Cooool! This Color Activity for Toddlers Is a Real Trip

Photo by Sohl / iStock
Photo by Sohl / iStock

By Rachel Ward

From a sidewalk covered in cherry blossom petals to trees bursting forth with new buds, vibrant colors are everywhere in springtime—and for two- and three-year-olds just beginning to take notice of the big wide world around them, colors can be captivating.

But colors have to be learned, and it actually takes a while for them to really sink in.

“Up until about 18 months old, children’s brains aren’t developed enough to tell the difference between colors, and most children can’t name a color until about 24 months,” says Meg Davis from KinderCare’s Education team.

Now that the weather’s warmer, two- and three-year-olds in our Discovery Preschool classrooms are diving into water play (every kid’s favorite!) and we’re adding a splash of color to the fun—or, more accurately, several splashes of color.

This Food Coloring Activity Does More than You Think for Young Minds

An ice-cube tray filled with water and some plastic eyedroppers filled with food coloring are all that’s needed for this fun activity. Our teachers hand over the food coloring and let the kids squeeze some color into the water.

Simple? Yes! But kids at this age are wowed when they see color bloom in the water. Learning “red” and “blue” and “yellow” holds another important learning opportunity for toddlers.  

“Since colors are so prevalent in the world, it’s one of the first ways that children learn to categorize, sort, and compare items, which are early math skills,” says Davis.

In fact, the more comfortable your child is with colors, the sooner they’ll be able to tackle their ABCs and 123s. “The ability to see similarities and differences in colors and shapes is also the precursor to being able to see patterns in letter and numbers,” Davis says.   

Those are a couple of really good reasons to start building your toddler’s color know-how —try our tips below!

Color Me Smart: 5 Easy Ways to Teach Toddlers Colors at Home

1. Look to the Dinner Plate

Eating a rainbow every day isn’t just healthy—it’s also a great learning opportunity for tots (and talking about eating a rainbow is also a cool way to entice your picky eater to try some of those leafy greens, just FYI). Take a couple minutes before digging in to have your toddler look at and talk about the colors on their plate. Are the apple slices red or green? What colors are the veggies?

2. Take to the Great Outdoors

The next time you’re taking a walk, take note of the natural items you see and their colors—can your toddler tell you what color the leaves on the trees are, or the flowers in your neighbor’s garden?

3. Spy for Colors in the Car

What kid doesn’t love a good game of I-Spy? Whether you’re taking a road trip or just driving to your KinderCare center, look for colors out the window. They’re everywhere, in every shade—whether in stoplights and traffic signs or on cars, billboards, and buildings.

4. Read About Colors at Story Time

The wonderful world of books is brimming with colors for your toddler to explore in-depth. You can buy or check out  books specifically about colors (like Edible Colors by Jennifer Vogel Bass, Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh, or A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni), or you can stick with some of their favorites and make the colors in the illustrations the main focus.

Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC / Stocksy / 537372
Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC / Stocksy

5. Pull out the Crayon Box

One of the best ways to help your child become familiar with colors is to let them, well, COLOR. As they work, ask what they’re making and which colors they’re using. Do they have any favorites?

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