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The Color Brown

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Dear Childcare Providers,

The world needs us more now than ever. I have a feeling that if you opened this post, you're one of us. By that, I mean someone who believes that early childhood education is our best opportunity to make positive change in the world.

To me, positive change means creating more peace and less violence. It means more non-violent communication. Communication skills start developing the moment we're born and even before that! And better communication is what we need.

May 1st was Childcare Provider Appreciation Day but with all the bad things happening in the world, it didn't get too much press this year. I want to tell you that I truly appreciate you all 365 days of the year and I'm going to do my best to show you that you do make a difference.

The research done at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child shows this is unequivocally true.

In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focusing on early childhood only makes sense. -Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University-

But after 40+ years of hands-on teaching experience and earning both undergraduate and graduate level degrees in the field, not to mention at least 500 hours of continuing education, I have a PLAN.

My plan is to start early and focus on creating peace instead of waiting til later and being forced to fight violence. It includes Problem-solving instead of blame, Learning about differences in a positive way instead of lumping people into categories based on bias, And, Non-violent communication instead of bullying.

That's my PLAN and I'm sticking to it! Are you with me? If so here are a couple of things that might help you. I don't get compensated for any endorsements by the way, but maybe I should since I'm only endorsing what I actually use as a professional.

If you believe in equity and antibias education, check out the links below.

I'm committed to supporting you as early childhood educators and helping you to support the children and parents you work with. I wrote this article called The Color Brown to make things just a little bit easier for you this week. It gives you some concrete ideas on how to support and welcome families of color and all families in your programs.

The Color Brown

We all have biases and here's one to be aware of if you're an infant, toddler, or preschool educator. I've heard it expressed often and you’ve probably heard it too. It’s a bias about the color brown. It’s not an attitude we really want to pass along. But it sometimes happens unconsciously.

However, with a little bit of reflection, I think we can plant some seeds that help create a helpful and positive attitude about color. Specifically, about the color brown. Think about it.

Brown is actually a beautiful color that combines several others. Because of this, there are many different shades of brown. Sienna, toast, cinnamon, amber, gold, copper, and bronze are just a few.

So why do teachers and parents sometimes tell children not to “mix” colors because then they’ll just turn brown? Is brown really an inferior color? I don’t think so and since young children want to mix colors, I think we should encourage them to create browns.

Look around your home and see if gorgeous shades of brown are part of your decor. Since it tends to create warmth, the answer is probably yes. How about your clothing?

Here are some concrete examples of developmentally appropriate things you can say in order to show appreciation for the color brown.

  • Wow!! Look at that gorgeous brown you just made.

  • Which colors did you use to create that shade of brown?

  • I love where the brown makes the blues look good over here in your painting.

  • Can we mix paint to match the colors of our skin? What color is yours?

  • Did you make a light brown or a dark brown?

Here’s a book that might help you look at colors with a fresh set of eyes.

And an activity that can highlight the beauty of the color brown and help everyone feel good about doing an art experience. Keep in mind that toddler art is all about the process and not the product.

Color mixing for toddlers

Give each toddler a large piece of paper and a toddler-friendly paintbrush. (or use fingers if you’re feeling brave!)

Squirt 3 blobs of paint in primary colors, red, yellow, and blue directly on their papers. Let them experiment without judging. Let them keep going until they want to stop. Show appreciation for every color they make, including brown. Supply them with a second piece of paper if they fill theirs and want to keep going. Use the opposite end of a paintbrush to etch their name in the corner if you want to.

Some people think that by asking young children not to mix paints, they are teaching them a higher level of skill. This isn’t true. Since they want to mix the paint, they can be allowed to do it until they start experimenting with different techniques. When children are 4 and 5, they start separating colors on their own regardless of our coaching.

One possible problem with asking children to do something they’re not developmentally ready to do, like keeping paint colors separate, is that it may cause them to feel bad about participating in the project itself because they can’t understand the reason for the restriction.

To be honest, neither can I. And I really do like the color brown!

Good people come in all different sizes and colors, just like everything else in nature. njb

reflection: What can you do in your work to promote acceptance of differences?

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.


“Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 4 Dec. 2017,

Derman-Sparks, Louise, et al. Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2020.

Rosenberg, Marshall B. Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships & Your World in Harmony with Your Values. Puddle Dancer, 2003.

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