Ministry of Education, Guyana

Colour Recognition : A three step approach for Parents and little ones.

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by Quenita Walrond

From the first month of life, babies show a preference for bright bold colours over light shades and tints. By 4 months of age, they are able to visually discriminate and react to the full colour spectrum, including shades and hues the way adults do. That is, they can see all colours and tell the difference from one to another. Given that children, barring any physiological issues like colour blindness or impaired vision, have a natural ability to perceive colour, as parents how do we move them to be able to match, identify, then name colours? Matching, identifying, and naming colours are separate skills that, when combined, form the educational concept “Colour Recognition”.


This is the child’s ability to compare a target colour to a set of other colours, and be able to select the same colour as the target. For example, if a child is playing with different coloured objects and you wanted to see if he can colour match; you would get the child’s attention and ask him to show you the object that looks like “this” i.e. some other object that is the colour you were testing for, being careful not to name the colour.




Once a child can successfully colour match, the next stage and skill is being able to identify colours by their names. This is quite different from the child being able to say the name of a colour. For example, when a child is playing with different coloured objects and you wanted to see if he can colour identify; you would get the child’s attention and ask him to show you a particular coloured object by asking for it by name.



crayonsandpaperThree year old Daniel is colouring and has the crayons out of the box. His father wants to know if he can identify the colour red. He says “Daniel, please show me the red crayon.” Daniel happily picks up the red crayon and waves it at his dad.A little while later, Daniel’s father comes over to where he is and touches the red crayon and asks, “what coulour is this crayon, son?” Daniel is unable to answer with words. He can colour identify, but cannot colour name!



A child’s ability to see an object and be able to tell the correct colour name associated with it, has mastered the last distinct skill required to be able to be successful at a colour recognition task. This is the most difficult of the three tasks because the child first must be able to know the different colour names, then hold the specific target in memory long enough to say the correct colour name. So from the box of crayons, the child would have to know first how to identify the colour, and then be able to name it.



namesofcoloursKaya, a five year old, is playing with her rainbow tea set. As she pretends to set the table, her older sister notices her separate the dishes by colour, the blue plate, cup, and cutlery together, the orange dishes together and so on. Her sister, as she points to one pile of dishes, asks Kaya, “What colour are these dishes?” Kaya responds quite confidently and correctly that the dishes are blue, and proceeds to name all of the other colour groups correctly. Kaya has been successful at colour naming! 
Any child who can match, identify, and name colours, has mastered colour recognition. It is important to note, that even though the children shown here were able to conquer the different sub skills at 2, 3, and 4 years respectively, children develop at unique rates. Therefore the pace at which they grasp these concepts will vary from child to child. In all instances, practice and frequent repetition will move a child into mastery.


How To Build This Skill At Home:

  • Matching:
    While engaging in everyday household tasks, or being out in the world in general, remember to ask the child for the thing that looks “like this”. Remember NOT to say the colour name. If the child is unable to match:

    • show him/her two things that are the same colour (try for identical colours to limit confusion).
    • Practice the same colour consistently and often over the course of a week (doing too many colours at once will sometimes cause confusion and discouragement for both of you).
  • Identifying: Ask your child for household objects and be very conscious about stating the colour name e.g. please pass the blue bucket, instead of please pass the bucket. If the child is unable to colour identify:

    • Play matching games but emphasize the names of the colours once they match successfully…say openly, “blue to blue; red to red; yellow to yellow etc.”
    • Play “eye spy” using colours.
    • Practice identifying using pairs of colours so there is always something to compare against.
    • Practice the same pair of colours over the course of a week. As the skill develops, you can increase the amount of colours.
  • Naming: Name the colour of things you see in the environment, e.g. what colour is that leaf, bus, stop sign, shop etc. a green leaf, a yellow bus, a red stop sign, a blue shop. If a child struggles with naming:

    • Play sorting games like separating laundry by colours; mixing and separating clothes pins, crayons, bottle corks…anything
    • Give sounding out clues e.g. the leaf is gggg (then wait), gggrrrr (then wait) the child will eventually come up with the answer before you say the word green.
  • In all instances to practice these skills:

    • Have more than one family member help.
    • Make it a game if more intense practice is needed.
    • Be supportive, patient, and encouraging, not scolding if mistakes are made. You do NOT want your child afraid to try for fear of being wrong!
    • Stop when the child loses interest in the activity. You want to keep the element of fun.
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