How do you teach a child about colour?
Well, you probably start by talking about the colours of things you encounter (telling, really):
- "This is Mommy's car. Mommy's car is silver."
- "That is a nice orange shirt you're wearing."
- "This block is red. That one is green."
- "Here is a red block. Let's put all the red blocks together."
- "This triangle is blue. Do you see anything else that's blue in this picture?"
- "These puzzle pieces are the same colour. They should go together."
- "What colour is this block?"
- "What colour is your bedroom? What colour is your brother's bedroom?"
- "What colour is daddy's hair?"
But what if that child is colour blind?
Suddenly, step one - telling the child about colour - seems to be the only step that makes sense. I can tell my son about colours all day. It isn't going to help him see them better, though. It might help him to remember the colours of things he encounters every day. . . but most likely that's through repetition. He knows his room is green because we talked about it. He knows his monster truck shirt is orange because we talked about it. But he probably doesn't really see a big difference between those two colours.
So what can we hope for? What are reasonable goals for a 3-year-old in this area? And how do we facilitate his learning about colour in a way that respects his challenges yet still pushes him to learn?
Here are some ideas we're working on in our house to work with the child we have. They might work for you. Or you might have some other awesome ideas to share in the comments (please do!). I'll add more ideas to this list as we come upon them. . . parenting is a work-in-progress for life, right?
1. Stop asking
The first thing we decided was to stop step three. No questioning and quizzing him on colour. I can ask him "what colour is this?" until the cows come home. He'll either know because the answer is blue or because he's heard the answer before. Or he won't know and he'll guess, only to be told that he is wrong. Nope. Pass. I don't want colour to become a game that he can't win at. Or to be something that everyone else gets besides him.
2. Start telling
It might feel backwards but we've gone back to telling him about colours a fair bit. Colour isn't a taboo topic in our house. I'm not sending him off to preschool without a working knowledge of what colour is and the names of common colours even if he sees them differently than I do. That would be crazy, right? So we talk about his brother's beautiful blue eyes and his lovely green shirt, etc.
3. But listen too
Talking about colours isn't a monologue either, though. And my son loves to tell me about colours. And every now and again he surprises me by correctly naming the colour of things I wasn't expecting him to know - not because we've quizzed him about it but because in describing his world, he will often include the colours of things.
4. And be gentle about "wrong answers"
But sometimes he is wrong. That marker is not red. It is orange. Even though he perceives it differently, a colour-deficiency does not make orange things red any more than dyscalculia makes 71 smaller than 17. It just isn't so. But "No, you're wrong" can be damaging to hear over and over again so we've modified our phrasing: "That marker is orange. Orange is like red with a little yellow in it too." And sometimes, it's just worth it to let it go. When he told me I looked like a beautiful ballerina in my "pink" dress (that was actually royal blue), I just hugged him and thanked him for the compliment. Not everything needs to be a teachable moment.
5. Pay attention to your own bias
You don't know how many times I've caught myself saying "Can you pick that block up? No, the green one. No, that one. The green one." Or "I asked you to put on your brown sweater" or the like. Then I realize, I'm not being clear in my instructions. For me, for his father, for another child, those are perfectly appropriate directions. For my son, it is not clear or fair for me to get frustrated when he can't follow instructions that aren't phrased in a way he can follow. But he doesn't know right and left yet. That will make things much easier!
6. Work on colour skills that are reasonable
While my son may not be able to identify colours with any regularity, that doesn't mean that he can't learn some skills and coping strategies to make working with colour easier for him.
- The first thing we encouraged is questioning - I told him if he didn't know and wanted to know, he should ask. . . and he does. He regularly asks what colours things are - asks me, his dad and, hilariously, my dad who often can't tell him either :) This isn't forever but I think it's a good start in acknowledging this is an area in which he might need help and it's okay to ask for it. I don't know if he asks his preschool teacher but he knows he can and that's a start.
- We are also working on recalling the colours of everyday objects and items he knows well. He knows the sky is blue, leaves and grass are green, the sun is yellow. He knows my car is silver and his teddy bear is brown.
- The other thing we're working on is colour matching. Can he put items with like colours together? Can he point out similarly coloured items in a picture? Often he can and that will, hopefully, help him to use his recall and logic to figure out colour in the future ("This umbrella is similar to those leaves so I think it's green"). We're certainly not there yet but maybe this will help. Eventually. And maybe it won't. For now, it's a way we can "learn" about colour and play colour games in a way that allows him to experience some success.
7. Tell others
Caregivers, teachers, family members? They are all participants in my son's daily life. They also need to know about his vision - not so they can feel badly about it or completely change their interactions with him, but so that they can be mindful of the way they talk about colour and of their expectations for him. We don't quiz him on colour incessantly. . . it would be great if they didn't do it either. At the very least, they'll understand when they get green hearts on their Valentines this year :)
8. Don't make a big deal out of it
It isn't. So don't. Colour shouldn't become the elephant in the room. And my son shouldn't dread the topic either. Sometimes we talk about colour. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we play colour matching games. Sometimes they're patterning or counting games. Sometimes we talk about the colours in the books we read. Sometimes we make predictions about what will happen next. Sometimes we look at the character's face to determine how she is feeling at this point in the story. The point is: colour is a thing we don't focus on more or less than we did before we learned about our son's colour vision. It's just a thing that we do differently.
As always, pass this on to anyone you feel would benefit from reading it. And feel free to share your own ideas and experiences in the comments :)