Articles and Topics
Should a 4-year-old be able to color within the lines?
Sheila Ooltewah
You may not believe this, but there are many educators and child development specialists who put coloring books right up there with loaded guns and a steady dose of French fries as the worst things you can give to a young child! Most children younger than 5 years can’t begin to stay within the lines—and couldn’t care less about whether they do. In their early drawing and coloring they tend to make big strokes lacking in patterns detectable to most of us but meaningful to them. They don’t have the necessary control of the fine muscles in the hand and arm to enable them to put a given bit of color in a particular place to conform to a specific shape. Yet they love to color and to paint!

Do you have a computer? If you do and are like me, you waste a lot of paper. Sometimes a sheet will come out of my printer with just one line of type on it. I save all those sheets for my grandchildren to color and paint on, cutting off that line of print. (They’re sneaky. If I don’t cut that line off, they complain that the paper has been used.) They are getting to the age now when they like to tell me something about their pictures. But a wise teacher taught me years ago not to ask a 4-year-old “What’s that?” Resist that temptation, and keep the paper coming.

And, by the way, rock her and sing to her as long as she wants you to. Too soon, too soon, she won’t let you.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education