Although this is not officially an OT issue, I field questions about when and how to teach color recognition to young children. Like many of my other posts, I am writing this one so that I have something I can send parents; they can read about the concepts we discuss. There is so much going on in a session that it is hard for the average parent to retain everything I “throw” out in a 30-45 minute session!
Color recognition doesn’t usually emerge before 14-16 months, and typical children can be struggling to match primary colors for months after that age. But the progression, delayed or on-time, follows a fairly standard pattern. Expecting stage 3 responses when your child is still at stage 1 is simply asking for frustration from your child, and creates unnecessary concern for parents. These stages aren’t seamless, meaning that one day a child will consistently be at stage 2, and the next, they are functioning at stage 1. This is also normal, because a young child that is ill, tired, distracted, upset or even hungry cannot perform skills consistently.
Color identification generally happens with primary colors first, and progresses to secondary and tertiary colors. This means that a child often can distinguish red and blue before they know purple and gray. There are children over three that are totally confused about brown, gray and beige…..that is completely normal.
Stage 1: Your child is able to match colors shown to them without being able to respond to a request for a specific color or to name the color. You hold up a blue block, and ask your child to give you another block that is the same color. You may even find one and say “HERE it is! The same! I found another block!” Your child clearly looks at a few blocks, and hands you the blue one.
Stage 2: Your child is able to respond to a request to find a block of a specific color. You say to your child “Please give me a BLUE block”, and without showing them which block is blue, they find one and give it to you. This requires receptive language, as a child interprets your words and assigns labels to the objects they are seeing.
Stage 3: Your child is able to correctly answer the question “What color is this block?” This level of skill means that they know the names of colors and can state them on demand. This requires expressive language, and anyone who has learned another language will know the internal Rolodex as you search for the right name for the color you are viewing.