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What is color mixing work in Montessori?

Color mixing is an important part of the Montessori curriculum that allows children to explore color theory and color combinations. It is a sensorial material that engages the child’s senses of sight, touch, and perception. The activities provide an opportunity for children to experiment with mixing primary colors to create secondary colors, which introduces early concepts of chemistry, math, color theory, and art. Color mixing works make abstract concepts concrete and allow children to see the cause-and-effect relationships between colors.

Introduction to Montessori

Montessori education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, in the early 1900s. Montessori observed children closely and realized they learned best through hands-on activities, rather than direct instruction. She emphasized respect for a child’s natural psychological development, and created a prepared environment filled with developmentally appropriate materials for the child to use freely.

The prepared environment contains activities that teach specific skills and concepts in an interactive, concrete way. The materials isolate one quality to focus the child’s attention and control error. This allows the child to fully understand ideas by interacting with materials, rather than just absorbing information from a teacher. The environment promotes independence, freedom within limits, and self-directed learning.

The Three Period Lesson

Montessori teachers use the Three Period Lesson to introduce new materials to children:

  1. Name – “This is red”
  2. Recognize – “Can you point to the red?”
  3. Remember – “What is this?”

This technique helps the child isolate qualities and categorize concepts. The teacher patiently repeats this process until the child has fully grasped the material.

Color Mixing Activities

Color mixing activities relate to Montessori’s sensorial area. The materials are designed to refine the child’s senses and ability to distinguish subtle differences in quality. Color activities isolate the qualities of hue, value, and chroma.

Some common color mixing works include:

  • The Color Tablets – Tablets painted pure primary and secondary colors for matching.
  • The Color Boxes – Primary and secondary color tablets paired with mixing rectangles to demonstrate color combinations.
  • The Color Mixing Exercises – Primary colors, mixing trays, and mixing jars to blend colors.

The Color Tablets

The color tablets introduce primary and secondary colors. The tablets isolate hue, chroma, and value by presenting colors of equal hue, value, and chroma for the child to grade and match:

Color Hue
Red Constant
Blue Constant
Yellow Constant
Orange Constant
Green Constant
Purple Constant

Working with the tablets allows the child to focus on color quality and learn color names before using them for mixing.

The Color Boxes

The color boxes present primary and secondary color tablets paired with mixing rectangles. Each primary color tablet has a corresponding mixing rectangle:

Color Tablet Mixing Rectangle
Red Blue + Yellow
Blue Red + Yellow
Yellow Red + Blue

These demonstrate that two primary colors mix to form a secondary color. The child matches each secondary tablet to its mixed colors to physically see color combinations.

The Color Mixing Exercises

The color mixing exercises allow children to blend colors themselves. The materials include:

  • Primary color tablets
  • Small glass mixing jars
  • Metal mixing trays
  • Brushes
  • Water cups

Using the tablets as a reference, the child mixes water colors in the jar or directly on the tray to create secondary colors. This experience makes color theory tangible through experimentation and observation.

Color Mixing Presentation

Color mixing is typically introduced around 3-4 years old. First, the teacher performs a Three Period Lesson to name the colors and check the child’s recognition. Next, the teacher demonstrates matching equivalent colors with the color tablets. Once the child understands the concept of grading colors, the teacher presents mixing:

  1. Place a red and yellow tablet on the tray
  2. Mix the corresponding paints to create orange
  3. Ask the child to match the mixed color to the orange tablet

This continues until the child mixes all secondary colors correctly. The child is then free to explore on their own.

Goals and Benefits of Color Mixing

Color mixing activities accomplish many learning goals:

  • Sensorial – Refines visual sense, color perception, recognition of subtle chromatic differences
  • Scientific – Introduction to chemistry, color theory, primary/secondary colors
  • Mathematical – Combining quantities relates to early addition
  • Independence – Child directs own activity and exploration
  • Concentration – Extended focus on one activity develops concentration
  • Order – Control of error through color matching
  • Coordination – Eye-hand coordination, fine motor control
  • Language – Color vocabulary

In addition to the learning concepts, color mixing provides open-ended creativity and self-expression as the child experiments. The process can be even more beneficial than the end product.

Variations and Extensions

Once a child has mastered basic color mixing, activities can be extended with more advanced materials:

  • Tints/shades – Mixing colors with white/black paint
  • Tone bars – Tablets that progress in chroma from light to dark
  • Color wheel – Disc showing color relationships
  • Complementary colors – Mixing to create brown
  • Paper mixing – Folding and blending colored paper

Color mixing can also be integrated into other areas like language, art, geography, and culture by exploring things like color symbolism, complementary colors, warm/cool colors, and more.


The Montessori color mixing activities allow children to explore colors systematically. By isolating qualities through matching and grading, the child comes to understand color relationships and combinations. Mixing primary colors gives a concrete, hands-on introduction to early chemistry and color theory. The works refine the senses, increase concentration, and provide open-ended creativity.

Color mixing engages children’s minds and inspires an appreciation for the beauty and complexity underlying deceptively simple concepts. The activities remain attractive even to older children, as there is always more nuance to explore. Color mixing comprehensively prepares the child for further discoveries about color and encourages a lifelong love of learning.