Greenwich teacher lets students color outside the lines

Susan Striker

Susan Striker

Art teacher Susan Striker doesn’t mind if children color outside the lines. In fact, for more than 30 years she’s encouraged young artists to toss out traditional coloring books and create their own drawings.

Ms. Striker, of Easton, is the author of 14 books in the Anti-Coloring Book series and during that time the books have adapted to new generations of children. Since many children today own iPads and other technical devices, Ms. Striker created an Anti-Coloring Book App.

“This is just one more way to reach people,” Ms. Striker, an art teacher in Greenwich at Cos Cob School, said recently.

Recently she did an event in Monroe where children got a chance to do hands-on activities connected by the books and bookstore owner Linda Devlin, a 30-year veteran of the children’s book publishing industry, recalls how popular Ms. Striker’s books were when first published in 1978. During the 1980s and ’90s, when Ms. Devlin, who now owns Linda’s Storytime, worked in the book section of Klein’s retail store, located in Westport, the Anti-Coloring Books were in great demand.

“My customers loved them,” Ms. Devlin said. “I’ve always been a fan.”

The art books often follow a specific theme. On each page young artists are asked to make their own creation using a simple idea or to solve a problem. For example, children will have to draw “a rare bird sitting in a tree” that a group of explorers found on a recent journey.

“It’s one of those books that people pick up and say, ‘Oh, my gosh! Why didn’t I think of that?’” Ms. Devlin said.

Ms. Striker said children love having the freedom to draw what they like rather than simply coloring in pictures that were made for them.

“They are … encouraged to ‘think outside of the box,’” Ms. Striker added. “I’ve always felt passionate about this. Children need to be able to be children.”

As an art teacher, and a young mother in the 1970s, Ms. Striker observed how important it was for children to “scribble.”

Scribbling is natural, Ms. Striker said, and leads to children making the kind of lines which eventually turn into shapes and letters.

“Then you begin to draw,” Ms. Striker said. “Children need to go through this progression.”

Ms. Striker currently works as an art teacher at Cos Cob School in town. She says that every year children inevitably ask her what they should draw when she hands them a blank piece of paper.

“I explain to them that I’m going to set some limits — for example, I may say that today we’re only going to use the color red-but I’m not going to tell them what to make,” Ms. Striker explains.

She firmly believes that adults should tell children “how to think, not what to think.”

However, many parents don’t fully understand her philosophy, she said. Instead of offering creative opportunities for their children to draw and scribble, they give them pre-cut shapes to work with.

Along with the Anti-Coloring Books, Ms. Striker has also publishing several parenting books that promote art for children. In her book Please Touch, Ms. Striker offers art, movement, music and play activities that stimulate children’s creativity. Her book Young at Art, geared for parents and educators of one to five-year-old children, discusses how art affects the development of children’s writing, reading and self-expression.

In 1984, Ms. Striker founded a private art school of the same name — Young at Art — on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She has also taught classes and hosted birthday parties at a studio in Fairfield. And her work in Greenwich has not only inspired students, it won her a Distinguished Teacher Award from the district in 2000 something she topped by being named Elementary Art Educator of the Year by the Connecticut Art Education Association. She’s also been published in national magazines and has even worked as a consultant for a program kids know all too well called Thomas the Tank Engine.

To learn more about Ms. Striker and her art books, including how to order them, go online to Susanstriker.com.

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