Color Mixing


That chemical transformations evoke human fascination is a universal truth. We think back to our own childhood memories: the discovery that powdery, sieve-able sand, when mixed with water, could be molded into shapes, and that the tide coming in could change those shapes with one sweep. Or that simple ingredients could be mixed together and heated to make something that looked very different and smelled and tasted yummy. As educators, we are always looking for ways to frame experiences for children that engage their intrinsic curiosity to promote discovery and learning. This year we decided to tap into this fascination with chemical transformation by creating a color mixing experience in Group B.


Transformations are especially powerful and satisfying when you yourself are the agent of change. It can be challenging, however, for teachers of young children to create meaningful color mixing experiences that a large classroom of children of varying levels of development can access independently (with a minimum of adult direction or redirection); which allows children to make their own discoveries at their own pace, and in a way that makes the learning visible (both to themselves, and to us as documenters). As with so much of our thinking about how to structure inviting, intentional experiences for children, where and how we present the materials is key.


Often, the deciding factor in a successful experience is finding the right containers. This year we recycled a clear plastic many-sectioned bead box. Another great find were small clear plastic canisters that are a little bit like fat test tubes with a flat bottom. These were key items because they are just the right size and shape to hold the colored water and eyedropper without easily tipping over. A clear tray allows any spilled liquid to become part of the learning as well as making immediate clean-ups a non-issue. A sheet of laminated white paper underneath the clear bead box tray was the final piece. We decided to create space for this experience on the small purple shelf next to the sink. We hoped this choice would create an attractive, accessible experience for all of the children who passed by this high traffic area and yet, since there is enough room for at most three children to work at the same time, it would organically encourage more thoughtful, concentrated work.


We began with only one color, red. The four containers were filled with reds of various degrees of dilution, from clear water to the most concentrated red which was almost black.

We wondered: Would the children be attracted to “mixing” with water and one color? Would they notice the subtle changes they could create? If so, would this in fact deepen the experience and enhance their observations and mathematical and scientific vocabularies when we added a second color, a third color? How would their fine motor skills affect the outcome of the experience? What pairings of peers would we see working together? And, as always, what next? And when?

Here is what has happened so far:


Sloan: Look, Lisa. I put water and red together and it makes pink. See? I can do it together (two droppers at the same time) This is what you do. If I add more water it makes it lighter. If I add more black it makes it darker.

We had to experiment with the amount of pigment in the containers so that the children would be able to create and notice the subtle changes between the “pinks.”


Edie and Lily:
E: You’re making pink, Lily.
L: Yeah, I am.
E: Let’s make many kinds of pink.
L: Yeah, let’s fill up the whole tray with pinks!
E: Yeah!

At lunchtime:
E: My water bottle is pink.
L: Hmm, I see that. What kind of pink is it?
E: It’s kind of a purply pinky kind of dark pink.


When all of the children had had a turn to experiment with the red/water and then yellow/water mixture several times, we set out water and dilutions of yellow and red.


Max: I noticed that yellow and yellow just make the same, yellow.
Max notices the pink-tinted spill on the clear tray which is visible partly on the white paper underneath and partly on the purple shelf. “Look, it looks purple. And here it looks pink. Now there are three colors, one is empty.
Trevor: I made orange!
Max: Now we’re making lots of colors. Let’s put it in this color, Trevor.
Trevor: Ok, I put it all in (laughing as he pours). Max, can you fill this one up?


Ella: Do you see what I’m making? It’s a orange-ish pink.

Zivia: Let’s work together.

Ella: OK, you take this side and I’ll take these colors.

Zivia: We’re making all kinds of pinkish-oranges.  But I think we need more red.

Ella: Uh oh.  It spilled. I’m sorry.

Lisa: It’s OK, Ella.  And we can still use it.

Zivia: Yeah, Ella we can still get the pink!


Do you notice how this “science” exploration naturally lends itself to mathematical concepts such as quantity and comparison? Pinching an eyedropper in specific ways to control the intake and release of a lot of a little liquid also encourages fine motor skills. As we continue with this exploration, we will be looking at how other skill domains are  accessed.



Have you noticed any interest in color mixing at home?  If you look at the blog with your child, does it spark a conversation? If so, will you share it with us?  Some people are having trouble leaving comments in WordPress but e-mail or verbally is a fine way to give feedback too.


One thought on “Color Mixing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *