Teaching Children Colors

One of the hardest concepts to teach a child is "colors."
For example each of these six squares is yellow, right?

So why is it that if you show a child the picture of the dog on the left, and you say "the color of the dog is yellow", and the child repeats "yeLLow" apparently understanding what color it is.



Then two days later you show them the picture on the right of a "yellow fish" and ask the child "what color is it"? The child acts like he or she hasn't the slight's clue as to what color it is?
What is the problem?

Well if this square is yellow .....
How can this square be yellow?

They ARE different, and a child can see that. If the first square is yellow then the second square must be something else. The child cannot initially grasp the relational concept of "colors" an adult is trying to teach him or her.
To illustrate the differences, lets say we have a color meter calibrated so that it can read 10 shades of RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, and VIOLET.

Pointing our color meter at the two different yellow squares, lets say we get a reading of 3.10 for the first one and 3.90 for the second.

3.10 3.90

Now tell a child that 3.10 is the same as 3.90.

What would "we" say if we gave a clerk $4.00 for a $3.10 item, and the clerk handed us $ .10 and said "change for a $3.10 item is the same as a $3.90 item"?

So here's the point :

Each of these boxes contain items with "different shades of the same color", they do not contain items of "the same color".



A child discerns that the colors of the individual objects are different.

But a child does not undersand that when an adult (or older child) says the objects are the "same color", they are making a relative statement.

Therefore when we say they are the same color we are using the words "the same color" as a relative term and not as a statement of absolute fact.

One way around this is that we could all memorize the hundreds of PANTONE colors (or some other color system).

Then we just tell a child that the first square is PANTONE 351 and that the second square is PANTONE 354.

So we adults are the problem. We show children different objects, which clearly have a different characteristic to their coloration, and then expect a child to grasp the concept "that different shades of the same color are stated as being the same color".

One way out of this dilemma is that we must simply state to the child that this or that object is a shade of this or that color.

Using the word light or dark as needed.

And it would not hurt to show two or three objects that are different shades of what ever color you are teaching, so the child can observe nuances the term "shade".

"These cactuses are differnent shades of green."


"This cactus is green."
"This cactus is dark green."
"This cactus is light green."


Of course which object is the base color is a jugment call, but I think you get the basic technique.
So let me know what you find to work and I'll work them in here or in some sort of Update/Comments page.
Comments fr0c+@andrew.cmu.edu
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Copyright 1996 Frank A. Reynolds