Introduce your child to the concept of primary colors and secondary colors with this hands-on learning project that involves art, color, and curiosity! 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.

How to do this hand-on learning activity

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 your child choose two colors and mix a small amount of each into an empty container. Ask, “What happened?” “What is the new color?” On paper, have your child paint the primary and secondary colors. For example, paint a blue line, paint a red line and then paint 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. Both are developmentally appropriate and a great hands-on learning experience. Help your child to answer their own questions by encouraging experimentation, making predictions, and then telling you what they have learned.

Learning 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.
  • Darker and lighter. 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 add red, yellow, and blue food coloring. Have your child add drops of food coloring to each container. Then have your child mix blue and red into a container to make purple. Have your child 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!