The danger of colour stereotypes by @BoltCallum

Colours promote such emotion and are attributed to everything we see every day. Children are taught from a very young age that the sky and the ocean are blue, the grass and leaves are green, that the sun, sand and sunflowers are yellow and the night is black. But I ask you, how often have you looked at the ocean and seen green, not blue or looked up into the branches and seen a selection of oranges, yellows, browns and reds not a blanket of green. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t teach children these colour clichés, at a young age they are their first experiences of colour and form the bases of many of their first art pieces.

But it also provides an area of discussion. Do we want children who in every piece of art they create draw a yellow sun and green grass? You may question if this would ever be the case, but I have worked in classes in upper KS2 where the green pencil only makes an appearance for grass, leaves and the occasional alien! I think we should be introducing children to a range of pictures and scenes that show the world in all its colourful glory. Whats wrong with describing the grass as a tan brown after all? When we look at water for example it isn’t always blue and if it is ‘blue’ it has such a wide range of shades and tints.

Its not just about ensuring that children see the range of colours in the world but also the range of shades, tones and tints within a colour itself. Even more important in art forms where the mixture of the material, therefore colour, is greatly important such as painting. The example I am constantly using in my class are tree trunks. I tell them that never in a million years have I seen a tree trunk in one shade of brown! I gather pictures, point out the window or even take them to see a real tree to prove my point.  Pointing out the lighter areas, darker recesses, moss covered sections and pieces ripped away to show new bark underneath. Look at the picture below to see what I mean. The tree have a variety of different colours and actually no two trees will every be the same. The edited Van Gogh painting just looks plain silly! I am hesitant to say but after having this conversation with a class I never have the issue of ‘brown’ tree trunks again! …Touch wood!

Just a quick Google Image search will throw up wonderful pictures proving that the grass isn’t always greener! Making the choice to show and talk with children about the wonderful colours there are and look past those stereotypes in any lesson you teach will nurture children who see the world differently. It will also help in subjects where observations key such as science or English. Being able to describe further than just the green trees and blue skies will make much better writers!

Again, I want to make clear that teaching children the colours of the world through easy to remember examples is by no means wrong and I think that in Nursery or Foundation stage it is just what is needed. But none the less there comes a time in a child’s life, and this is sooner than some may think, where they need to be taught that the sky isn’t always blue.

Click to explore this awesome resource that shows the names of different variations of the colours we see every day.

This article was originally published on Callum’s blog at

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About Callum Bolt 3 Articles
Currently I am working as a Year 2 teacher, Art lead, School Artist and ArtsMark coordinator in an East London School. I have a real passion for all things cross-curricular art!

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