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Mixing Colors

In this activity your child mixes the primary colors to make secondary colors.

By Jeanie McLoughlin

Through prediction and experimentation your child mixes the primary colors (red, yellow and blue) to make secondary colors (orange, purple and green).

What You'll Need:

  • Red, yellow and blue paint (primary colors). Tempera paint is a good option because it is washable and comes in bright colors.
  • Six small containers for paint
  • Six paintbrushes
  • Several sheets of blank white paper
  • A container of water for rinsing paint brushes

Here's How To Do It

Lay out all the containers and place one paintbrush next to each container. Put about one tablespoon of each paint color into its own container. Name the colors with your child (red, yellow and blue). Explain that each color will have its own paintbrush. Ask your child "What do you think will happen if you mix two of the colors?" Have her choose two and mix a small amount of each into an empty container. Ask, "What happened?" "What is the new color?" On paper have her paint the primary and secondary colors. For example, a blue line, a red line and then a purple line (the secondary color). Continue this process until you have six paint colors. Have your child make a painting with the six colors.

Younger children will tend to mix several colors - mixing being the more interesting activity. Older children will tend to have more patience and interest in the process described here. Help your child to answer her own questions by encouraging experimentation, making predictions and then telling you what she has learned.

Activity extenders

  • More mixing. Ask, "What would happen if you mixed all the paint colors?" Have your child mix the primary and secondary colors together and tell you the new color.
  • Darks and lights. Ask, "What do you think will happen when you add white to a color?" "What will happen when you add black?" Ask your child to mix a small amount of black paint and then a small amount of white paint with the primary and secondary colors.
  • Create a rainbow of colors! Use six water bottles and red, yellow and blue food coloring. Have your child add drops of food coloring to each container. Then have her mix blue and red into a container to make purple. Have her mix red and yellow to make orange and yellow and blue to make green. Seal the lids on tight and place them in the order of the color of a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Put the bottles in a sunny spot and enjoy the rainbow!

Jeanie McLoughlin is the director of Preschool for All San Mateo County at the San Mateo County Office of Education in Redwood City, California. Jeanie has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She has been the coordinator for the San Mateo County local child care planning council, a child care resource and referral counselor, and a teacher and director of a private child care center. In March 2004 she was inducted by the Commission on the Status of Women into the San Mateo County Women's Hall of Fame. She has an AS in Early Childhood Education and a BA in Human Services. She is the mother of two young adults.


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