The inspiration for writing this piece came with this novel revelation. Counting is easier than colours for most children, says Dr Dhody, a renowned ENT specialist from RIMS, Ranchi. In his several years of experience, he has witnessed many children who have problems recognising colours.
“First we tell them that leaves are green. Then they see that every tree has a differently-coloured green leaf on it. Don’t you think it’s confusing?” he says.
While numbers remain the same, placed anywhere in any context, colours have shades.
“Some kids call everything yellow,” he says as I let out a shocked ‘huh!’ over the phone. My thought: how does he know that until he was three, my son called everything yellow?
Jokes apart, Dr Dhody has thrown light into a common day-to-day issue. He says that before we start worrying about teaching our children to identify colours, we should think about the range of colour shades they have to learn, and so go easy with them.
Here are a few insights I gained from our conversation and the five colour experiments with which you can help your child identify colours:
1) When everything is yellow
“When everything seems yellow to your child, then talk about only those things which are actually yellow,” explains Dr Dhody.
It’s ideal that we should start with one colour palette at a time. If the child is recognising a colour, show him/her all the variations of that colour. After that, move to another colour. It’s about taking one colour at a time–breaking it down into shades for ease of learning.
“Each time children see the same colour having a different quality to it, they gain advanced knowledge,” the doctor says. “The more number of variations that you provide for a single colour, the stronger the foundation for that colour gets,” he adds.
Here’s a fun activity you can do
Cook an egg sunny side up.
Cook some yellow lentils.
Cut lemon into wedges.
Slice one yellow bell pepper to make a salad.
Take a teaspoon of haldi powder.
Fry some besan pakoras (gram flour fritters)
Serve all these items on a plate to your child. Works best with two-to-three-year-olds. However, you may try it out with an older child as well, just for fun!
What’s the point?
You have served a plate full of eatables that are different shades of a single colour (yellow). Apart from teaching food varieties, your child will learn the many shades of a certain colour that are available in food.
This activity ingrains the idea of a colour, and its shades into the child.
Since spinach and peas are calling out to me from my fridge, I’m trying the colour green first. What about you?
2) “Go green has another meaning for us now.”
Nivedita and her three-year-old observed a go-green week. All of that week, they wore green-coloured outfits, ate green apples, planted a few saplings, and even baked muffins to which they added green food colour.
“It was our way of having some colour fun,” says Nivedita.
“Making kids dress up in their favourite colour is an age-old technique of teaching colours,” says Hema, a teacher at Kangaroo Kids, Mumbai. When I told her about Nivedita’s ideas she said that it was indeed a step forward and can be easily aped in school as well.
How does it help?
“Firstly, if we give them time, they bloom,” says Hema about children in general. When a certain concept or idea is given time, they acquire it well and then they bloom or flourish with it.
“Attaching a week long time frame for colours or taste entails repetition. It’s common knowledge that children enjoy repetition and it’s also one of the best ways to learn,” she concludes.
Hema insists upon exposure and creating numerous experiences for the same colour as one of the better methods of teaching.
I think if I ask my son which colour week he wants to try, we’ll end up eating only chocolate that week. It’ll be an overexposed brown week!
3) Apples are not red
The most primitive and damaging thing that we do is standardising colours for our children says the 67-year-old doctor.
“Apples are red, trees are green, and water is blue so anything that is not water is not blue?” he says and without a breath admonishingly adds, “Or are you saying that water cannot have any other colour but blue? I’ve seen water become green as it mixes with algae.”
He seems to be losing patience with me (I didn’t invent ‘water is blue,’ did I?) Anyway, I go on with my questions.
“All these associations make fixed ideas about colours,” he concludes.
The way out
Dr Dhody suggests that we teach children that colours have no shapes, no form, no texture, and no taste. Just like clothes, colours are only the external look of a certain thing. So we can have a red apple as well as a red t-shirt. The same colour gets applied to many things and we should avoid fixated ideas.
Cut out pieces out of coloured chart paper—choosing only two or three colours max. Then ask kids to stick those coloured pieces of paper on things around them that they feel can be of that colour.
My son stuck all the three colours to my shirt saying that clothes can be of every colour. But he is five and knows colours well. For children who are still grappling with learning colours, this activity works really well.
A friend’s two-year-old stuck green, white, and red to an apple saying, “Green apples, red apples, and the inside of apple white.”
So, snip snip!
4) An eye for an eye
Don’t worry I’m not talking warship here. This is just another interesting insight that I gained from the vast experience of Dr Dhody. “When you explain colours, compare the same things,” he says.
Compare a red t-shirt with a blue t-shirt to talk about red and blue; not a red ball with a blue t-shirt!
“Children understand parity much better. Too many differences confuse them,” he says. Firstly, we want them to understand two different colours. Then, we even want them to identify different objects having different colours.
“Don’t you think that is one difference too many?” he asks. “The best way for such comparisons is through toys, especially balls.”
A fun activity you can do
Based on his instructions and understanding his premise, I researched this fun activity based on comparison to learn about colours.
Collect as many as 30 light and bouncy balls in a tub or a clean laundry bin. (Buy, rent, or borrow the balls.)
Once you have the balls collected in one place, ask your child to club the same-coloured balls together. Give him/her small pots or bins to collect them.
If you have a toddler at home, don’t forget to try out this one!
5) Blind to it?
As my discussion with Dr Dhody is about to conclude, the doctor hits upon a very delicate nerve. He mentions early childhood colour blindness.
“It’s very common for people to not be able to distinguish between red, green, and maybe blue,” he says. “Many adults are unable to spot these colours from afar and still live a normal life.”
Although he sounds casual, I nudge him to explain the severity of the matter.
All children have trouble identifying colours in the beginning. It is only when a child is ready for junior school that such problems get witnessed.
“For early learners, parents should try and show bold colours and go with repetition,” he explains.
Is it genetic?
The difficulty in colour identification is not genetic in nature. Dr Dhody says that it is nothing to worry about. Going slow with concepts of colour is a good way to begin than introducing several colours at once.
Same wine in another bottle–avoid too many and too much.
Here’s a fun activity you can do
I researched a fun activity whereby bold colours like red, blue, and green can be introduced to children. This will also help them grasp the idea of colours, if they are grappling with it.
This is a simple variation of the ‘I Spy’ game.
For example, you say, “I spy, with the corner of my eye, a blue shoe.” Your child has to look around the room and point at the blue shoe when he/she spots it.
In the same manner, you can go on talking about the various objects in the room and their diverse colours. As Dr Dhody clearly mentions, stick to bold and solid colours.
Try it and you’ll agree!
Do you have a colour introduction technique for your child? Share one or two with us in the ‘Comments’ section.
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