A Lesson in Mixing Colors for Kids (While Making Heart Art)

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Heart art and a lesson in mixing colors for kids

Post by Amy Broadmoore

If you would like to encourage your children to mix paint colors, then Color Dance by Ann Jonas is the book for you.

Color Dance not only teaches children that they can mix red and yellow to make orange, but also that by varying the amounts of red and yellow they can make “vermillion” (a shade between red and orange) and “marigold” (a shade between orange and yellow).* Furthermore, Color Dance teaches children to make pale colors, by adding white, and dark colors, by adding grey or black.

A lesson in mixing colors for kids

Color Dance has been a hit with both my 4-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. In Color Dance, Ann Jonas successfully combines two of my daughter’s favorite subjects: dance and art. My son has enjoyed discovering that a wide spectrum of colors exists beyond red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Color Dance

While reading Color Dance has piqued my kids’ interest in mixing colors, it goes without saying that reading about mixing colors, without more, will not turn my kids into confident painters. To become confident painters, kids must also have the opportunity to paint.

Teaching Children How to Mix Paints

A few quick tips for teaching children how to mix paints:

▪     Let children mix their own paints. Yes, some days my kids spend 80% of their time mixing colors and only 20% of their time painting. I consider the time spent mixing paints to be just as valuable as the time spent painting.

▪     Only offer children red, yellow, blue, white, and black paints. Children can and will learn to mix all of the other colors they want to paint with.

▪     Offer children progressively more complex painting experiences. Give children the opportunity to paint with a single color before offering them two. Give children the opportunity to paint with two colors at a time (red and yellow, red and blue, yellow and blue, etc.) before offering them three. (This third tip comes from Susan Striker, author of Young at Art.)

Teaching Children How to Mix Paints

Making these homemade painted Valentines has been a great way to encourage my kids to experiment with mixing pale colors.

Homemade Painted Valentines – To make our homemade painted Valentines, we cut out a heart template, traced two hearts on each sheet of 8 ½ by 11 inch, thick (90 lb.) white paper, and cut out the hearts. We started simply. I offered the kids a bottle of white tempera paint, a bottle of red tempera paint, and a few empty bowls.

Teaching Children How to Mix Paints

Mixing Colors for Kids at Different Ages

For my 2-year-old, painting with red and white was sufficiently complex to engage him for quite some time. He is still learning the mechanics of painting and learns quite a bit from painting with one color at a time. My 2-year-old is not yet old enough to premix colors. Instead, I offered him one bowl of white paint and one bowl of red paint and let him go to town. It was fun to watch him mix and play with the paint. He clearly enjoyed the process. Nearly every one of his hearts was covered with a thick layer of dark pink paint by the time he was finished.

My 4-year-old has had experience mixing primary colors to make secondary colors, but this was one of her first opportunities to add white paint to create pale colors. It was good to begin by offering her only two colors. She discovered that only a little red paint went a long way and that she could create various shades of pink by varying the amount of red she added to the white. After painting a couple hearts with red and white, she asked for blue. Suddenly, with only one more bottle of paint at her disposal, she could create blue, pale blue, purple, and lavender.

My 7-year-old has had quite a bit of experience mixing paint, including some experience mixing pale colors. When he decided to join his brother and sister, he whipped off his shirt and exclaimed “I need more colors!” Thus, he began with four bottles of tempera paint: red, yellow, blue and white. Usually he decided which color he was going to mix and then mixed it. Occasionally he added colors without thinking, stirred, and watched what happened. He worked hard to mix just the right shades of “light red” (he wanted to avoid pink) and “gold” (he wanted a color more spectacular than yellow).

As the kids painted hearts, it was fun to watch them experiment and become more adept at mixing paint colors.

Teaching Children How to Mix Paints

To complete their homemade painted Valentines, the kids will write notes on each, attach a little something – heart-shaped bubble blowers – and voila!

*[i.e. Color Dance introduces kids to mixing tertiary colors as well as secondary colors, without mentioning these terms.]

Color Mixing for Kids Lesson Inspired by Color DanceColor Mixing for Kids :: More Ideas

More picture book recommendations

About the author ::

Amy BroadmooreAmy Broadmoore is a mother of three young children ages seven, four and two. She spends her time teaching and learning from her children, running, and searching for great picture books. She compiles booklists about a variety of themes (e.g. birds, dance and friendship) and shares them at Delightful Children’s Books.

This post contains affiliate links.

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  1. Dena says

    Those hearts came out so good! And thanks for dividing up what you did with each age!! Very thoughtful post and I already checked out her website which is awesome too!

  2. says

    Great post, Amy. I’ve always been a bit dismayed — yes, I know I should just let creativity reign and not make judgments :-) — when my kids have done any kind of painting because, invariably, everything ends up brown. Now, thanks to your post, I have a strategy for avoiding that. Even better, they’ll get practice mixing their own colors. Cool!

  3. says

    Thank you, Jean! Thanks so much for letting me share this space with you. We get lots of fantastic ideas for art projects from your site. I love how the Valentines match The Artful Parent banner.

  4. says

    Absolutely! I have not had the kids paint with standard watercolor sets much b/c the kids end up mixing all of the colors together into a muddy mess. I just recently ordered liquid watercolors (recommended here at The Artful Parent) and am excited to use the same approach I have used with tempera paints to have the kids experiment with the liquid watercolors.

  5. Patty says

    Thanks for this post! My 4 kids have to make 120 Valentines between all of them so this helps alot! I have a 23 month old, twins that are 5 and a 4 yr. old so this will be lots of fun! I can’t wait to get them started!

  6. says

    I was surprised by how quickly my kids made enough of these Valentine’s for all of their classmates. They enthusiastically painted stacks of them in two sittings.

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  8. pat says

    How do you have children mix colors without wasting a lot of paint? Could you give me some guidance as how you go about teaching the mixing process. I know if I set this out with my children they would just keep mixing until the bottles of paint were empty. Thanks for any help you could offer me.