Google+ Authentic Parenting: Does She Know Her Colors?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Does She Know Her Colors?

Yesterday, my daughter saw me looking at a color palette and came to sit next to me. “I like his yellow,” she said, pointing to a bright and sunny hue, “but this blue is great too!”. This time she was aiming for a primary blue.

My daughter loves colors and she loves to inquire about them. She specifically likes the special names like ‘purple’ or ‘magenta’ and loves to compare colors: “these two are the same! This is somewhat the color of my doggies nose, but not really.” Then she proudly brings the color samples forward and asks me how I call this color. I’ll say something like old pink, and then she’ll go to my husband and ask the same question, probably getting a different answer (he’ll probably say just red or pink).

Image: Capture Queen on Flickr

Yet when quizzed about colors, she will say anything that makes your head spin. ANd people so like to quiz children about color, because when a three year old doesn’t ‘know her colors’, obviously, this can only mean one of two things:

  • she is not being instructed correctly
  • she is colorblind

So quite often, I end up having a discussion that goes a little something like this:

  • Little monster seems to have trouble with colors.
  • No, she knows them well. She just doesn’t like it when people quiz her about it.
  • But are you sure she sees them correctly? I mean, she might not be seeing them well.
  • She sees them alright, she just thinks it’s annoying when people ask her about it.
  • But are you actively teaching her about colors?
  • No, I think she’ll pick it up well without having to sit down and look at a color wheel to define the primary colors.
  • But...

It makes me wonder why people are so concerned with children, up from the time they become verbal ‘knowing their colors’. Sure, even a colorblind person will end up knowing the sky is blue and the grass is (usually) green. 
moreover, colors are something so personal! You can see terra cotta where I see orange. Isn’t it much better to let our children discover the full specter, the beauty of color, it’s intensities and mixture and adaptation through light, on their own pace.

Why is it so important for a child to answer ‘red’ when you show them a red dot in a picture book?

And what if the child is indeed colorblind? Aren’t you shaming and frustrating him with the constant testing and quizzing? You don’t ask a paralyzed child to ‘grab the bear’ every time you see them either, because that would be insensitive.
If I were in doubt that my child was colorblind, I would present her with a suitable test (which are available online) in due time. In the mean time, we’re all happy when she marvels about similar colors and changing colors.



  1. Great Post!

    I'm actually colour-blind, and I just wanted to clarify that I can still differentiate colours, and do know that blue is blue and red is red.
    I'm classed as level 3 colour perception, which is the lowest (worst?), and all it means is that colours blur into each other. Eg, sometimes from far away a red traffic light and a yellow traffic light that are next to each other will appear to me to be the same yellowy colour.
    I had no idea that I was colour-blind until I was 21 when I tried to get into the Navy. So it really hasn't affected my life in the slightest.

    But anyway, totally agree with you that pushing repeat-the-facts type "knowledge" on children is starting younger and younger and has absolutely no discernable value or purpose. I love your attitudes toward learning :)

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Not just on colours, but everything! I don't drill my children on body parts, colours, letters, numbers, etc. I don't keep them from knowing such things, I just don't sit down and formally instruct them on those nor do I quiz them.

  3. Why are people so obsessed with colors? That is a very good question. My mom's big on quizzing kids. The kids usually aren't so keen on being quizzed…

  4. Oh, I hate it when people do this. In Portugal (where I get this A LOT) people train their kids to memorize random things and then have them repeat them on cue to anyone willing to listem to how cute and smart their kids are, even though most of the times the kids are obviously oblivious to the meaning of what they say. My mom keeps trying to do this with sprout regarding things she knows he knows, but it really never works because, as I keep telling her, he's not a circus act. Makes his mama and papa proud though!! :)
    Great job with the unschooling.

  5. @Junglemother: my husband is colorblind to, so my inlaws pre-occupation with the colors does stem from something. He cannot seperate certain colors... There are many different types of colorblind. I once knew a guy who saw everything in shades of the same color...
    thank you for your comment.
    @Lauren: love your remark... so true


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