Saturday, June 28, 2014

A New Technique for Teaching Kids Colors

The names of colors are one of the first things that kids learn - but it is also one of the things that kids struggle with the most. 

My mom introduced me to a great article (called "Why Johnny Can't Name His Colors" by Melody Dye) about teaching kids the names of colors and why it can be so difficult. It describes a study in which 2 and 3 year olds were tested on their colors and many failed. Their parents were worried that they were colorblind!

Prenominal versus Postnominal 
The problem is in the way that English-speakers talk. You may already know that English is one of the more difficult languages to learn (we have many rules that often contradict each other - "i before e except after c"... but there are lots of weird words. Like that one). The English color names can be especially difficult to learn because we use color names prenominally - meaning "before nouns." (Look at the green grass, the black dog, the yellow banana, etc).

Without going into to much detail (if you're interested in all of the mechanics and the study itself, check out the original article - it's a good read!), children can learn their color names faster and more easily if you use the color names postnominally (after the noun).

"When you stick the noun before the color word, you can successfully narrow their focus to whatever it is you’re talking about before you hit them with the color. Say “the balloon is red,” for example, and you will have helped to narrow “red-ness” to being an attribute of the balloon, and not some general property of the world at large. This helps kids discern what about the balloon makes it red."

The researchers then took a group of kids and had them go through some postnominal color name training (they would show them something, like a crayon, and say, "this crayon is blue"). The kids that had that training improved significantly!

What You Can Do
To help your 2- or 3-year-old learn their color names, just change the way you talk about objects. After reading this article - before my son was even born - I started adjusting the way I talked. It was awkward at first, but I wanted to get in the habit of describing things in the best way to help my boy learn. When I read books to him, after reading the page the way it's written (orange tiger), I'll then say the color and object again, but change the structure to the new way ("that tiger is orange").

Books About Colors
Which brings me to a disappointing fact: most books use color names the traditional way (red apple, yellow sun, etc). Even some of my favorites! (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, for example). But thanks to the blog Youth Lit Reviews, I was able to find a few titles that use color names in the new way ("the apple is red," "the sun is yellow")!

A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni

Lemons Are Not Red by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

If you know of any others, or find any others that use color names postnominally, please comment below to let me know! I love to collect books (to my husband's dismay - they're taking over our apartment!) and would love to get my hands on some books that use this new technique of teaching colors.

But for now, I will continue to read the books I already have, and will just start a conversation (yes, with my 3-month-old!) about the color on the page. "Red apple. See that, baby? The apple is red!"

UPDATE 01/16/2015

I have discovered a few more books that use color names postnominally (or, "the right way" as I usually refer to it with my family. Though there is really no right or wrong way, they've only just discovered that one way may be more effective than the other).

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff
A beautiful picture book about a baby bear venturing out into the world and seeing lots of colors. "'Those are the strawberries,' Mama says. Baby bear sees red." "'That is a butterfly,' Mama says. Baby bear sees orange." Etc.

Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs by Sandra Boynton
This book is really cute - not specifically about colors, but it's a rhyming book about dinosaurs. In addition to dinosaurs being cute and spiny and mean, one page also says there are "Dinosaurs Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green."

Winnie-the-Pooh's Colors inspired by A.A. Milne
This board book has both prenominal and postnominal colors - one page says "Piglet wears a green sweater" and another page says "Tigger is orange."

UPDATE 01/20/2015

I found two more books! I'm quite excited that this list has grown, since I was a little dismayed by the choices I'd originally found (that use colors postnominally).

Another dinosaur book: How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague

Actually a book about counting to ten (duh), one page does use color names postnominally.
The toy trucks are painted blue, green, and red (they are not "blue, green, and red trucks").

I love Tad Hill's Duck & Goose books, and am really glad to see that the color book uses the colors the "right" way.

This entire book appears to be "correct." (I do not yet own it). The sample shows pages that say "The inchworm is green, like leaves." and, "Duck is yellow, like a field of buttercups."

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