Baby milestones: the role of colour in your child’s development

From your little one’s nursery walls, to the bright hues of colour in nature, did you know that colour plays a key role in your child’s development and understanding of the world? Here’s how… By Tammy Jacks

According to occupational therapist and author of Growing Up Step By Step, Carla Grobler, from the minute your little one is born, colour plays a key role in her development, because it helps stimulate her perceptual skills as well as help her understand the world around her. In fact, babies learn the most through their senses and it’s important to introduce them to their environment this way.

ALSO SEE: Tips to stimulate baby’s senses

Engaging the senses

When she’s old enough, let your little one taste different foods, smell different fragrances, touch or handle different objects, hear different sounds and see different colours – in the form of objects and pictures, says Carla.

ALSO SEE: Messy play with dough, slime and sand

The role of colour in your child’s first year

0-3 months

From early childhood onwards, colour is an important aspect of our visual experience. Already, one-month old infants spontaneously prefer bolder pictures over grey stimuli. However, research shows a newborn baby can only see primarily in shades of black, grey and white.

So, for your child’s nursery, it’s a good idea to use a monochrome colour scheme with mostly black and white shades, and a few contrasting textures and patterns. According to the Dr Sears Wellness Institute, the visual contrast of black and white sends the strongest signals to your baby’s brain. This means more brain growth and faster visual development in the long run.

You can also use pictures like checkerboards, bull’s eyes, large geometric shapes and simple outlines, which will all stimulate her and help her to differentiate between one thing and another, says founder of Clamber Club and author of Growing Up With a Smile, Liz Senior.

TOP TIP: Remember, it’s important to monitor the amount of stimulation your child gets when she’s little. Beware of overstimulation, especially when your little one is tired. Don’t engage all her senses at once, focus on one thing at a time.

ALSO SEE: 10 ways to calm an overstimulated baby

3 – 6 months  

At this stage, you can start using colours in picture books to facilitate eye focus and eye movement, says Carla. Additionally, in her book, Emergent Literacy, author Annette Werner explains that colourful pictures in books not only supports your child’s perceptual development, but also her cognitive and emotional development.

In books (and on paper or in toys):

  • Makes pictures more attractive to look at.
  • Is more appealing to look at and understand from a young age, versus shapes or numbers.
  • Helps to identify and recognise various objects, as well as enhance memory.
  • Is an important tool for later communication, whose symbolic meaning is immediately understood.

In addition to books, take your child around your home to look at various objects with different colours and shapes. Also change your baby’s position regularly, to give her different views of the world.

6 – 12 months

Research shows that by five months, babies start to develop better colour vision, and this is also the age where depth perception develops, according to the American Optometric Association. Depth perception is the ability to judge if objects are nearer or further away than other objects. At this age, the eyes work together to form a three-dimensional view of the world, and this is when babies start to see in depth, as well as see more clearly.

At this stage, “Everything is underlined with parent-child interaction” says co-author of Let’s Play and Learn Together, Roni Cohen Leiderman. So, the best way to enhance your child’s development is to play with her and use colours this way.

Whether you stack blocks, use picture books, play with puzzles or use messy play ideas, bring in as many bright colours as possible – and point them out to your child.

Older children:

TOP TIP: Remember children learn by playing and experimenting. When your child is old enough, try these two activities (as highlighted in Growing Up With A Smile):

Coloured ice

  • Drop coloured ice cubes into separate bowls of water.
  • Notice how the water changes colour as the ice cubes melt.
  • Mix all the water together and watch how the colour changes again.

Coloured rice and pasta

  • Use food colouring to dye pasta. Thread the pasta and make a necklace.
  • Dye rice and make a collage too.

Developmental milestone: Colour conceptualisation

Use this table, developed by Carla, as a guide to understand how your child’s colour concept will develop as she gets older:

  •  0 – 1month:  Sensitive to colour differences.
  • 8 – 9 months:  Stores the colour concept apart from the form concept in his memory.
  • 1 year: Differentiates and understands the differences between black and white.
  • 2 years: Learning to understand and differentiate between more colours on the spectrum.
  • 2years, 6 months: Identifies and names 1 to 2 colours, and matches white, black, red, yellow, green.
  • 3 years: Identifies and names red, yellow, blue, green. Matches red, yellow, blue, green, black, white. Sorts different colours together.
  • 3years, 6 months: Is able to colour in simple forms. Identifies and names more colours including red, yellow, blue, white, black                                      
  • Years (general): Able to match objects according to colour.
  • 4 years:  Matches green, orange, brown, purple, pink. Names green, orange, purple, pink and a few more.
  • 4 years, 6 months: Colouring in of a picture is nearly accurate, stays mostly inside the lines.  Orders colours from light hues to dark. Identifies and names more than 8 different colours.
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