, utensils, grooming and hygiene tools, and other functional tools with ease. By developing coloring skills, kids have a natural opportunity to explore a writing utensil in a way that is fun and creative.
They can use different colors by placing crayons back into the box with a coordinated manner. To further develop tool use with children, offer a crayon pencil sharpener, a small bin or zippered pouch that needs opening or closing, and a variety of crayon sizes and shapes. All of these can extend fine motor skills with more practice in tool use as well as dexterity.
Coloring with Crayons improves Bilateral Coordination
Bilateral Coordination is a fine motor skill needed for so many tasks. 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.
Coloring with Crayons Improves Endurance
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. To help a child develop hand strength, use coloring!
You can help kids improve hand strength with this simple coloring exercise: Instruct a child how to color in small circles to work on the strength and endurance of the intrinsic muscles. Ask them to fill in the complete circle. To extend the activity, create more circles. This exercise can be extended further by working on a vertical surface such as an easel or by taping the page to a wall. This develops proximal stability at the shoulder girdle as well as core strength, allowing for postural stability in written work.
If a child needs to work on this area, you can show the student how to color on a slanted surface like a slanted table surface or elevated surface. Here is an easy way to create a DIY slant board.
Broken Crayons help with hand strength!
Coloring develops Tripod Grasp
Coloring is a fine motor strengthening tool that many Occupational Therapists recommend and use in treatment sessions. Coloring is a resistive 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.
Coloring offers sensory input
Coloring with a crayon can be an opportunity to add heavy work through the hands. This sensory feedback is proprioceptive input that “wakes up” the muscles of the hands and can be calming input.
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!
To help kids write with heavier or lighter pencil pressure when writing, 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!
Coloring Skills Develop Spatial Awareness
Coloring skill development progresses as children gain experience in coloring. By developing coloring skills, kids can improve visual perceptual skills. Spatial awareness is an aspect of perceptual skills.
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 prompts, highlighted lines, bold lines, thick coloring lines, and physical prompts like raised lines can improve spatial awareness in coloring.
Coloring Skills and Eye Hand Coordination
One reason that coloring in occupational therapy sessions is so well-used as an intervention strategy is the development of eye-hand coordination skills. There are benefits of coloring with crayons when it comes to coordinating vision and motor skills. 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.
Coloring Benefits Creativity and Self-Confidence
Another of the benefits of coloring with crayons involves self-confidence. Coloring inspires creativity in kids. 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.
Coloring helps with 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.
These visual discrimination skills, visual scanning, visual attention, and visual memory needed to identify and match colors are part of the visual perceptual skills we talked about above. All of these are needed skills for reading, writing, math, and other higher level cognitive skills.
Coloring in occupational therapy teletherapy
All you need to develop the skills listed above is a simple box of crayons. This makes coloring a powerful tool in occupational therapy teletherapy, because many homes have crayons available.
Working on fine motor skills in teletherapy can be difficult because so many of an occupational therapist’s favorite fine motor tools might not be available. This is where using crayons to work on a variety of skills can be so powerful.
Try some of these teletherapy activities using crayons:
- Use 3 crayons in a coloring challenge
- Focus on grasp
- Break a crayon and color in a small space
- Use crayons to work on pencil pressure by shading over pencil marks
- Work on controlled handwriting with these three fine motor activities
- Connect dots to work on bilateral coordination and crossing midline
- Use crayons to make a tactile box for the box and dot writing strategy
- Color on a vertical surface to work on strengthening
- Use crayons to make DIY pencil control worksheets
- Use crayons to build letters in handwriting
So, now you know the many benefits of coloring with crayons. How can you use crayons in developmental and functional tasks? Let’s explore crayons for various ages and stages.
Toys for Coloring Skills
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!
(We’re including affiliate links.) One of our favorite books is The Day the Crayons Quit 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!
More Crayon activities
Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.