Girl coloring

I absolutely love coloring pages for kids. They’re inexpensive (or even free), take just a couple of supplies for success, come in designs so that there’s something of interest for every child, and can be enjoyed by children at any skill level. Plus, they’re the perfect grab and go screen-free activity.

Of course, I look at them with my OT perspective and see even more benefits…with just a few tweaks. Let me share with you some of the ways that I’ve used coloring pages to develop a child’s skills…and stick around to the end for a free coloring pages sample bundle.

Free Coloring Pages for Kids Sampler
FREE Printable Coloring Pages Sampler

How to Improve Core Strength with Coloring

This little tip will not only help improve your child’s core strength, but it’ll also improve shoulder and wrist stability. It’s super simple. Just tape the color page onto the wall and color on the vertical surface. Another position you can try is to have your child lay on his/her back under a table with the coloring page taped to the bottom of the table (a coffee table or child’s table so that it is within easy reach). Then they will just reach up to color the page.

Or simply try having your child lie on his/her stomach with the paper in front on the floor. This is great for strenthening through the entire upper body and core.

daughter and mother layer on floor coloring together

One last position to try is to sit at a table but turn your child’s seat sideways so that their back is not supported. This will force them to engage those core muscles in order to sit up straight. You can also use alternative seating, like an exercise ball or wobble stool while doing any seated task.

Changing up the position is also a great way to engage those little ones who simply can’t sit still for any activity.

Tips for Using Coloring Pages to Improve Fine Motor Skills

I know that when coloring with little ones, there are all kinds of special crayons out there that you can buy, but don’t bother. Trust me. Instead, just break your regular crayons in half.

I know that it’s nice to have beautiful new crayons, but they’re better tools for promoting fine motor skills when broken. Take it from an occupational therapist with years of experience. This makes it almost impossible for children to grasp the crayon with a fisted grasp and instead forces them to use fingertips, moving toward a mature grasp for better writing when the time comes.

broken crayons

Gently encourage your child to use fingertips to hold the crayon, but then let them use their own creativity to color the picture, even going outside of the lines if they haven’t yet mastered staying inside the lines. Be as hands off as you can (while also maintaining safety if needed).

Improve Visual Perceptual Skills with Coloring Pages

We’re always telling kids that they need to stay inside the lines when coloring, but the truth is that little ones aren’t necessarily developmentally ready for that. Generally speaking, kids should begin coloring inside the lines by about ages 5 to 6. If your child is in that age range and still scribbling like crazy, try this…

Before having your child color on the page, go around some of the main borders of the picture with a bead of Elmer’s glue (let it dry overnight) or hot glue. You can even use those sticky wikki stix. Just press them down firmly. You’re creating a tactile border around the object to be colored, in addition to the visual border. They can feel where they should stop and will begin to integrate that into their understanding of the activity when the border is later moved. *This works best if the coloring page is printed onto cardstock.

Save these coloring pages ideas for kids for later. Pin them to your favorite pinterest board…

coloring pages for kids used for optimizing skills with picture of kids coloring

Add Sensory Elements to Coloring Activities

There are so many ways to add sensory elements to the coloring experience. One of my favorites is to again use Elmer’s glue either on the border or to fill in some parts of the picture. Before it dries, sprinkle on some salt and shake off the excess. Then let it dry. You can color over this for the sensation. Or use water colors and watch how the paint spreads out when you touch the salt. *This works best if the coloring pages is printed onto cardstock.

I also like looking into my craft bag to see what I might be able to add to the picture that will integrate the sensation of touch. This might be some beads that get glued in place, fluffy cotton, pompoms, pipe cleaners or yarn that can be glued onto the picture. There’s no wrong way to integrate these elements.

Maybe you want to create fluffy clouds or give a jacket soft fluffy cuffs with the cotton. Or you can go around the outline with yarn and glue. Put a pompom in the center of a flower. Just use your imagination.

You can also add a sensory element to coloring by placing something under the paper while your child is coloring, like rough sand paper or (my favorite) plastic cross stick material. This approach adds friction. To reduce friction, for another sensory experience, use grease pencils, gel pens, water colors or paint sticks for coloring instead of crayons. Or get real messy and use fingerpaints.

fingerpainting close up

Incorporate Crossing Midline Practice

If crossing midline is a new concept, it’s simply the ability to spontaneously move one side of the body into the space of the other side. For the sake of this discussion, we’re referring to midline as the invisible line that separates the body into left and right sides. As adults, we do this all day long without even giving it a second thought. But for many little ones, it can be a challenge to establish this skill. Whenever you do a task like throw a ball, write, use the sink, get dressed…and just about any other activity you can think of…you are crossing midline.

Crossing midline is foundational for a lot of other skills and is an overall marker of coordination. There is a strong correlation with reading, writing and other developmental skills. This may begin developing as early as infancy and should be strongly established through the preschool years as children are beginning to develop hand dominance (a discussion for another time).

If you notice that you’re child is picking up objects with the hand closest to the item but then switches hands, they may be having some difficulty with this skill. The hands will be used more equally, which means that the dominant hand isn’t getting the practice it needs for strong development. Or you may notice that when they are sitting to color or play with something at a table, they shift their body so that the object they want to interact with is to one side rather than in the center.

There are lots of activities that you can do to practice crossing midline. When using coloring sheets, I like to turn them into mosaics using small tissue paper squares. Instead of coloring, glue on small tissue paper squares (flat or crumpled) into the space where you would have colored.

To set it up properly to promote crossing midline, I have a child start the project and take note of what hand he/she is using. Then I place all of the tissue paper squares on the side opposite of that hand and encourage him/her to reach across to pick up each piece.

For a child who struggles with this skill, he/she is going to want to switch to the other hand immediately. I’ll say something like…”Let’s give lefty a break and use righty” (indicating which hand they are to use). If they still struggle to reach across, I may even gently hold the hand that isn’t to be used or ask the child to tuck it under his/her leg (sit on it). Though be sure to keep things light and fun. The goal here is not frustration.

Include Using Scissors into the activity

There are a few ways that you can include learning to use scissors into a coloring activity. My absolute favorite is that when you’re done coloring a picture, cut it into large random shapes to form a simple puzzle. Depending on your child’s skill level, you can just let them snip away or draw a pattern on the back that they will cut.

boy using scissors

If you’re working on cutting on a straight line, just draw lines on the back and cut it into strips. Then mix up those strips and have you child put the picture back together.

Another way that you can integrate using scissors is to cut out the large elements in a picture. This requires a higher skill level, as most shapes will be more complex to cut out.

Introduce Academics with Coloring Pages for Kids

The most obvious skills that we can introduce when coloring are learning shapes, colors, counting and letters.. While coloring, talk about what colors are being used. Experiment with mixing colors together to see what happens. Point out shapes within the pictures. Count things on the coloring page. Sound out letters and words and practice writing a name on the paper when you’re done. Don’t push your own agenda but use the experience to introduce new concepts. It’s such an easy way to expose your preschooler in a fun and playful way to new things that they’ll need to know when kindergarten gets here.

You could even turn any coloring page into a color (or paint) by number. Simply create a key with what color goes with what number. Then use a pencil to lightly write numbers on sections of the picture.

Download FREE Coloring Pages

To get you started using coloring pages to develop your child’s skills, here is a FREE bundle of printable coloring pages for kids to get you started.

All these skills that coloring pages for kids can help with, and we didn’t even mention language skills, bilateral coordination, visual motor skills or improving attention span. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that really can have the biggest impact.

*Please note that I’m an occupational therapist, but I’m not YOUR occupational therapist. None of the activities or ideas that you see here are a substitute for occupational therapy treatment with a licensed provider in your area. None of the opinions that I express here are medical advice; nor do they take the place of an expert local to you. I’m simply an advocate for learning through play and offer resources to make that more accessible.

Save these coloring page ideas for later. pin them to your favorite pinterest board…

coloring pages for kids used for optimizing skills with picture of kids coloring

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