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Coloring Outside the Lines

Q. My son scribbles all over his coloring books. I think he should learn to stay within the lines, but my husband believes that'll stifle his creativity. Who's right?

A. He is. While coloring is an excellent way for young children to develop finger and wrist dexterity and good hand-eye coordination, staying inside the lines offers no advantages, says Sandra Fisher, assistant professor of early-childhood education at Kutztown University, in Kutztown, PA. "It's actually developmentally inappropriate to urge children this age to color in the lines, since they don't have fine motor control yet."

In fact, it's a good idea to alternate the coloring books with blank paper. Freehand doodling will not only enhance your child's fine motor skills, it will give him a sense of autonomy and another way to communicate. "Children express themselves more freely in their drawings, especially if they still have limited vocabularies," says Fisher.

As long as your son is attempting some representational drawing (i.e., family, a pet, or a tree) by age 4, he's right on track  -- even if he has his own style of covering his coloring-book pages.