Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)

DSC02778My first preschool color-mixing activity post continues to be well read, and no wonder: color mixing is so much fun, and preschoolers love it. I’m facilitating a process-oriented preschool art class at our homeschool co-op this session, and when the kids said they’d like to do some more painting, I once again turned to Ann Pelo’s book The Language of Art for inspiration.

This time I chose her “tempera paints” activity in the “Exploring Color” section as my guide. It has all the ingredients sure to please preschoolers: tempera paint in squeeze bottles, mixing colors, “seeing what happens,” and, of course, painting.

Materials: Red, yellow, blue, and white tempera paint in condiment-style squeeze bottles (I pick up the condiment bottles when I see them during cookout season); mixing cups (I used yogurt cups; Pelo suggests glass jars with lids so you can save the colors); craft sticks for mixing; paper and paintbrushes–enough brushes for each color


I began by explaining to the kids that we would be mixing our own colors today before painting with them. I held up the containers of blue, red, and yellow paint and explained that these colors are the primary colors, and with them, we can mix any other color we want. I demonstrated by mixing some colors, taking the kids’ suggestions. I showed how to squeeze the paint out of the bottle into the cup, add another color, and mix it up with the stick. I told the kids they were going to be scientists AND artists–and then they got to work mixing colors. I didn’t impose many rules here, but I did try to reflect their process back to them.


My daughter, squeezing some blue paint into her mixing cup.

For instance, when I observed a child mixing up a color, I might say, “That’s a really bright pink. What did you mix to get that color?” This naturally led to the kids telling me what they were doing and what they’d concocted. I had four kids in class this day, and they shared the bottles extremely well, asking for what they needed and passing it along to each other. At one point, one child asked if he could use another child’s paint color. She didn’t agree, but she did agree to tell him how she’d made it so he could make himself a batch.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

When kids were done mixing colors, they were ready to paint. This didn’t happen at the same time for everybody. Two girls were most interested in the squeezing and mixing and kept with that part for more than half the class. In the photo above, one child is showing another the painting he created of two dinosaurs. In the photo below, a child has decided to experiment with the mixing stick as a paint-application tool.


The clean-up was very easy, as well. I had a shallow bucket in which to put paintbrushes to soak, and I covered the tables with shower curtain liners, found at the dollar store. Any paint spills wipe right off while we’re working (so it doesn’t get on sleeves and such), and I don’t have to worry about the tables in the co-op classroom getting too messy for easy clean-up.

Anytime squeeze bottles can be incorporated into an activity for this age, it is guaranteed to be a success. Add in mixing and experimenting…and it’s just a fabulous time!

9 thoughts on “Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)

  1. Elizabeth

    This is great Amy! I always figured limiting the kids to just a few colors would bore them, but of course they can mix their own colors! I haven’t packed our poster paints yet so I’m going to try this activity next week before I do.

    1. Elizabeth

      P.S. I followed your instructions from the PBH forum and I’m able to make comments now. 🙂 Thank you!

      1. amy Post author

        You’re welcome! Also since this is self-hosted it should be simpler anyway…except I’m getting more spam and things get lost if I’m not on top of it!

    2. amy Post author

      In Young at Art, Susan Striker suggests offering only a couple of colors at a time, in a sequence. I don’t find limits, well, limiting–rather, it cuts down on the overwhelm potential–plus, if mixing is more controlled, you eliminate the muddy brown problem. If only red and yellow are offered, a child will understand orange–that’s her basis for this. In general though I think limiting materials is more productive–it’s simplifying. It’s hard to choose from EVERYTHING. And for me personally, I like the challenge of limiting myself. It’s a good exercise.

      1. Elizabeth

        It’s funny you should mention that book because I found it on the bookshelf at the library and I’m currently reading it. I’m freaking out a bit because she seems so particular about introducing materials a certain way and telling the reader what-not-to-do ever. And I am frustrated because my 4 year old abhors art because he can’t make it look like he envisions it (he envisions perfection). (Ummm….he get’s that trait from me). Maybe I’m misreading what she’s saying but I think I’m to give both of my boys a black crayon and big piece of paper and let them scribble for a few months. (I’m on the 2nd or 3rd chapter). Sigh. I have to say that art exploration and provocations are my biggest confusion and obsession with PBH. I think I’m going to stick with my plan to follow along with your weekly sessions. Maybe I’ll even just do them for myself and be sure to leave out enough materials for each child in case they want to join me. I’ll keep reading the book though because it’s very informational. What are your thoughts on the different process art books out there? Do you prefer Ann Pelo’s book to Striker? What about Kohl’s book?

        1. amy Post author

          Honestly, my approach to just about everything is, “Take what works for you and forget the rest.” I don’t follow *any* of these books to the letter…I read through them, and if something hits me as making sense for us, I give it a try. I know I didn’t progress through her book from start to end in the very same sequence; I looked through for ideas, and one of my boys (he was about 4 or 5) really took to exploring color mixing with paint, a couple colors at a time. For weeks. It really worked for him! But I didn’t necessarily do the same activities with my daughter, who grew up, more or less, with a paintbrush in her hand. By the same age (she’s 4 now), she can and will tell me exactly what she wants to do.

          Same thing with Ann Pelo’s book…I think it’s great inspiration, but I don’t do everything in sequence. We’re very much about picking and choosing according to personality, current interest, mama’s motivation level on any given day… and we have many books that we browse. I need to work on making a page of book resources, I think!

          I don’t own any of Kohl’s books. I know lots of people love them. I’ve had some out of the library but never made the leap into buying any. Personally, I didn’t find much within the ones I borrowed that we hadn’t already done or thought of…BUT that is not to say that YOU wouldn’t. Truly, you know your kids. If you see something you think would strike a chord (no matter where in the “suggested sequence” it might fall for any particular author or book), give it a try. I wouldn’t look at anybody as an expert, rather as a resource. Pick and choose as feels right to you.

  2. Karen

    Ann Pelo is a very cool person. I knew her casually in Seattle in the early 90s. We were both involved in the worthy wage campaign for child care teachers. I kind of wanted to be her when I grew up. I really like her art book and Susan Striker’s. A book I used a lot when I was a toddler teacher (but haven’t read in ages) is “Don’t move the muffin tins” by Bev Bos.

    1. Elizabeth

      I really want to check out Ann Pelo’s book and the more I read into Striker’s book the more I like it. I’m actually liking the simplicity of the art projects now and how she has laid out a simple art program to follow. I need that when I first start any crafty endeavor. I needed it for sewing but now that I have a few projects under my belt I feel like I can break away from the tutorial/pattern to do it MY way. I’m sure that’s how it will be for art too.

  3. Bells

    This does look like fun. We bought some paints for Alice but whenever she’s here we always have outings planned or things get in the way. I feel like I need to be brave enough to get out the paints – it really can’t be that hard.

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