Color Lesson for Kids: Theory & Chart

Instructor: Elizabeth Hance

Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.

In this lesson, you will learn about theories and explanations of what color is and how different colors work together. You will understand how colors interact to create new colors and how to categorize different colors.

What is Color?

Each day you see a dazzling variety of colors. You might see a range of reds, yellows, and oranges as leaves change color in the fall. Perhaps you've seen a rainbow stretch across the sky on a rainy but sunny day.

But what exactly is color? Color is what you see when light shines off an object. An object can absorb light, or it can reflect light. Objects that appear white don't absorb any light; objects that are black are absorbing all light. So, to see color, you must have light!

Theories of Color

Isaac Newton came up with one of the earliest theories on color.

Have you ever seen a ray of light come through a piece of glass or a window, making a rainbow? This is similar to how Sir Isaac Newton came up with his theory of color in the 1660s. He was able to show that clear light could make colors. Newton named seven distinct colors, the same ones that we see in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. He arranged the colors around a circle to form a color wheel that is still used today.

Before Newton, the first theory about color came from a philosopher named Aristotle. Aristotle believed that God sent color from heaven.

In the 1800s, Johann von Goethe argued that there was more to color than just science, like Newton believed. Goethe said that different people experience colors differently.

Another writer, J.C. LeBlon, helped explain the difference between colored light, the type of color that Newton explained, and material colors, like paint, in the 1700s. He helped explain a printing process that would use primary colors to create secondary colors. His ideas are still used today!

Putting Colors Into Categories

The color wheel shows primary and secondary colors.
color wheel

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