How to Teach Colors to a 2-Year-Old

by Jaime Budzienski

Yes, it's downright jaw-dropping when you say, "What's orange on your shirt?" and your 2-year-old points to the growling face of a lion emblazoned on his rugby. Okay, so he's no Jackson Pollock (yet) but he is taking note of something major in his world: Color. In fact, as early as 18 months, he is beginning to recognize colors, as well as sizes, shapes and textures. Most kids don't actually start naming colors until around 36 months, but age 2 is the perfect time to begin Colors 101 with your little observer.

Don't be surprised if your toddler comes out with a color you had no idea he knew (pink!): They sponge more than you think.

Teach your tot that the amazing thing about colors is that they're everywhere: from the park, to the drive-thru at the local fast food joint (we won't tell), to the grocery store. Point out the brown doggy, the green trees, the yellow wrapper, the orange bottle of juice. On longer car trips, when you've hit a wall with nursery rhymes (isn't it illegal to listen to "Wheels on the Bus" more than 27 times in one sitting?) make a game of pointing to as many colors as you can until you arrive at Grandma's.

Two-year-olds love to make a mess with colors. Hey, whatever keeps them busy!

Help your little da Vinci make shapes with modeling clay, swirls with finger paint or scribbles with chubby crayons and talk about the colors she's making: "I like the blue ball you made," or "Oooh, what pretty purple dots." If you're not in the mood for a mess keep it simple and help her decorate a blank piece of paper with stickers, or glue on ripped pictures from a magazine, and talk about all the colors you both see.

Green alligators, blue skies, red cars = mesmerizing!

Track down any of the tons of amazing books out there designed explicitly to teach color to toddlers ("Fifty Shades of Grey" is not one of them, but hey, nice try). Go to your local library or bookstore, snuggle down on the couch and get reading together.

Give me the green shirt and no one gets hurt.

Use teachable moments, such as a rainy Saturday when your 2-year-old has already eaten cat food, flushed a matchbox car down the toilet and painted the dog's tail with an entire bottle your fave polish. Use this golden window of opportunity to make a game out of finding colors around the house. As you're sorting the laundry, ask her to find Daddy's black sock. As you're picking up that mountain of toys on the living room floor, ask her to find you the yellow duck puzzle piece.

Items you will need

  • Books about colors
  • Play-doh
  • Finger paints
  • Colorful stickers
  • Old magazines
  • Chubby crayons


  • Every child is on his own developmental time line. If your 2-year-old doesn't know all of his colors today, don't worry -- with continued practice and exposure, he will learn them eventually.

About the Author

Jaime Budzienski has contributed essays and articles to the "Boston Globe Sunday Magazine," "Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine" and the "Boston Parents Paper." She holds a B.F.A. in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College and a master's degree in education from UMASS Boston.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images