Most parents start thinking about colors when they're trying to decide how to decorate their baby’s nursery. Should it be a high-contrast combination like black, white, and red, since that's what babies are first attracted to? Or maybe it should be bright primary colors to stimulate them a little later on. Or are pastels like light blue and pink nice and soothing for sleep time? I remember agonizing over that question, too, and finally deciding on a pretty shade of cornflower blue for my baby's room.
But did I do right?
“Relax,” says Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D., Former Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price. "It's a matter of personal preference, and you should make the nursery beautiful so that you love going in there, and love the feeling you have in it. Now, how to teach colors to children, that's a whole different question!"
Color All Around. According to Dr. Alfano, the whole world is your textbook when it comes to teaching colors. "There's color all around us: in nature, in toys, on the baby's clothing, in the house. The most important thing is just to talk about the color around you. Say, 'I'm putting on your blue sock,' as you're dressing your child, for instance."
The Grocery Store. Dr. Alfano suggests a trip to the supermarket as a great place for an informal color lesson. "There are red, green, and yellow apples," she explains, "green bananas and yellow bananas, a whole rainbow of colors in the flower section. Take advantage of these colors in your everyday life. Start by pointing out the simple colors first, since children seem to recognize bright, primary colors faster."
"Then again," she continues, laughing, "I was recently with a two and a half-year-old boy, and I pointed to something and said it was blue. But he corrected me, saying, that no, it was turquoise. And he was right! There are so many shades of green and blue, and that child's parents were clearly ahead of the game teaching their child to distinguish between them."
At School. Pre-schools and kindergartens sometimes feature a color of the day, and you can do a similar project at home. Tell your child that it's going to be red day, and you're going to wear red clothes and eat a red apple. The next day choose blue.
"And when your toddler reaches age three or so, he'll love experimenting with different colored crayons," says Dr. Alfano. (And who doesn't remember colors like “burnt sienna” from their childhood crayon box?) "If you decide to give your child crayons before age three, just make sure you monitor them well," she advises. "Walls can look just as interesting as a piece of paper to very young children!"
Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.