Colors and Learning Shade Recognition for Children

Do you remember when YOU began learning to mix colors, how thrilling it was, and the seeming unpredictability of blending new colors?  This is one of the most interesting early experiences kids have with non-toxic paints, colored pencils and markers!  Water-based fingerpainting is where the fun usually begins; as experienced parents, we know paint can end up smeared nearly anywhere!  Once young children are past the thrill of the changeable and fluid nature of paints, a focus on colors can begin.

It’s important as your child begins to learn about colors, that you be consistent with names for shades, and that you don’t introduce too many hues right away.  Subtle blends are for older kids, unless you find that your child is interested.  Most young children learn quickly that mixing a few colors generally creates a dark, brackish or black hue. Yet, a young child easily understands lighter and darker shades of color (without knowledge of the properties involved).  Adding some white to a primary color, or a tiny bit of black can help your child quickly realize that white lightens any shade and black darkens it.  Admixtures of orange with yellow or blue with green are more difficult in the beginning.  This does not mean children cannot learn a rich sense of coloration; indeed children can and do.  Teaching our youngsters about colors at an early age, gives them insight into laws of shading and pigments.  They can continue to make sense of colors in the otherwise confusing world around them.  Once you know red is red, for example, it pretty much remains a point of mastery for the rest of your life.  It is true there may be fire engine red, Chinese red, vermillion, burgundy red, ruby red and other nuanced red hues. Memorizing these early in life is not just gratifying, but helps a child build an eye for aesthetic sensibilities, and love of beauty.

  • “Find the Color” is a seek and touch game that can convert an ordinary several minutes into an engaging little adventure!  You think through a few colors, and ask your child to run and touch something which is that color.  Be sure you help your child recognize ‘true’ colors, by sticking with clear examples of red, blue, and yellow in the beginning.
  • One of the most thrilling simple color experiences a youngster can have is fingerpaint play.  Getting messy is healthy, and putting bright simple colors on paper is fun.  Once a child is more experienced, I find our children are curious about what creates browns and darker, more complex colors.

Related Online Topics:

The Creative Curriculum for Infants & Toddlers by Laura J. Colker, Ed.D.

PBS Kids: A variety of drawings that can be colored – for young children

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