How do I teach my kid colours?

No doubt about it, this is a fantastic query. But before we get on to the ins and outs of teaching your kid colours, I have a confession to make. This morning, while researching this article, I discovered something that shook me to my very core. It turns out that I, that I, that I… just say it, man. Fine. Here goes. It turns out that I have spent the last 35 years singing the incorrect words to the rainbow song.

I’m serious. Instead of warbling, “Red and yellow and pink and green. Purple and orange and blue, I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too,” I’ve been crooning, “Red and yellow and pink and blue. Orange and indigo too. I can see a rainbow, see a rainbow, can you see one too?”

Astounding, isn’t it? I mean, how did I come up with these words? Why did no-one tell me? Have all the other parents at singing group been laughing behind my back? Are there any other popular songs I’m butchering on a daily basis? Have I ever even looked at a rainbow? There are just so many questions, but right now the one desperate to emerge from your voice box is: look mate, this rainbow stuff is all well and good, but are you ever actually going to get on to answering the actual question this article is supposed to be about, because, you know, time is money and I’ve got a kid waiting to learn colours here?

Okay, okay, keep your hair on. Now I’ve shared my rainbow shame, I do indeed feel ready to reveal the four separate methods my wife and I are using to teach our kid colours. Which are…

1. “What colour?”

You know how your toddler just loves to ask you the same question over and over and over and over and over again? Well, now it’s payback time. And what I mean by this is: whenever you show or give him or her anything, tell them what colour it is and then ask them what colour it is – e.g. “This blanket is blue, what colour is this blanket?” or “This is bowl is red, what colour is this bowl?”

Admittedly, this technique gets pretty dull pretty quickly, but the teacher who told us about it assured us it would help and she was bang on the money. After a few weeks, we dropped the opening statement in favour of simply posing the “what colour is…” question. And do you know what? Provided he isn’t ridiculously tired or in the middle of an important episode of Fireman Sam, our son gets just about every one right.

2. The fetch game

To play this game you need 16 traffic cones, three washing machines, a working iPhone, a pre-paid credit card and a piece of sticky-back plastic. Not really. You simply need a bunch of coloured balls or a box of multi-coloured fridge magnets. Got them? Great, then let the fun begin.

Place the balls or fridge magnets at one side of the room and then stand with your son or daughter on the opposite side. Now ask them to go to the other side of the room and bring back a green/yellow/red/blue (delete as applicable) ball or fridge magnet.

If they bring back the correct colour, whoop, holler, high-five, chest bump and generally make them aware that they’ve done something amazing that’s made you really proud. And if they bring back the wrong one, calmly say, “No, this is blue, I’d like a green one,” before sending them off to the other side of the room again. Hopefully, they’ll pick the right ball or magnet this time, but if they don’t keep repeating this process until they do.

Important note: don’t give too many colour options, as results will vary to begin with and there are only so many times your kid is going to cross the room before he or she stomps their feet and screams, “Free me from this fresh hell you demonic authoritarian.” Or, you know, “Nooooooooooo. Waahhhhhh. Nooooooo.”

3. Repetitive singing

Our son’s first nursery – which taught him absolutely loads – swore by this method, which sees parents sing the name of a colour on a pretty much tune-free repetitive loop until their kid is a blue-recognising genius. For example, “This bag is blue, blue is the bag. Blue, blue, blue, blue bag. This bag is blue. B-L-U-E, blue. Blue, blue, blue.”

Painful? Yes. Effective? Also yes.

4. Multi-disciplinary craft activities

It’s time for this post’s second big revelation. Which is… I originally planned to publish this piece in the run-up to Christmas. Why am I telling you this? I’m coming clean, because, when they heard that I was preparing an article about teaching a kid colours, the good people at kindly offered to send me an exercise that was proven to help to children with both their colour recognition and their counting.

This type of fee-free, brain-boosting double whammy doesn’t come along very often, so I instantly gave the learning website’s PR lady the thumbs up. A day or so later, she sent me a fantastic December-centric activity involving Christmas trees that, because it’s now February, I’ve turned into the below activity involving plain old green trees.

Green tree counting

What you need

  • Green and yellow construction paper
  • A pair of scissors
  • A pencil
  • A hole punch
  • A glue stick
  • Some Play-Doh
  • Some string or thin wire

What to do

  1. Take out the green construction paper. Emphasise that the paper is “green” and then ask your child to draw a tree on it.
  2. Cut out this tree and then use it as a stencil to cut nine more trees.
  3. Take out the yellow construction paper out. Emphasise that the paper is “yellow” and then ask your child to draw ten small stars on it.
  4. Cut out ten stars and write numbers ‘1’ through ’10’ on each star.
  5. Encourage your child to glue a “yellow” star to the top of each “green” tree.
  6. Ask your child to read the numbers on the “yellow stars” that are on the “green trees”.
  7. Show your child how to make a small ball using Play-Doh.
  8. Ask your little one to make the specific number of balls that are written on each “yellow star” and then press these balls on to the star (note: they should stick for a short while naturally, but if you want them to permanently stick use glue).
  9. After your child has finished pressing on the balls, ask them to count them out loud, while touching each ball. If they count all the numbers correctly, give them a big celebratory hug. If they don’t, calmly make any necessary corrections.
  10. Make a small hole in the top of every tree, weave a piece of string or thin wire through these holes and then hang the trees in a long row somewhere in the house.
  11. Keep re-visiting the decoration with your child, making sure to ask them questions about both the colours and the numbers.

In summary

Got all that? Great, then all that remains to be said is: party at Baber’s house, wooooo! Sorry, I have no idea what just came over me. What I actually wanted to say was: I know that we parents are all battling to get ahead, but there’s no need to worry or call in a tutor if your toddler doesn’t nail his or her colours instantly.

How do I know this? I know it, because my mum used to be a teacher and, according to her, it was pretty common for five-year-olds to struggle with their greens, browns and blues. Given this information, it’s fair to say your little one has a bit of time yet :-).

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