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What do children learn from mixing colors?


Mixing colors is a fun and educational activity for children. As they combine paints, crayons, or other coloring media, children learn important concepts about colors and how they interact. This hands-on experience allows young kids to grasp color theory and other principles through play and experimentation.

Some of the key things children learn when mixing colors include:

Primary Colors

The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These colors cannot be made by mixing other colors, but all other colors can be formed by mixing the primary colors together. When kids experiment with mixing the primaries, they see how secondary colors like purple, green, and orange are created.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are made by combining two primary colors. For example, children learn that mixing red and blue makes purple, blue and yellow makes green, and red and yellow makes orange. This introduction to color mixing shows them how new colors are formed.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color next to it on the color wheel. Examples of tertiary colors that kids can discover are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. Mixing these color combinations leads to even more shades.

Shades and Tints

Adding white to a color produces tints, while adding black makes shades. When children add white or black paint to other colors, they see how lightness and darkness work. Lighter tints and darker shades demonstrate how using more or less of a color impacts the end result.

Color Wheel

A color wheel shows the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors and how they relate to each other. As kids mix colors, they start to understand these interconnections. For example, they learn colors opposite each other on the wheel are called complementary colors. Mixing complements such as red and green creates brown.

Color Mixing

Children gain first-hand experience with color mixing by combining paints themselves. They learn that mixing two primary colors together makes a secondary color. For example, red and yellow make orange. This shows them how blending colors works in a hands-on way.

Cause and Effect

Exploring what happens when colors are combined lets children observe cause and effect relationships. They see how their actions directly impact what color is produced. This concept of causes and consequences is an important early science lesson.

Benefits of Mixing Colors

Blending paints and crayons to create new colors provides many developmental benefits for children. Here are some of the key skills kids can gain:

Fine Motor Skills

Gripping paint brushes and using their fingers or crayons to mix colors boosts children’s fine motor control. The physical motions involved in stirring and blending paints help strengthen these important muscles.

Hand-Eye Coordination

The coordination of eyes and hands improves as children mix the colors. Watching what happens as they combine paints and adjusting their motions boosts hand-eye coordination. This skill is vital for early writing, sports, and more.


Coming up with new color combinations encourages creativity. There are so many possible shades kids can make if they experiment with mixing. Allowing imaginations to run wild leads to unique color discoveries.

Color Recognition

Repeatedly working with colors helps kids identify and name different hues. Learning color names is an important early childhood development milestone, and mixing boosts recognition.

Pre-Math Skills

Adding and combining different amounts of paints introduces early math concepts. Children see how parts make up a whole, and how quantities influence outcomes. These early lessons set the stage for more complex math down the road.

Decision Making

Choosing which colors to mix together gives kids practice with making decisions. Coming up with a plan and following through boosts cognitive skills like judgment, planning, and self-regulation.

Trial and Error

Experimenting with mixing allows for trial, error, and discovery. When color combinations don’t turn out as expected, children learn to adjust and try again. This builds resilience and problem-solving abilities.


Making personal color choices gives children a creative outlet. Instead of coloring in pre-drawn images, they can express themselves through original blended hues.


As kids mix colors successfully, they gain confidence in their abilities. Building this early self-assurance promotes positive self-esteem and a willingness to try new challenges.

Examples of Color Mixing Activities

Here are some fun ways for children to explore color mixing:

Liquid Watercolors

Provide liquid watercolors in the three primary colors plus black and white. Show kids how to use droppers or pipettes to add drops of different colors to a wet paper towel or coffee filter. As colors merge and bleed into each other, they’ll observe how the pigments blend.

Color Mixing Cups

Use small paper cups with lids for color mixing experiments. Have kids add varying amounts of tempera paint or watercolors to two cups, then mix them by pouring back and forth between cups. This shows how colors combine in different ratios.

Magic Milk

Add a few drops of liquid food coloring to milk in a shallow container. Put a cotton swab in the colored milk and observe as the colors diffuse through the milk and mix. The swirling colors are like magic!

Coffee Filter Butterflies

Let kids paint coffee filters with watercolors, leave space for the body, then attach clothespins to create butterfly wings. As the wet colors blend, they make a symmetrical pattern.

Color Mixing Trays

Provide small trays divided into three sections and tempera paint in primary colors. Children can load the sections with different amounts of paint, then blend together with a popsicle stick.

Droppers on Paper

Have kids drip liquid watercolors or food coloring from droppers onto wet paper. Encourage them to experiment dripping colors near each other and on top of one another to observe blending.

Color Mixing Sensory Bags

Add liquid tempera paints in squeeze bottles plus glitter, beads, pom poms, etc. to sealable plastic bags. Kids can squish and blend the colors together by moving their fingers on the outside of the bags.

Blender Paintings

Use an old blender and add a few drops of liquid watercolors. Have kids take turns pressing the blender pulse button to watch the whirling mix of colors. Then pour it onto paper to create spinning rainbow art.

Setting Up a Color Mixing Activity

It’s easy to set up color mixing for children at home or in the classroom. Here are some tips:

Choose pigmented paints

Opt for highly pigmented paints like liquid watercolors, tempera, or acrylics. These blend well and make bright secondary colors.

Include primary colors

Provide the primary colors – red, blue, and yellow – plus black, white, and any other desired hues. Limiting the selection helps kids focus on mixing the primaries.

Use paint pens and pipettes

For controlled blending, include child-sized paint pens, pipettes, eye droppers, or squeeze bottles. Kids can add small amounts of each color.

Add mixing tools

Offer craft sticks, small spoons, popsicle sticks, and scoops for stirring and blending colors. Toothpicks are great for making designs.

Provide non-porous surfaces

Plastic trays, plates, and palettes make it easy to scoop up and mix acrylics. For watercolors, provide wet paper towels.

Include fun extras (optional)

Items like glitter, beads, sand, or confetti can be mixed in for more sensory play. Make sure to add sealable bags or containers for these materials.

Cover work surfaces

Spread plastic tablecloths or craft paper over tables to keep them clean. Smocks or oversized shirts help protect kids’ clothing too.

Display color wheel

Hang up a color wheel or print out one online as a handy reference. It shows how colors relate and what mixes make secondary hues.

Challenges and Problem Solving

While mixing colors is creative and engaging for kids, it can present some challenges too. Here are some potential issues and ways to problem solve:

Messy projects

Color mixing can get messy as kids blend and experiment. Encourage them to wear smocks and keep wet wipes or paper towels handy for quick clean up.

Unexpected results

Sometimes color combinations turn into shades kids didn’t foresee. Explain this is part of exploring and how they can keep adjusting amounts until they get the desired color.

One color dominating

If one color overpowers the others, have kids try diluting it with white or adding only small amounts until the pigments balance out.

Muddy brown colors

Overmixing too many colors can result in brown muck. Show kids how adding white brings back vibrancy. Suggest trying a new clean sheet of paper or palette to restart.

Color separation

Some paints or markers may bleed but not blend well. Using wetter, more liquid paints prevents beading up. Stirring vigorously can help colors intermix evenly.


Watery paints and overfilled cups can lead to spills. Keep a roll of paper towels handy for quick mop ups so kids can get back to creating.


Mixing colors is not only fun for children – it builds skills across developmental domains. Fine motor abilities improve as kids manually blend paints and crayons. Cognitive skills increase as they problem solve, make decisions, and observe cause and effect. Social-emotional growth occurs when sharing materials and expressing creativity cooperatively with others. And most importantly, children discover the science and wonder behind how colors interact to form new shades. Equipped with paints and imagination, kids can unlock a rainbow of colorful learning through their own hands-on color mixing experiments.