Teachers, parents, caretakers, non crafty moms, or anyone who works with kids, this is for you. Paint mixing is one of my all time favorite things to do with kids. Not only is it fun, but this basic activity exposes kids to math, science and art all in one go. It introduces color theory, cause and effect, new vocabulary. Children become decision makers and problem solvers through paint mixing. They are exposed to math concepts like measurement. They think creatively, practice trial and error, experience success and build confidence. They learn how to use new tools and work responsibly. I mean, the list goes on and on. So, here is a step by step tutorial on how to mix paints with young children. I’ve done this with ages 2 and up over and over again and it’s a winner every time.
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First, a few supplies. – the primary colors red, blue and yellow tempera paints, white paint, a paint tray or baby jars (baby jars are ideal since you can save the paint by putting on the lid) or bowls, and something to mix with (popsicle sticks work well)
*Tip* I like to put the paint in squeeze bottles as you can see in the pics. I find they are really easy for little hands to squeeze and you can cut a snip off the top with a scissor if the paint gets clogged. They also look pretty. Ain’t nothin wrong with that.
For paint, I like this brand. Crayola has less expensive starter kit, though I’ve never tried it. When I look for paints, I try to get a red with a blueish undertone to it, rather than orange. It’s a subtle difference but as you get to know your paints you might notice it, especially when comparing two reds. The blue undertone red will mix better with the other colors, especially when making purple. Don’t get too caught up in that though. Just something to mention.
Once you have all your materials, you’re ready to get started. I recommend covering your work space with craft paper or a plastic table cloth. I introduce the primary colors and how these colors can make any color in the rainbow. I usually get a sense of what kids know and don’t know already around this time. With young kids, ages 2-5, it usually will take a bunch of repetition before they remember which colors make what. That’s one of the reasons this is fun to do over and over again.
Ok, so after a brief chat, I invite kids to pick any two primary colors they want plus white, to squeeze into the tray or jar. This part takes some monitoring on the part of the adult. Kids love to squeeze and often don’t have the chance to work like this. So make sure you’re keeping a watchful eye on the paint squeezing. You can talk about small amounts ahead of time and do a demonstration. For example, one small squeeze of blue and one small squeeze of yellow and then a little squeeze of white. I usually have popsicle sticks on hand for mixing. In these pics I was out so we used these dull plastic knives I got somewhere. Anyway, let the kids mix up their paints and see what happens. This is always a really fun part.
Why the addition of white? It’s definitely an aesthetic choice on my part. The colors come out more vibrant and beautiful with white in my opinion. Plus, there can be more variations in the colors you’re mixing. Also, you can talk about lighter and darker shades of each color and how you make them. Do you add a little white if you want really light green or a lot of white? Also, some kids will want to make pink or light blue, and for those it’s just one of the primary colors and white.
Once the paints are mixed up in the tray, invite the kids to name their paints. This is usually the favorite part. Give them examples if they need a little prompt. Princess pink tends to be a popular one. We’ve also had watermelon, peach, and raspberry, as well as Sadie Green and Eden red. If you are working with baby jars you can put a piece of masking tape on the jar and write the name of the paint with a sharpie. Kids always like that. They feel very attached to their paint. You can see examples of how I did this here.
*Tip* If you use a paint tray like in the pics, cover it with tin foil at the end to save the paints you don’t use. They’ll last a while covered tightly.
So that’s how to mix paints with kids. Pretty cool right? Can you believe all these pretty colors just came from these four bottles?
These girls had a blast mixing, naming and painting. We set up the boxes we were painting on chairs that created these perfect little easels for the kids to paint on. As a group they made two trays of paint and shared all the beautiful colors.
The boxes came out gorgeous! Each one was amazing and they worked so hard on them.
To see what we did with these boxes you’ll have to wait a little bit. It’s really cool though and worth the wait so stay tuned. In the meantime, there are a million things you can do with your own mixed paint. You can paint rainbows, an evolving canvas, self portraits, a small piece of paper, a large piece of paper, an old frame laying around the house, or how about a glass jar? I’d love to see what you paint! Please send me pics or comment below. I hope this was helpful. Would love to hear from you. Happy Painting everyone! Meri
Thanks for this post… It sounds fun, my little 5,4 & 2 year old will enjoy this in the morning (UK time is 10:10pm) I had a tissue paper craft set up but just swapped it round to this… Thanks again
This just made my day Carla! Yay. You guys will have so much fun. Send a pic if you can. Thanks! Meri
I Love, Love, Love your Blog! I’m the mother of two wonderful boys: Agustín (4) and juan Pablo (2). We live in Argentina. Thanks for sharing!
So glad you introduced yourself Natalia! Thank you so much for all the love you send my way. I really appreciate it and take it to heart. Hello Agustin and Juan Pablo!!! Thanks again!
I work in the development department at the MAC, and one of my “duties, as assigned” is managing the 2015 Spokane ArtFest. It’s our 30th year of ArtFest and a segment of this juried art fair is a “Make It Art Kid’s Fair”. We create a tented secured area in a beautiful historic park for kids of all ages to engage in an art project or projects. We have most recently charged $2 per activity, doing face painting, fish prints and other assorted activities. We typically lose 2 or 3 thousand dollars at this venue. I’ve thought about charging an hourly rate, but may then be categorized as a daycare provider. I have a talented art teacher that I hope to recruit to help lead, and with some of your creative ideas (loved the milk paper) hope to at least break even. Jerry
Wishing you all the good fortune in the world! Sounds like a great event and speaking from an artist turned entrepreneur, you can do it!!!
This is really the whole secret to the muddy purple problem? I must go look for a more-blue-red! So sick of muddy purple!
Oh Meri!! I’m so glad I found you via TeachPreschool. I am an artist myself living in North Pole Alaska. I’ve been in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 20 years and worked in many programs, but I am thinking about opening my own Preschool with emphasis on fine art. I’m planning on buying a house to do this and also using the space to teach art classes to adults. I am a Certified Zentangle Teacher and would be teaching Zentangle as well. You have definitely inspired me. I love the process rather than the product. Mixing paint is also a favorite of mine. I thought about using the paint swatches that you can get from paint stores and have kids try to make “sweet pea green” or “sunflower yellow”. I simply can’t wait to get started. I have signed up for your emails. Thank you for the work you do.
Sandra Morgan CZT
Hi Sandra! Wow, Alaska. What a place to call home. Your new possible adventure sounds very exciting. Wishing you all the best. Trust your gut! Meri
I see this is an old post but I was hoping for the name and/or link to the paint brand you recommend. The link in the text is not working. (Page not found message comes up.)
The embedded links in this blog on mixing paints with children (for example, one to your favorite tempura paints, a brand you did not name) led each time only to an Amazon page that said “Oops! Something went wrong!” Perhaps you should always name the products in the text of the blog so that when the links no longer work, readers can still benefit from your suggestions!