Why Cows Can be Purple

Growing up we’re told to color within the lines, that trees should be green and the sky should be blue. But, honestly, that’s a load of bull.

In my church I work with kids ages 3 to 6, I sit in on their classes and assist the classroom teacher. The 2 most notable things I’ve gained from working with them is (1) little bow ties are adorable, and (2) people have this ever present idea that teaching children to not color a cat green or a tree rainbow somehow enhances their cognitive and motor abilities. It’s believed that teaching children to color in the lines allows their brains to learn how certain shapes and colors function in the real world.

While it is very true that young children need to gain a firm grip on how the reality of color and shape in the world outside of their coloring books and crayons works, after a period of time they already have an understanding of these concepts. Eventually it just becomes a hinder on advancing their “outside of the box” thinking.

Intelligence is not defined by the amount of facts a person knows or whether or not they understand the basic ideas of life written out for them once again in plain ink. Intelligence is defined by the human ability to see how something is functioning on the outside and to question, “How does this work?” As Robert Sternberg said, intelligence is a “mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection, and shaping of real-world environments relevant to one’s life.”

We don’t remember our greatest philosophers and scientists in history for being able to identify an apple for an apple. We remember them for looking at that apple and thinking what it could be used for or what makes it up? We remember them for looking on a deeper level.

When children are young they see the world in a different way than they will as they grow older. They see a dog and think it can blue or see sheep and wonder why it’s wool looks different than a cat’s fur. But as time goes on they begin to see the world like the rest of us. They begin to see that a dog can’t be blue or purple, and so on and so forth. But if we begin to help develop that creative thinking, that innate ability to question, perhaps we could further develop it into something more; something long-lasting.

“Part of what we encourage to do through art is to construct meaning and synthesize their understanding of the world. To engage at a deeper level.” (Melody Milbrandt) Creativity and art are not just merely expressions of color and lines, they’re the physical manifestations of the inner working of people’s minds. They’re the abstract expression of how the world functions. And they’re not merely paintings or sculptures. The usage of creative thinking is seen in every aspect of human life, in every decision and discovery. Newton wouldn’t have discovered the functions of gravity if he sat there and simply took to understanding that apples fall and things can bounce. He did what children are so good at doing, he questioned how it worked.

So when you see a child coloring a cow purple or coloring outside of lines don’t tell her she’s doing something wrong. Ask her questions, like: “Why is that cow purple?” or “Do you know what colors cows are in real life?” Help her to question, don’t hinder her from doing what she’s made to do. And maybe next time you’re coloring in your stress-relief mandala books or helping her color that cow, give it a try. Color outside of the lines, make that cow purple!

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