It’s not easy for a child to learn the names of colours. Here’s how you can help!
As colours are abstract words that can be used to describe many different objects, they’re especially difficult to learn. For example, the colour yellow can be used to talk about a chick, the sun, and many other things.
When a child hears phrases like “the grass is green” and “the truck is green,” they need to find the commonality between grass and truck to understand what green means. For this reason, the names of colours are seldom part of a child’s first 100 words.
At what age should children learn the names of colours?
Most of the time, children understand the meaning of red before they’re able to name the colour. Children usually start to recognize the names of basic colours (red, green, blue, and yellow) between the ages of 2 and 3.
To see if your child knows the name of a basic colour, place coloured blocks in front of them and ask them to give you one of a particular colour. If they succeed repeatedly, they understand.
At first, some children say the same word to designate all colours. For example, they say blue to describe several objects of different colours. This is a sign that they want to talk about colour and are beginning to understand the concept. Your child might do something similar when referring to objects and animals. For instance, they might call all animals dog at first!
Not all children learn the names of colours at the same pace. Some are able to name one or two by age 2. Others will start using the names of basic colours correctly around age 3.
After age 3, children can more easily learn the names of colours they hear less often, like brown and grey. Around age 5, many still find it difficult to express shades of the same colour (e.g., light blue, dark blue, navy blue).
How can you help your child learn the names of colours?
- Say the names of colours often. When you talk with your little one, try to mention colours as often as possible. For example, you can say: “You put the yellow block on your tower!” or “I took out your red sweater.” Your child will learn naturally if they hear the names of colours regularly.
- If your child seems interested in a particular colour, try to name it often. For example: “Those are your nice blue pyjamas!” or “Let’s take out all the little blue cars.” Every time you mention their favourite colour, you’ll help them learn and remember it. Once they understand and use the name of that colour correctly, try to see what other colours they’re interested in so you can name them more often.
- Don’t be too insistent. Don’t ask your child to name colours too frequently. If they feel like you’re testing them, your child might lose interest or feel anxious. Remember that colours are just as important as other words! Your child needs to learn a variety, including verbs and small words (e.g., a and to) to form sentences and be understood.
Together, find household items that are all the same colour (link in French). Group them together and name their colour (e.g., green plushie, green ball).
Cut out pictures of food from a grocery store flyer. Identify those that are the same colour. For example, peas, kiwis, and celery are all green. Glue them to a sheet of green construction paper or use a piece of cardboard painted green.
Go for a walk and look for cars of a specific colour (e.g., fire truck red).
Things to keep in mind
Young children have a hard time learning the names of colours because they’re abstract.
Children generally learn colours between the ages of 2 and 5, but may only learn shades of colour after age 5.
The best way to help your child learn the names of colours is to identify them often during your interactions.
Web adaptation: The Naître et grandir team
Research and copywriting: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, M.Sc., speech-language pathologist
Updated: August 2020
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Bouchard, Caroline (under the direction of). Le développement global de l’enfant de 0 à 6 ans en contextes éducatifs. Quebec City, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2019, 516 pp.
Sasaki, Hiroyuki. “Object-Color Associations in Preschool Children’s Drawings.” Current Psychology, vol. 35, no. 3, September 2016, pp. 410–413.