Knowing Colors and Numbers

Should a three-and-a-half-year-old know colors and numbers?
My three-and-a-half-year-old still doesn't really know his colors and his counting abilities are shaky. When I ask him, "What color is this?" he always says "Blue," no matter what color I show him. It's the same thing with numbers. If I start saying "One...," he can count up to five with no problem. But he can't really consistently go any farther than that. He seems old for these types of troubles. Am I right? Is there anything else I can do?
The learning of colors and numbers (or anything else for that matter), should not be done in a rigorous, instructional way. The best way for him to learn these things is through exploration, self-discovery, and making mistakes.

You should certainly provide him with the opportunity to be exposed to colors, numbers, shapes, etc. Allow him to play with paints, crayons, clay, and natural objects. Go to museums and zoos and libraries. Read to him every day. But don't drill him -- that's certain to take the joy and fun out of learning.

He will also be less likely to answer your questions if he feels he will be criticized for being wrong. It is much better for him to come to you one day and say "Mommy, this crayon is green," having discovered it on his own, than for him to spend time having someone ask him repeatedly which color is which.

The same goes for the numbers. Certainly provide games, songs, and activities that include counting, but do not test him on it. There will be plenty of time for structured learning later on. Let him enjoy being a kid for now.

Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

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