What colour is happy?’ was the question posed to nursery children as they started a new school year at St Katherine’s School and Nursery in Snodland, Kent. The enquiry was aimed to intrigue children and enable practitioners to follow children’s interests, help new children to settle in and lead to conversations about emotions to support well-being.
The nursery takes children from three years old, so while some were returning after the summer break, others were being welcomed into the setting for the first time.
‘We wanted the children to form strong relationships with their peers and adults too. We thought that explorations around colour would be something that everyone could talk about and enable them to talk about themselves and their favourite things. Colour can also lead to talking about emotions,’ says nursery teacher Stacey Hyland.
Throughout the half term, the children explored a range of themes linked to colour, including:
The children were fascinated by The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. In the story, Duncan isn’t able to do his colouring because the crayons are complaining – blue needs a break from colouring water, beige is fed up of being overshadowed by brown, while orange and yellow aren’t speaking to each other!
Practitioners shared the book and displayed the illustrations on a large Smartboard, so they could study them in more detail. ‘It can be regarded as a difficult book for nursery-aged children to understand, but we feel that sharing challenging texts can encourage them to challenge themselves and think of new ideas,’ says Mrs Hyland.
‘There was a lot of talk about the pictures, such as commenting that the crayon “looks grumpy”. We were able to extend this and ask what makes them grumpy. The children also showed empathy about how the different crayons were feeling.’
Emotion cards and puppets were used in circle time to help children to ‘read’ emotions. They discussed how people may be feeling and what could be done to support them.
‘The children were really excited to find out what happened at the end of the book. We asked the children to guess how it would conclude. They then loved it when we got to the last page and they could see Duncan’s new picture with a pink aeroplane, a blue fire engine and black rainbow. There was something for everyone,’ says Mrs Hyland.
In key groups, the children created their own pictures inspired by the book. And galvanised by the story, one boy hid crayons around the garden and gave his friends clues to find them.
They were unsure whether they had found all the crayons so EYP Jenna Webb helped them to devise a chart to tick off when each colour had been found. ‘It was a lovely activity initiated by the children. They played for some time and took it in turns to hide and find the crayons,’ Mrs Hyland says. ‘Mark-making, problem-solving and counting were all involved.’
It was decided to introduce data handling to the children in order to find out their collective favourite colour. A pictogram was chosen and children stuck their photograph alongside their colour choice.
‘It is a girl-heavy class and pink did win which was disappointing, but it’s probably our first cohort where no-one said that only girls like pink,’ says Mrs Hyland. ‘It was commented that blue is a boy colour, so we could address stereotypes by talking about how we all like different colours regardless of whether we’re boys or girls. We’re all unique.’
The interest in favourite colours continued with new children being taken to the pictograph and asked to contribute. This led to using tallying.
Children enjoyed listening to True Colors by Cyndi Lauper. Some danced to the song with coloured ribbon sticks and made patterns with them in time to the music. They continued their creativity by using crayons to draw big, sweeping circles on large pieces of paper.
Practitioners then showed the children the artist Wassily Kandinsky’s ‘Squares with Concentric Circles’, which explores how different colours interact. The children were inspired to make their own colourful circle pictures using a range of media, including pen, crayon and paint. These were then put together to form a large piece of collaborative art.
‘It helped us to develop the feeling of us all being one community and that the nursery is everyone’s shared space,’ says Mrs Hyland. ‘The children were proud to tell their parents that they were artists and to show them the artwork. They looked at their favourite colours in the painting and talked about what they could see.’
Given the timing of the project, the children also explored autumn and Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. ‘We spoke about why the leaves on trees change colour and fall off, and then linked this to the book. The beautiful illustrations use coloured leaves to create different images as the wind blows them, such as fish swimming through a lake or flying geese,’ says Mrs Hyland.
Children gathered leaves to create their own pictures, first in guided groups then independently. Later, when the weather turned cold, children remembered their explorations and lay leaf pictures in trays of water and left them outside to freeze.
They also investigated autumn colours by filling egg boxes with different-coloured natural resources. There are lots of trees in the school grounds so they gathered leaves ranging from pink to yellow, and red berries. ‘Before this, children would have automatically said leaves are green,’ says Mrs Hyland. ‘They now know they can be lots of colours.’
Practitioners planned colour investigations, including squirting coloured paint on tabletops and encouraging reluctant mark-makers to ‘drive’ cars through it.
EYP Christina Noakes provided powder paint for children to explore on the ground with brooms on a wet day. It soon became apparent, when chalks started to go missing, that the children were also devising their own experiments – crushing the chalks in a pestle and mortar in the mud kitchen and using them to mix colours and make magic potions. Indoors, children layered up coloured Perspex tiles to create pictures and mix colours.
Children also experimented with colour when they discussed Diwali.
‘The children talked of blue as being cold and red was linked to hearts and love, but we found that linking emotions to colours is a tricky concept to grasp. However, it was a good springboard to lots of investigations and to talk about feelings in general,’ says Mrs Hyland. ‘A few children mentioned worries that we feel we wouldn’t have picked up on if we’d not been having these discussions, such as the hand drier in the toilet being too noisy. It was lovely that they were able to open up about their worries. We could discuss them as a group and it created the understanding that it is normal to have worries.’
EYP Sasha Goodayle found her key children revealed more confidence when talking about their favourite things.
So, what colour is happy? The children decided that all their favourite colours are happy colours.
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
Poor Duncan just wants to colour but his crayons have quit! A colourful solution is needed to solve this crisis.
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
The crayons are back and they’re crosser than ever. Duncan receives postcards from his crayons who have been lost, forgotten, broken – even melted in a clothes dryer and stuck to a sock!
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
A man made of colourful autumn leaves blows away, travelling wherever the wind takes him.
The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas
Colour Monster wakes up feeling very confused. He feels angry, happy, calm, sad and scared all at once!
Pink Is For Boys by Robb Pearlman and Eda Kaban
Rethink and reframe the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary and empower children – and adults – to express themselves in every colour of the rainbow.
Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet
Follow the artist’s simple instructions and suddenly colours appear, mix, splatter and vanish in a world powered only by the reader’s imagination.
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Three white mice find three jars of paint. They jump in and out, dance in the puddles, and discover some amazing things – things like green, orange and purple.