Do preschoolers need us to sit down with them and give a lesson on color recognition? Surprisingly, it is probably unnecessary. Most children have more than one color in their wardrobe, more that one color food on their plate, or several toys of different colors to play with. With the world as their classroom, children can find learning success in everyday experiences if parents understand how to use these tools.
One way of opening up the world of color language for children, is to talk in rich detail about what is happening at any given moment. For example: “The green car in front of us is getting gas just like we are.” When children hear expressive language, they learn to speak that way. They have a great capacity to sort information and come to a conclusion of what we mean. Thus, a very young child can figure out that in the above example, the word green has something to do with the appearance of the car they are looking at.
Another fun way to help children recognize their colors is to sing about them. Most of us are familiar with the children’s song Mary wore a red dress. This is an example of using a familiar object to teach colors. Sing about the colors your child is wearing, sing about the green apples at lunch, sing about the purple tulips in your neighbor’s garden. Song is a wonderful way to get children excited about anything. The happy tones in your voice tell them that something important is going on here. Make up your color song to any tune you know, even if it is a rock or rap ditty. Simply put music and rhythm to a beautiful object and the color of that object. Music creates a powerful connection in your child’s mind that will last longer than rote memorization of the color wheel.
Maybe you just don’t picture yourself as a songbird and the idea of singing about colors has you breaking out in a cold sweat. Don’t worry! There are many other ways of helping your child discover colors. Try giving your child a choice of two different colored shirts when she is getting dressed. Use the words for the colors as you ask “Would you like to wear the brown shirt or the blue one today?” Children love having control over many aspects of their lives so letting them choose their clothes will be a sure hit.
What if your child really does have trouble with certain colors? There are fun ways of correcting that as well. When my oldest was just about to turn three, she knew most of her colors. She had trouble with purple, however, and kept calling it brown or blue even though she knew brown and blue on their own. Well, to help the idea hit home we had a purple party. First we invited a couple friends about her age. We made white cupcakes with white icing and sprinkled purple sugar on top. We served purple cool-aid with the cupcakes. My daughter and her little friends had fun taping purple streamers around the dinning room and having me paint a small purple star or heart on their cheeks with face paint. We had gone to the library and checked out Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson and I read it at the party. Everyone went home with purple party favors like small bubbles, pencils, and lollipops. I printed up a fact sheet about the color purple for the adults to enjoy. The whole thing lasted about half an hour and the kids stayed happy the whole time. My daughter never had trouble with the color purple after that.
The point here is that having a sit down lesson and drilling your child on their colors is not really the natural, child driven way of learning their colors. Such structure at this early age may actually push children away from a desire to learn. Don’t take these early years too seriously for they speed quickly by. Life with a preschooler will flow more smoothly if parents learn to recognize a teaching moment and know how to make it fun.