Color mixing works are always a hit in the classroom. We progress through all these variations during the year, because while it seems like a simple concept, it truly is something that takes children years to fully internalize color mixing. And, while I didn’t plan this, with St. Patrick’s Day coming up, what better time to have a little rainbow fun!
We use four main lessons for color mixing, one group lesson and three individual works. The group lesson is the introduction, and usually the best place to start. The following is roughly the order we progress through during the year (of course this year we mixed it up, so it doesn’t really matter.)
Color Mixing – Group Lesson
- 6 jars with lids that close securely
- food coloring
- a pitcher with enough water for all 6 jars
- Color box 1 & 2 (optional)
- Gather the children to the group
- Have a child fill the pitcher with water, or fill it yourself
- Fill three of the jars
- Say “We are going to fill these jars with color. Fist we are going to start with the primary colors.”
- Take out Color box 1, take out the red tablet. “This is red, we are going to make red too.” Place red food coloring in jar. Make these pretty dark, we will be using them as the color for the secondary color bottles.
- Repeat for blue and yellow
- “These are the primary colors. They are the same as the colors in this box. But there are more colors aren’t there! Let’s see what colors we can make with these 3 primary colors.”
- Fill next three jars with water.
- Line jars up red, clear jar of water, yellow, clear, blue, clear
- Using dropper say “I wonder what color red and yellow make?” Take 1 to 2 droppers of red water, add 1 to 2 droppers of yellow water. “Orange!” Show color tablet.
- “What do yellow and blue make?” Repeat with droppers to mix colors “Green!” Show color tablet.
- Move red jar down to the end of the line so it is flanking the last clear jar, “What to blue and red make?” Repeat mixing with the droppers, “Purple!” Show color tablet.
- “We used red, yellow, and blue to make new colors. These are called the secondary colors.”
- Top up water in primary color jars if needed
- Securely attach lids
- Have children help choose a place in the class to display the jars.
- It is wise to try this on your own first. That way you have a an idea of how many drops of food coloring you need, and then how many droppers full of the primary colored water you will need to make brightly colored secondary colors. I find my red always need more food coloring than I expect (I guess that’s why it is so hard to make read frosting!)
- This presentation can be broken into two smaller lessons. First make the primary colors and display jars for a few days, and then follow the lesson up with the secondary color lesson.
Color mixing in cups
- Three dropper bottles of primary colored water
- Three cups (ours are color coded with tape so they know which colors to add, and they have a rubber band to show the child where to stop adding water)
- Pitcher – I like it to be large enough to hold all the water the child will need
- Tray to hold all the materials
- Take the tray to a table
- Fill the pitcher – I point out the neck of the pitcher and say “Just to the neck”
- Fill up the cups with water, stopping at the rubber band
- Starting with the first cup, point to the tape and say “red”
- Carefully open the red bottle, I say “Two droppers full”
- Repeat for next color
- Use spoon to stir and say “Red and blue make purple”
- Repeat for all cups
- Make sure lids are attached securely to dropper bottles. I really emphasize this, otherwise we end up with a lot of spilt color water.
- Pour water from cups back into the pitcher. This is a great part of this work because they get to see what happens when all they mix all the colors!
- Empty pitcher in sink
- Use sponge to clean up tray and area
- Return material to shelf
- This is usually the first color mixing lesson we have on the shelf because our cups have the control of error reminding the child which colors to add to each cup. I also like it as the first work because it doesn’t produce a product, rather the child mixes colors for the work, not the cotton balls!
Color mixing with cotton balls
- Three dropper bottles filled with primary colors
- Three small dishes
- Supply of cotton balls
- Tray to hold all the material
- Small Ziploc bags (optional)
- Invite the child to the lesson
- Carry tray to the table
- Carefully open up the first primary color
- Place 2 drops into the small dishes – I say “Two drops of red”
- Open second bottle and place 2 drops in the dish. “Two drop of yellow”
- Place cotton ball in dish
- Turn cotton ball over and admire the “new” color. I say, “Red and yellow make orange”
- Repeat for red and blue, and yellow and blue
- Make sure all bottles are securely closed
- Place cotton balls in Ziploc (if using, these are for the children that can’t throw anything away)
- Clean up tray with sponge if necessary
- Return tray to shelf
- You may have to adjust the amount of drops you use based on the size of your dishes and your cotton balls. Your primary color water needs to be pretty saturated, otherwise the colors will not look vibrant and true on the cotton balls.
Color mixing – Rainbow Coffee filter
- Three dropper bottles filled with the primary colors
- A laminated half sheet of paper that shows the color spectrum in dots (4 red dots, 2 red & 2 yellow, 4 yellow, 2 yellow & 2 blue, 4 blue, 2 blue & 2 red)
- Flat bottom coffee filters cut in half
- Invite the child to the lesson
- Write name in the middle of the coffee filter
- Starting with red, place one drop on every red dot on the laminated paper
- Continue with yellow
- Continue with blue
- Make sure lids are closed securely
- Take coffee filter and place over the colored dots
- Watch as filter absorbs the water and the colors mix
- Take work to drying rack
- Use sponge to clean tray and laminated paper
- Return work to shelf
- Again, vibrant colors are a must. If your colors are not mixing well with just the coffee filter, you can add a toothpick so the child can gently mix the colors before placing the coffee filter down.
In Montessori classrooms, I have seen color mixing works on practical life, art and science shelves. We tend to keep ours on either science or practical life, depending on space and what else we are studying in science. It is really up to you and how you see it fitting in your environment.
There are many natural extensions of these works in the environment. Our painting at the easel is set up with the red, yellow, blue, and white paint – allowing the children to mix their own colors and shades of paint. Color tablet boxes 1, 2, and 3 are always available. We also read many books that look at color mixing when we first start these lessons.
Here are some of my favorite books:
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker
Color Dance by Ann Jonas
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