A study conducted at Stanford University pinpointed an effective way to teach young children about colors, which might call for just a tiny tweak in the way you describe them to your toddler.
Parents typically introduce color by saying “look at the green ball,” or “that’s a red apple.” However, the Stanford study found that reversing the order—“the ball is green” or “the apple is red”—made a significant difference in a toddler’s ability to identify colors.
On average, toddlers start learning to successfully match colors at around two and a half years old. Before they’re able to correctly identify different colors, though, they need an awareness of the concept of color. You might scratch your head if your toddler points to a red balloon and says “blue,” but this is a big breakthrough! Your toddler is starting to understand a complex and relative concept: objects have attributes (size, shape, texture, color) that distinguish them from other objects.
In the Stanford study, psychologists found that even after hours and hours of repetitive training on color words in the traditional order—“this is a purple crayon”—the children’s performance didn’t improve. Our adult brains automatically sort adjectives and nouns, but a young child has not yet learned to do that, so when they hear the phrase “purple crayon,” they may believe “purple” is an object.
When the order was reversed—“this is a crayon that is purple”—the toddlers’ ability to correctly identify colors improved significantly. English grammar is particular in its tendency to put color words before the objects they’re describing. Young kids tend to process language in order, and so the words they hear first have more importance; if they hear the object first, it’s easier for them to learn that what comes next describes it.
Read the study published in Scientific American: “Why Johnny Can’t Name His Colors”