I see red

A student teacher was asking for help with ideas about how to teach a unit based on colours for 5-6 year olds (Kindergarten in her US context, but what we would call Prep here in Victoria – the first year of school). Her question reminded me of a penny-drop moment I had a few years ago.
I had decided to try a thing I had heard about: focus on a single colour. We would have a day of red, one of blue, one of yellow etc. We told the kids about it and asked them to wear red to the next class. We pulled out all the red play materials. We had a big dish and a barrel for the playground. We put out only the red buckets, sieves and spades in the sandpit. We selected red plates, cups and food for the home corner. We made red playdough. I pulled out every sorting set we had and selected only the red bits: red insects; red teddies; red vehicles; red dinosaurs. I found books on colour – even a couple of books on red.
When it came to the art materials, we thought about putting only red paint at the easel, but then decided to put a couple of different types of red paint. For collage, we found various kinds of red paper. For drawing we had red pencils, textas, crayons and pastels.
Everything was red, and only red. It was very eye-catching. The room looked spectacular.
But when I started to teach in that room, I found the last thing I could talk about was red. When everything is red, colour disappears. It is no longer a distinguishing feature.
Our coloured sorting bowls were rendered meaningless. Instead, our language was about finding an insect (cricket/fly/spider) or a vehicle (truck/car/train). Since I teach in Italian, this had the effect of pushing us to use language we had not highlighted before.
In the art areas, I found myself talking about shade, and texture. The different qualities of cellophane, tissue paper, crepe paper, heavy or light card were really brought out by this juxtaposition where colour was no longer the strongest marker.
It was a great lesson for me.
Every so often, I do it again. I like the impact. I like how it makes the world different, and so challenges the children to look carefully.
But now I know that this is not a way to focus on colour, but to bleach colour out and focus on other things.

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