We ask: “What color is that?” – “Blue,” our little one responds.
“No, that is red. Can you say ‘red’?”, we say in an attempt to teach our child.
Teaching colors is a simple concept that every mom feels confident about. We might struggle in other areas, but we have colors covered. Right?
Well, not always.
I have been approached by many concerned moms about their child not knowing their colors. Some have even begun to wonder if their child is color blind or if the underlying problem is a learning disability.
And my advice to moms has always been the same. ‘STOP teaching your child to identify colors.’
BUT how are they going to learn? The same way they learn everything else when we are not watching. By following their curiosity.
Children don’t want to be taught. They don’t want to answer our inquiries about colors (or letters, or numbers).
They want to do it their way. They want to explore and make their own discoveries.
Therefore, it is in their best interest (and ours) to utilize the power of their innate curiosity and follow their lead.
Spinning a web
Imagine a little boy interested in dinosaurs. He tells you all the names no matter how long and complicated they are. He explains what each dinosaur likes to eat, whether they live on land, can swim or fly. He has all the details and before you know it, you have acquired more information about dinosaurs than you ever thought possible.
How did he learn all that?
No one sat him down and asked him to memorize the names of the dinosaurs. He didn’t fill out any worksheets.
The little boy was introduced to dinosaurs at some point in his life. He was intrigued. These creatures looked interesting. They made awesome noises. He needed to find out more. So, he started talking about dinosaurs and got excited every time he saw one. His parents noticed his interest and purchased him some dinosaur books. A few months later, they took him to the museum to see the dinosaur exhibit. He began to draw dinosaurs and loved making up dinosaur stories, weaving in everything he was learning.
Over time, the boy picked up bits and pieces of information that he tied together to create a detailed web of dinosaur knowledge. A web that is continuously expanding.
When we compare that to trying to ‘teach’ our children colors it becomes obvious why it can be such an uphill battle.
Knowing all the colors is simply not a priority for our children. They could care less because there are by far more interesting things happening around them that require their attention.
If your daughter loves purple, I bet she can identify it every single time. Though, she may mix up blue and green for quite a while. A girl that is in love with purple has no interest in learning the difference between blue and green. To her, they are simply colors that are NOT purple.
Planting the seeds for learning colors
Instead of seeing ‘learning colors’ as a stand-alone activity, try looking at colors as a small piece of information in a bigger web of knowledge. One data point that is tied to all the other knowledge your child possesses.
By naturally weaving colors into our conversations with our children, we are planting the seeds for learning colors. And as soon as their brain has enough data points, it creates the connection between the color ‘green’ and the word ‘green’. It doesn’t require any extra effort.
Now one might argue that by reading books about colors or using flash cards, we are feeding the brain the information it needs to make the connection. But that assumption ignores the fact that the brain only retains information it finds interesting.
Do you remember a time back in school when you were required to learn something you had not the slightest interest in? It was hard and almost impossible, wasn’t it? For me that was chemistry. It still confuses me to this day.
You can’t make a child (or adult) learn something they are not interested in.
All that being said, we don’t have to take a completely hands-off approach. Colors are fun. And I want my children to appreciate and enjoy the range of colors that surround us. Instead of memorizing colors, we play with colors through hands-on activities that they get excited about and most importantly, activities that don’t solemnly focus on colors.
That brings us to one of my favorite early spring activities that happens to involve colors.
Exploring Shades of Green
Each year in March, I start my nature classes off with a search for spring.
We read “And then it’s spring” by Julie Fogliano. It’s an endearing book about a little boy who plants seeds at the end of winter. He patiently waits for them to grow. And at the end of the book, his brown winter world turns into a lush green world ready to be explored and enjoyed.
The children are always fascinated by my ‘Shades of Green’ poster and we refer to it throughout the season. Isn’t it relaxing, just looking at it?
Before we embark on our search for spring, everyone creates their own set of green cards. They are a combination of paint chips from the hardware store, and white card stock, which is colored in with colored pencils, crayons, markers or paint. All the cards are gathered on a binder ring.
And when they exclaim: “I have a match!” as they hold one of their green cards next to a leaf, I know I have done my job.
This activity is planting the seed for further exploration on their own. And that is all we need to do.
We don’t need to start asking our children to name the different shades of green. We don’t need to be on a mission to point out every shade of green that we cross paths with.
Trust your child.
Trust that your child has the skills and motivation to embark on this journey independently. And trust that your child will come to you with questions when she is ready for more information.
Our job is to plant the seed, water it from time to time and then sit back to watch the magic unfold.
I know it’s easier said then done. Especially when everyone is telling us we need to do X,Y and Z to get our children ready for school. But it’s possible and it gets easier once you watch your child thrive.
I constantly have to remind myself to give my daughter the space she needs to learn at her pace and by herself. My son, on the other hand, is always ready for more information but also needs lots of time to digest it all and experiment on his own.