One of the most universally popular activities outside involves looking for colours and exploring the diversity of what we find in an outdoor space. Very often this is done through handing out paint swatches from DIY shops. I rather liked Hazlehead Nursery’s approach which based the colour search on Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.

As children get older we can make the colour searches increasingly sophisticated with the help of a rather fetching app, Color Vacuum. It is an app that turns your mobile device into an old-fashioned machine to explore and search for colours in your environment. Luckily it has lots of helpful pointers and advice if you get a bit stuck with some of its functions.

Basically, it involves going around taking photos of different colours. As this happens the quantities of blue, red and green light are recorded as can be seen on the bottom left vials. So here’s my photo record of a dandelion. Look for the yellow circle south-west of the dandelion – this is the colour being captured.

When a colour is captured, it floats in the centre circle. It gathers with other similar colours, creating a range of colour bubbles. Here’s the 25 colours I found in my back garden:

Once 25 colours have been collected, the app switches into “Search” mode. Suddenly the challenge becomes tricky as you have to find those exact colours again as indicated in the square, south-south-west of the centre circle. This is not a game to be played outdoors in rapidly changing light conditions! On the top right hand side, the light bulbs indicate how close you are to finding the correct colour.

Suddenly it’s like a game of colour hide ‘n’ seek! If you have more than one iPad, then the devices can be swapped so that children try and find each others colours. If you only have one device, believe me, the challenge is sufficient for each child to enter one colour and find one colour. I would strongly advise beginning with just 2 or 3 inputs and testing these.

Finally there is the “Vacuum” mode. This is even more challenging in that you are given a colour to search for, but you have to subtract or add different quantities of blue, red and green. Here you can see that I’ve managed to find the match! The green light means I’ve got the match!

Without a doubt, this app works better on an iPad. I think I would be squinting at the screen on a mobile phone. Also, as with most ICT activities outdoors, it works best in shadows or on dull, cloudy days… Oh! No so good for the weather we’ve been having in the UK lately!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Coombemill - Fiona July 21, 2013 at 10:21

I’ve never heard of this app, I bet the children had great fun with it. I love the Elmer created by the colour swatches by younger children. Thanks for sharing on Country Kids.


Juliet Robertson July 21, 2013 at 21:22

Hi Fiona

I stumbled across this app by chance. The developers contacted me with regard to another app they are creating and I really liked the challenge and creativity of this one. I posted it on your blog as I knew it would appeal to parents too.

Best wishes


Samantha Fernley July 24, 2013 at 08:55

What a fantastic app, I’m going to have a look for it now. Glad to have found your very useful blog, thanks.


Craig armiger August 23, 2016 at 06:03

Nice activity Juliet. I like the the format of the old fashioned machine brings out the treasure hunt feeling.
The kids loved it but as being colourblind I found it frustrating as you could imagine


Juliet Robertson August 23, 2016 at 06:59

Aha! The limitations of a colour-based app. Pleased you gave it a go with your kids. I think it’s surprisingly tricky.


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