You can never really do too many color mixing activities with kids, right?
There is always an unexplored medium, a way to extend a familiar activity or a new shade to create. Plus, there is something absolutely magical about combining two colors (blue + red) and voila, creating a new color: purple!
I treasure fond memories of Saturday morning pancakes growing up; my dad always gave us each a mug full of plain batter and a package of food coloring and we had free rein to make whatever color pancakes we wanted. The only caveat was that whatever we made, we had to eat! We learned really quickly how to mix our favorite shades—and how unappealing a dark gray pancake is. That sense of awe and satisfaction that comes with making new colors (using pancake batter, paint or anything in between) also gives kids a strong foundation for understanding primary and secondary colors and can serve as a sensory wonderland.
Today I am excited to share with you some really fantastic color mixing activities from The Artful Parent and around the web, including a great how-to for paint mixing (don’t be afraid!); an incredibly appealing combination of baking soda, vinegar and hidden color; a gorgeous liquid watercolor mixing activity, a heap of other ideas, and some lovely children’s books that introduce concepts of color mixing.
7 Color Mixing Activities for Kids
A Lesson in Color Mixing for Kids using Color Dance by Ann Jonas – Introduces paint mixing using the book Color Dance by Ann Jonas and offers tips for how to give kids the opportunity to mix their own paint colors and use them to decorate hearts (you could use any paper shape!) Approaches for different ages are included.
Rainbow in a Bag – A Color Mixing Experiment – Easy, no-mess way to do color mixing with younger kids using cornstarch, sugar, water and food coloring to make squishy gels. The gels are put into Ziploc bags; each bag includes two primary colors, and kids get to squish it all together to mix the colors for a satisfying sensory experience.
How to Mix Paint With Kids – A Step by Step Tutorial– A great primer from Meri Cherry about the basics of letting kids make a wide, expansive rainbow of amazing colors starting only with the three primary colors and white.
Baking Soda and Vinegar Color Mixing Activity – From No Time for Flashcards, this color mixing activity is a fun combination of science, art, and problem solving. By adding colored vinegar to jars of baking soda with hidden drops food coloring, kids create marvelously colored explosions, and then they can figure out what color was hidden in the baking soda! Older kids can really get into the deductive reasoning, while younger kids love the exciting fizzy explosions.
Liquid Watercolor Mixing on Wet Paper – Although this post is written for classroom instruction, it is easily adapted for home and the results are absolutely stunning. Using masking tape to divide a wet piece of watercolor paper or canvas board into sections, each section becomes a mini-painting to fill with two primary colors. On wet media, the colors mix so that you can still see the primary colors as well as the new secondary color. Kids can add salt at the end for an extra wow factor.
Colored Shaving Cream Paint Mixing – Little Blue and Little Yellow – This activity from Meri Cherry uses shaving cream and food coloring to let kids mix two primary colors together and introduces the book Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni. It would also work just as beautifully with other primary colors!
Color Theory for Little Ones – From Playful Learning, this simple but powerful activity lets kids mix primary colors with fingerpaints (you could also use tempera or acrylic paints) on butcher paper with their hands. Also has some lovely suggestions for extension to include complementary & tertiary colors, shading and tinting, and color harmony.
If you’re introducing your kids to color theory and paint mixing, you might like to read a fun picture book first before doing one of the color mixing activities above. Here are a few that we love.
5 Children’s Books about Color Mixing
- Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh – This book has been one of the most read in our family since my children were tiny. Three white mice fall into jars of mouse paint and turn red, yellow and blue. As their feet mix in puddles of paint, they create new colors, all the while trying to escape capture by the cat! The paper collage illustrations are simple and eye-catching and the story is so engaging.
- Color Dance by Ann Jonas – Vibrant illustrations, simple text on each page and exciting color words like chartreuse and vermillion make this book great! The illustrations show dancing children wearing different colored leotards (red, yellow, blue, white and black) who move around with colored scarves and show how the primary colors mix to make new colors and shades.
- Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni – A lovely and classic tale of friendship, little blue and little yellow are the best of friends who, after losing one another, hug so tightly that they turn into green and no one recognizes them anymore! The striking illustrations are created by torn paper collage like many of Lionni’s other books and are incredibly inviting.
- Mix it Up by Hervé Tullet – Hervé Tullet is one of my favorite authors (he also wrote Press Here and Art Workshops for Children – a book which I guarantee will make you feel like an absolute art rock star if you use it to create art in a group!), and this book captures his sense of whimsy and delight as readers tap pages and dabs of paint appear, combine, mix, grow and dance all over the page.
- The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments by Arnold Lobel – I almost didn’t include this book, because it’s out of print, but there are some used copies available on Amazon and in some library systems, and it’s just so lovely. A fable about a wizard who lives in a world of only black and white, he mixes a little bit of this, a little bit of that until he makes something he names “blue” and paints his house with it. He ends up creating other colors and the book also addresses mood and emotional response to color in such a thoughtful and gentle way. If you can find a copy of this book, you will likely love it!
About the Author
Melissa Garrett is a parent, teacher, social worker, mess maker and lover of art supplies. She has a host of experience teaching and working with lots of different age groups, especially preschoolers. She also has a background in music and loves to integrate sound and art into the classroom and everyday life as much as possible.
Melissa loves open-ended art exploration, sewing with unexpected materials, finding interesting sounds in surprising places, going on forest adventures, and letting kids explore the world at their own pace. She has a 7-year-old daughter who really enjoys being covered with paint from head to toe, a 4-year-old son who is possibly the loudest person alive, and a very patient spouse who balances her chaos.
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