Once your child has reached the big milestone of turning 1, you’ll notice they become little sponges of information. They start walking, talking, and being so much more independent now that the baby stage is long gone. Around this age is when you can start introducing them to colors.
It’s important for a child to start hearing words often in order to remember it. Even though they probably won’t be able to fully understand and retain the concept of colors until around 18 months, it’s a good idea to start teaching it early on. This is when learning colors will start to make sense to them, just like learning names of objects made sense to them around the 1 year mark.
Color matching (putting the red piece on the red spot) is one of the simplest forms of learning colors. It may occur first, along with recognizing and choosing colors when asked for them (handing you the red piece when you say give me the red piece). Lastly comes naming colors (being able to say red when asked what color is this?).
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Tips for Learning Colors
The key to your child learning colors is over exposure. As I’ll talk about below, you want to give them tons of opportunities to hear you say the colors names, be asked the color’s names, and see them often. I started really introducing my daughter to colors around 16 months old and she got a grasp of the concept quickly. Here are some simple tips to teach your toddler their colors:
Start with only 2 colors
Don’t overwhelm your toddler with too many colors at once. Focus on two at a time and then add more in as they become familiar with those. Whenever you see those two colors, point them out to your child, but don’t label any other colors yet.
For example, choose to teach your child red and green first. Whenever you see anything red or green, point it out. Give them only red and green objects at certain play times. Clearly label and talk about the red versus green objects. Ask them to sort only objects that are red or green.
Once they are familiar with red and green and the differences between those two, add in yellow. Of course they will see other colors while they play, but really try to only speak about the few colors that you choose. Showing them less choices will help them to remember the colors easier.
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Distinguish contrasting colors
It’s best to use colors that are not at all similar to each other so you don’t confuse your toddler. Items that have contrasting colors will stick out more to them when they’re learning.
For example, if you’re teaching colors side by side, don’t put blue and purple together, red and orange, red and pink, etc. Colors that pair well with contrast are red/green, blue/yellow, purple/green, and black/white. There are plenty more combinations to use.
Also, sometimes certain shades of a color will be closely related like a yellowish green will look similar to yellow or a turquoise could look closer to a green or blue. Try to stick to the basic primary colors when teaching them.
Use the same objects
The concept of colors may be a little difficult for babies and toddlers to understand because it’s a word typically used to describe something else. So far they have been learning words of actual things, like ball, car, mommy, milk, etc. All items they can see or hold and names of these objects can make sense to them.
To get them to understand the concept of colors better, make sure you’re using two identical objects to point out the color differences. For example, don’t show your child a red car and a blue block because she will just think that you’re naming it differently because the object is different. Instead, use a red car and a blue car to distinguish the differences.
Puzzles are a great activity to develop language, cognition, and fine motor skills. My daughter loves the Melissa & Doug Colorful Fish Puzzle and is always asking to do it. While we play, I verbally label each color as she puts the piece in the board so she hears it over and over and can match the color name with what she sees.
Since this color puzzle is using all fish, your child won’t have to focus on the pictures or objects on the puzzle, but will be able to just pay attention to the colors. I think this was one of the best aids that taught my daughter her colors so early.
Label EVERYTHING with a color
This will help them to quickly build their language and vocabulary. Anything they see in their everyday world has a color. Make sure to verbally label objects with their names and colors as you see them, pass them, and give to them.
When you’re first starting to introduce colors, you may want to just label the colors on their own so they’re not confused by the color and the name. You’d be surprised how quickly children pick up these concepts and understand that you’re not naming the object, but just describing the color.
Color with crayons and markers
Coloring is a great skill for toddlers to develop fine and visual motor skills (coordinating their hands and eyes to perform a task). Have your child use crayons to scribble on paper and point out and label the colors that they use. You can print out free blank coloring pages of their favorite characters or objects here if using a blank paper gets boring to them.
For little hands, I highly recommend these finger crayons. They are perfect for tiny fingers to wrap around and promote a proper grasp around the crayon. Skinny or chunky crayons just don’t allow your young toddler to hold it the correct way and it will end up tiring them out quicker.
In their natural environment
Kids learn best in the context of their everyday environment. Point out the contrasting colors at mealtimes (green beans, yellow corn, red raspberries), during dressing (blue shirt, black pants), during play time (red blocks, blue balls), and outdoors (blue sky, green grass, pink flower).
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Sensory experiences where children are actively touching, tasting, hearing or smelling things are one of the best ways to teach your kids new concepts. Your toddler will love trying out their artistic capabilities by rubbing their hands on paper with finger paint. By just getting 3 primary colors (blue, red, yellow) of finger paint, you can mix them until you make secondary colors (green, purple, orange).
Have your toddler rub their hands and fingers in the paint and just smudge it onto paper. Talk about the colors they are using and ask them what color is on their hands and on the paper.
Songs and Videos
Toddlers and babies love to hear music. Whether it be songs on the stereo, mommy singing, or making their own sounds by shouting at the top of their lungs, they are drawn to it. Using songs (especially with visuals) is a great way to teach your child new concepts. Putting words to music helps things to stick better in their brain and will give them a higher chance of learning the skill.
Here is a short video that can help your toddler to learn their colors by combining colorful graphics to a catchy tune. You can also make up your own songs and melodies to sing as you show them colors. Even just saying the colors but having a little rhythm to it will help your child to remember the colors easier.