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Your child and colour

You know all the colours of the rainbow; colour is such an automatic concept for us as adults – ‘Get me the red mug’, ‘I just bought a purple sweater’. But it’s really hard for small children to learn. Is the sun yellow because it’s round or because it’s too bright to look at? How can the sea and the sky both be blue? The sea’s not the same as the sky. There are so many shades of the same colour, and so many colours are very similar – is turquoise blue or green? You might have expected children to learn the bright primary colours first – red, yellow and blue, but a lot of children don’t. They often learn black quite early, but their next colour often depends on their own preference – a lot of small girls love pink (so many clothes and toys for small girls are pink) but lots also adore purple and that’s not so easy to explain. And girls don’t necessarily learn colours earlier than boys do.

  • Artist's paletteIt’s best to avoid colour with very small children.
  • A lot of children go through a stage of matching colours before they actually name any
  • Most children know two colours by age three
  • Some children know more, and some don’t know any
  • A set of objects that are all the same except for colour (like blocks that are all the same size and shape) will help your child sort out the different colours

Don’t worry if your child doesn’t seem interested in colours – they’ll learn them when they’re ready. And trying to teach colour before they’re ready for it just doesn’t seem to work. There are lots of other ways to describe things – like how big they are – that children understand long before they understand colour.


Margaret Maclagan and Anne Buckley are the authors of Talking Baby.