Have you ever heard of a “brainbow?” When scientists learned to add colors to the gray and white matter of the brain, they began to understand the structural basis for learning. The neurons of the brain are in such a dense jungle that it was hard to differentiate one neuron from another, much less trace the connections between them. Neuroscientists tell us that the patterns of connections define bits of learning. Brainbows help researchers study the brain in real time—as someone is actually thinking or learning—and color makes possible new discoveries, innovations and cures.
For us human beings, color is often associated with beauty, as in nature. Great artists learned to mimic the colors we see by sometimes by using unusual combinations of color. For example, tree trunks are traditionally seen as brown, but look at real trees and see how many colors you find! Color also has a scientific side. Joseph Albers helped us see this in the last mid-century by showing how colors are not what they seem to be. Colors are very sensitive to contrast and context.
The same color will not look the same when it has different surroundings. For example, look at the brown square on top and compare it to the gold square on the side. (Hide the colors between and around them.) You’ll find they are the same!
Color adds so much to all aspects of our lives and is an important element in the Sensory Alphabet. Try exploring color with children in these and other ways:
- Mix water colors, acrylic or tempera to make new colors. Start with yellow, red and blue. Then add white or black. Can you make a color that matches your skin color?
- For a tactile experience, put drops of color in shaving cream and try mixing the colors.
- Make colorful “lookers.” Make a 1” or smaller hole in an index card. Cover the hole with a color of cellophane, acetate or theatrical gel. Look at the world far away and up close. How does your looker change the way other colors look?
- Choose a favorite color and find examples of it in magazines. Combine to create a collage. Try to mix and match the colors with paint on a piece of cardstock.
- Listen to the blues or red hot jazz music and try to determine how it got it’s color name. Listen to or sing songs with colors in their names: “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Mood Indigo,” “Blue Skies,” “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” “Deep Purple.” How do they make you feel?
- Cover a balloon with pieces of tissue paper in different colors. Let dry and take out the balloon. Use as a lampshade and see how the colors combine.
- Take little grey squares that are all the same color and glue them to the center of larger squares of red, green and other colors. How does the surrounding color change what you see?
- Use color coding to organize a room or closet.
- Use a program on your computer or tablet to change the colors in photos you take.
After some experimenting, ask children what activity they liked best. Does color play an important part in their lives? If so, find other color adventures to explore.