Short Answer: Yes!
There are numerous benefits to coloring- both art benefits and non-art benefits and I want to tell you about some of the most important ones. Some of these benefits are similar to the benefits of tracing, but there a few unique ones too.
Before we jump in, I feel compelled to point out the assumptions inherent in the question, “Does coloring count as art time.” First, we’re assuming that some things count as art time and some things don’t. I don’t think art fits into this all or nothing dichotomy. Many activities have art related benefits, even if improving art skills/awareness isn’t your main goal.
Second, we’re assuming that art time needs to be counted. You don’t need to reach the perfect number of art hours in order to reap the benefits of an art-filled life (or in order to be the perfect teacher). All of life’s subjects integrate with each other. Live life fully and incorporate the visual arts as you can. You’re doing great!
Those two caveats aside, I think the heart of the question is, “Does coloring reap art related benefits?”
Yes. Yes it does. Let’s lay them out, shall we?
1. Improves Fine Motor Skills
This is probably the most obvious one! Anytime kids (or adults) are coloring they are increasing their ability to control the slight movements of the hand/fingers. As that control improves, all sorts of other activities will improve too: handwriting, needlecraft, sculpting, dissection, welding, assembly of small parts, sorting small pieces, etc… pretty much anything that you’d have to take your mittens off for!
2. Stimulates Creativity
I talk more about creativity in my book, but I define creativity as “the ability, given to each of us by God, to imagine new combinations of things.” Coloring helps kids see and try to replicate specific combinations of colors and then experiment with their own color combinations. That leads us to number three…
3. Increases Color Awareness
We start our toddlers off with learning the names of the basic colors. As kids grow, they start to notice the ‘in between’ colors (the tertiary colors on the color wheel), and we help them name those colors: turquoise, coral, and lime green…
As kids color, they can marvel at how many different colors of green there are, and begin to intuitively understand some of the basic principles of the color wheel. Even without us explicitly teaching it, kids can see that one green is closer to blue in color, while a different green is closer to yellow.
Soon, they start experimenting with different color combinations and without knowing it, they develop an opinion on which colors they like best. They’ll use all these ideas in art as they notice the colors in a famous work of art or create their own art with their favorite colors.
4. Grows Patience
When we ask kids to color, you’ll notice that some kids will sit for hours and color while others lay down a few scribbly lines and claim they are done. I don’t usually tell kids how they need to color (e.g. in between the lines, lots of colors…). Although if they ask for help in achieving a certain look, I’m always ready to make suggestions. Instead, I like to tell them the amount of time we’ll be coloring. One of my goals is to get each child to work for that amount of time. If he or she would rather not color the picture provided, I always let him/her color/draw on blank paper. Even the kids who doodle in black and white are reaping benefits, like increased patience, during this time. In our video-game saturated culture, it’s just good to sit and doodle or color from time to time.
5. Grows Pattern Recognition
Art often has pattern and rhythm (one of the Principles of Design), but you may not notice it until you start coloring a line drawing of a famous work of art. However, once you start coloring, you can’t help but noticed where colors and shapes repeat themselves.
Creating abstract art with patterns is also fun. You can create a fun piece by repeating a similar shape in different sizes or colors. So much of Op Art is all about manipulating patterns!
6. Coloring is Relaxing
Coloring also reduces stress and anxiety. (Am I the only homeschooler with stress and anxiety?) Both adults and children can benefit from all different kinds of coloring!
…And Many More
Coloring is also a great way to experiment with a new media and, of course, it’s great quality time with your children. Coloring is more than cheap therapy, it’s a valuable life habit.
You can color with markers, pencils, chalk pastels, or even crayons! (Here’s 5 Tips for Beautiful Coloring with Crayons). My sons both prefer colored pencils.
How about you? What are you favorite benefits of coloring? What’s your favorite way to color?