A look at teaching color to young children
Picture it: an early childhood classroom decorated and ready for the new school year. What is often seen? Color coded organization, possibly shapes in different colors with either the shape name or color name on it, brightly colored bulletin boards, etc. It makes perfect sense to begin teaching children things like colors and shapes at very young ages, right? Yes and no. Let me tell you why, but first let me preface the following information with this: I am not a child development expert. I am a mother of two, former early education teacher, a yoga teacher teaching kids and adults, and a bit of a brain development and neuroscience enthusiast. I am in no way qualified to be considered an expert, just a mom with some ideas on teaching color to our kids in less boring ways. Let’s dig in.
Every mother wants to brag on their kid a bit, after all, we all have baby geniuses. So we start teaching them colors, shapes, animals, sounds, and various other tasks that seem like a good idea. Maybe some of us out there have done a little research on milestones and the like too. What I am finding when I research is children identify objects (often animals) much sooner than they identify colors, shapes, or other descriptive qualities related to those objects. For my daughter, age 1, everything black and white is a cow. So there is a color connection, just not always with the correct noun. Upon some Googling on the subject of color identification and color name association, I found (and remembered from past studies) children develop the ability to identify color quite early. However, their ability to name a color correctly comes much later because the necessary language skills take longer to develop. Children actually learn to identify nouns before they learn the language to describe those nouns. Theoretically then, it would make sense to teach them to find an item before a color. For example, “The dog is black” would allow them to focus on finding the object first, then identify the distinguishing quality, in this case color. This is somewhat nontraditional but it works with the way their minds develop. Nouns before adjectives, so why not shift our speech to accommodate that progression? Recognizing color is one of the first basic skills children learn and serve as building blocks for future classification skills needed in math, science, language, and reading. So when “should” your child be able to identify all colors and name them correctly? The developmental timeline is all over the place. Each child, as we know, is different; and then there’s the difference in gender. Typically girls develop these skills sooner than boys, but not always. After reviewing several web sources on speech therapy and language development, the general consensus was by the end of age four, children should be able to identify some colors correctly. By the end of age five it is estimated they can name at least four colors and their color name correctly. Phew – I feel better. I thought they had to have it down pat by age 2! Pressure’s off, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be planting seeds for those classification skills, language development, object identification, and just some fun quality time with our kids. Here are some ideas:
Scavenger hunt: Place items of various colors (or one color if you have a singular focus) around the house or classroom and have your children find the items. If they are of reading age and you are really creative, you can write up riddles or clues to help them along their way. This would also be a fun way to get active with your children by going around town on a walk or a bike ride to find certain items. At each stop, take a Yoga stretch break (you could have predetermined poses) and take a photo in the pose with the found object—make it a photo scavenger hunt! Also a great idea for summer day camps, day cares/preschools, and homeschool or moms’ groups.
Technology: Because we are often on the go or need our children to have independent play time, and let’s face it, they love technology. I found two great apps for the iPad called “Speak Colors” and “Color Me Pete.” Both will focus on color recognition and naming. Color Me Pete uses the phone’s camera and encourages children to find items in 10 different colors in their own environment—so no sitting down on this one!
Twisted Twister: Do you remember playing Twister as a kid? Well, now you can tap into your own inner child while helping your own child learn colors while moving their body! Children learn best through play, and many times when they learn something kinesthetically it sticks. So calling out colors and body parts to either get them into a yoga pose or really twist them up could be loads of fun! Think speed and agility, too: hopping from color to color, planking and “walking” side to side from color to color.
Red Scarf, Green Scarf, Tree Pose: One of our amazing Kidding Around Yoga teachers posted an idea for a quiet version of the classic game, Red Light Green Light, using the colored scarves. I love it. Another way to utilize scarves would be to designate a pose or movement for each scarf color. I imagine printing out or drawing yoga poses or exercises (like jumping jacks or push-ups) and putting them onto colored card stock. This gives the kids a visual. Then the parent or teacher holds up scarves of each color and the kids do the corresponding movement. For older children, you could write the color word on the photo (no colored paper), and then they have to correctly identify the color word with the matching scarf while doing the movement. Lots of possibilities for this one too!
I hope this got creative juices flowing on ways to teach color to your children as well as adding some movement to their lives. Other ideas are color sorting fresh fruits and veggies after shopping for them together, sorting socks, and for really little ones you can use food coloring in milk to experiment with mixing colors (and it’s safe to ingest!). I’m so thankful the world is a colorful place, aren’t you?