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Developing Coloring Skills in 3-Year-Olds

by Aline Lindemann, studioD

Three-year olds are expressive little people. Help your child learn healthy forms of self-expression through art. Coloring is a great way to start. When your child draws on paper, he is communicating with you. Resist the temptation to call his work "scribbles" or "doodles," because in his eyes, his work means something. If you would like to help your child develop those coloring skills beyond the abstract, sit beside him and watch his method, and then add variety and challenge to his repertoire.

Fine Motor Skill Development

The way a person uses his hands and fingers and displays hand-eye coordination are known as fine motor skills. If your child doesn't already do so, help your 3-year-old hold a crayon or pencil with the fingers and thumb instead of clenching it in his fist. He will have more control over the marks he wants to make. If your child struggle with this, don't force the issue. Help him develop those fine motor skills in other ways. Encourage him to pick up buttons or dried beans with his thumb and index finger and glue them on paper, or let him practice stringing beads. Cutting paper with a safety scissors also develops tiny finger muscles.

Gross Motor Skill Development

Give your child the opportunity to make art while developing gross motor skills. Children develop their gross motor skills when they use their larger muscles to move and practice balance. Clip a large piece of paper on a child-sized easel and let him color with crayons or markers. If your child likes to be active, this might make art more appareling to him.

Materials and Methods

Provide a variety of materials for your 3-year-old and be open to new ways your child might use them. Crayons are wonderful, but so are finger paints and cotton swabs dipped in paint. Coloring pages give boundaries and borders for your child, but don't worry if he ignores them. Some children like them, some don't even see them, and neither way is right or wrong. Provide white paper, colored paper, sandpaper and newspaper for your child to color on. The variety will stimulate his creativity.


Encourage your child by commenting on his effort and creativity. His self-expression is unique -- his art doesn't have to look like a computer generated image or even resemble anyone else's work. Name colors and shapes while you're out and about with your little one and ask him to describe what he sees. Point out art and book illustrations and discuss them with your child. Show him the natural world and ask him to describe the colors, shapes and textures, and then talk about how you might draw pictures of what you've seen together.

About the Author

Aline Lindemann is a health, food and travel writer. She has also worked as a social worker, preschool teacher and art educator. Lindemann holds a Master of Liberal Studies in culture, health and creative nonfiction writing from Arizona State University.

Photo Credits

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