Fun with colour: Help your little one master colour before she goes to Grade R

A photo of father and boy colouring Easter egg together. Happy man holding egg for son.
A photo of father and boy colouring Easter egg together. Happy man holding egg for son.

A kaleidoscope of colour in a thousand different shades surrounds us daily.

While it’s become second nature for us to attach a name to every colour and shade, it’s a skill your toddler and child still needs to master.

Fostering a concept of colour already starts at birth:

Experiments have shown that even small babies react differently to different colours and would, for instance, stare for a longer period at a blue or green object than at a red one.

They still need help to learn which name goes with which colour, but they can start learning that from two years of age.

By the time your child goes into Grade R, her colour recognition is assessed, and she should also be able to distinguish colour patterns, such as two yellow, one red, two yellow and one red.

This forms the basis of important mathematical skills. Here are a few fun games to play with your child that can help establish colour concepts from a young age.

Use association

An easy way to help learn colour is by association. Teach your child “as green as grass” and “as blue as the sky” – then she knows that green is the colour of grass and blue is the colour of the sky.

I spy

Play “I spy with my little eye” with colour as the main clue. Here’s a fun new rhyme: “I see, I see what you don’t see … and the colour is … red.”

Dice around

Make a large die from coloured cardboard; each side should be a different colour. Match actions to each colour: If it’s red, we should sit down on the ground.

If it’s yellow, we should jump in the air. If it’s green, we should greet a friend. Take turns throwing the dice and calling out the colours while all of you do the actions together.

What’s missing?

Set out primary-coloured objects, such as blocks on a tray. Ask your little one to study it. Once she’s done, she has to cover her eyes. Take one of the objects away. Ask her to look again and tell you what’s missing. You can tell her what colour it is.

Flashcard fun 

These cards are a good way to expose your child to colour as there’s little chance for confusion about which character is being described by the colour word. Compare for instance when you tell her “it’s a red ball”.

With her limited vocabulary, she might struggle to identify which characteristic you’re referring to. Is the ball’s shape red? Or are you talking about the pattern or colour of the ball?

Bag of tricks

Fill a bag with coloured blocks of same shape and size, and ask your little one to take them out one by one while you name the colours together. You can also ask her to put the red block on a red colour plate (and so on).

Treasure hunt

A treasure hunt is always fun. Hide coloured bottle caps around the garden—first look for all the red ones, then the green ones, and then the yellow ones.

Playing pit

A sensory playing pit in which your little one can feel different textures and discover colours will keep her busy for a good chunk of time. Put rice in a plastic bag with a drop of food colouring.

Shake and rub the bag well until all the rice has been coloured. Leave the bag open until the rice is dry, and then put it in a baby bath.

Now fill it with toys of the same colour. So the bath will, for instance, be filled with blue rice, but also a blue plastic spoon, blue measuring cup, blue tractor and a few blue blocks. Repeat the word “blue” often, and tell your little one that everything in the bath is blue.

Tassel time

Colour the bottom of each cup of an empty egg container in a different hue. (An older child can do it herself while you chat about the different colours). Now place bowls full of small tassels of different colours (you can get them from a craft shop) next to the egg box.

Give your child a pair of tweezers, and encourage her to match the tassels with the correct colour in the egg box. An older child can try and do this faster.


If you don’t have tassels, you can use other coloured objects such as building blocks. Colour of the week – Decide to focus on one colour for a week, and use the name of the colour as much as possible. Wear red every day, have her eat from a red bowl and pack a red apple in her lunchbox. Next week, it’s blue’s turn.

Mix and match

Painting is one of the most enjoyable ways to expose your child to colour. Mix the primary colours if you have powder paint, or buy it ready-made. Now mix the colours, and see which you can put together to make new colours. Make sure you have white for colours such as pink and also different shades of the same colour.

This will help your little one understand that there are different shades of the same colour. Battle it out – Wear your oldest clothes and give your child yellow powder paint in a small bag while you take the red one. Put on sunglasses to protect your eyes and get fighting! See who’s covered in the most paint at the end.

Bottles of discovery

Put a variety of objects in a plastic mayonnaise bottle, including buttons, pieces of paper, toys, pipe cleaners and tassels. Seal the bottle well. Ask your toddler to name the colours of the different objects in the bottle, or do it together if she’s still learning.

Fab fabrics

Put pieces of cloth or scarves of different colours in a shoebox with a hole in the lid. Encourage your toddler to pull the scarves out through the hole, and name the colour of the scarf while she’s busy extracting it.

Pretty pebbles

Paint a bunch of pebbles in different colours. You can sort them, pack them in patterns and play other games with them while you name the colours.

Beautiful beads

Colour raw macaroni with food colouring in different hues. Thread on a piece of string and name the colours while you do so.

Did you know?

Some experts recommend children be taught colours with the help of neutral objects that look the same – such as pieces of paper – so that they don’t confuse naming colours with other characteristics of an object.

Then they won’t wonder if you mean the colour or the shape when you point to a yellow triangle and a red circle and say “yellow” and “red”.

Super tip

Scientists at the Cognition, Language and Learning Lab at Stanford University in the US discovered that children learn colours faster if you name the object first before the colour:

“The cup is blue” rather than “the blue cup”. It’s because the child then knows what she should be looking at when reference is made to colour.


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