Learning shapes and colors may well be a young child’s first educational endeavor. Although recognizing objects as red or blue, round or square might seem like child’s play, it’s actually integral to a young child’s cognitive development, and sets the stage for math concepts from sorting and patterning to geometry, and beyond!

What can you as a parent do to help your young learner master these academic milestones? You may not have to look beyond the backdrop of your life for the perfect learning tools. Try a few of these fun activities to help your child master colors and shapes.

Color Their World

“The best way to teach preschoolers their colors is to use their environment as a teaching tool,” says Maureen McCourt Boylan, former kindergarten teacher and author of Leap into Literacy. “Ask yourself 'What is important in the life of a three-year-old?': choosing the purple shirt or the green shirt, the yellow banana or the red apple, the orange toy or the blue toy. Take advantage of these "teachable moments" and your child will learn their colors in no time.”

Try a few of these color recognition activities throughout the day and you will be amazed at how quickly your little one will become a master of colors:

  • Add a colorful description. Always add a color word when talking about items in your environment. For example, instead of “Can you bring mommy the ball? Say “Can you bring mommy the red ball?”
  • Find colorful foods. Parents are encouraged to feed children a colorful diet to aide in balanced nutrition. Take advantage of the rainbow of foods on your plate everyday by asking your little one to show you the red food on her plate or ask her what color her peas are. As eating is something that is done several times daily, simply taking a moment at each meal and snack to notice colors will make your child more aware and interested in colors.
  • Color your bath time. Adding color capsules (found in the bubble bath section of most discount stores) can help children become aware of colors. You can ask them what color they would like their bath to be and create it using 2 colors if necessary. This is also a great introduction to the science skill of color mixing. Bath crayons (washable soap crayons used to write on the bathtub and tiles) are also a wonderful springboard for talking about colors.
  • A colorful family. If your child is having trouble learning a particular color, try creating a day in honor of the color for the entire family. Everyone can wear the color of the day, add the color of the day to meals and snacks and point out the color in your surrounding (street signs, flowers, food boxes, cars etc.) For example, lunch on orange day might consist of macaroni and cheese, carrots and oranges and you might try canned peaches for snack. Adding food color to many foods can help you accomplish your colorful menu easily.
  • Color books. There are many wonderful picture books designed to help children master colors. Try a couple of these favorites or ask your librarian for her favorite selections: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle, Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh, Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert and A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni.

Shape Up!

Grace Davila Coates, Program Director of Family Math (Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley) and co-author of Family Math for Young Children, recommends using what you have on hand to help your children learn about shapes. “Have children make shapes with their body and see if you can make shapes as a family. Pose questions such as "How can we....?"or "What if we...?" and let them go!" she says. "You don't need to buy expensive things, use cups, bowls and Tupperware.”

These simple shape activities will help your child shape up her shape recognition skills:

  • Shape Sort. Have your child help you clean out your food storage container collection. Ask her to help you match the lids to the appropriate container. Start by putting all the containers and lids into groups by shape and then match up the lids according to size. Discuss the shapes as you match each pair and toss out the mismatched containers. As an added bonus, you get a clean cabinet!
  • Shape Search. Buy your child an inexpensive magnifying glass or make one out of paper. Have her become a shape detective, searching the house for items of a particular shape. She might find rectangle doors, circle rugs or square books.
  • Sensory Shapes. Help your child practice drawing shapes in finger-paint or even pudding. This fun sensory experience will help your child get the feel for drawing the shapes without the “right or wrong” experience of drawing it on paper. If it doesn’t come out quite right, simply smooth it over and try again.
  • Shape Stories. Ask your librarian for a selection of shape books to help your little one see shapes in print. Here are a few favorites to get you off to a good start: Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh, The Shape of Me and Other Stuff  by Dr. Seuss, Baby Einstein: See and Spy Shapes by Julie Aigner-Clark, and Icky Bug Shapes by Jerry Pallotta.

Look at the world through your child’s eyes and you will see it in a whole new light. The colors of the rainbow and simple shapes of everyday objects are meaningful resources for teaching your child about shapes and colors!

More preschool color activities:

More preschool shape activities:

Find out more with our Essential Guide to Preschool Math!