Acrylic and Water Color Painting

“The more often a child was provided the oppor­tunity to mark or scribble, the more a child engaged in draw­ing and the more complex was the child’s drawing behavior. This was found in those studies where participants were pro­vided considerable time within any one drawing episode and where drawing episodes occurred frequently over time.” 

Every day in our Toddler 2 Class we have a table set up with various painting opportunities and children are able to approach it as they please. We give children the opportunity to paint with both acrylic paints and watercolors. In addition, we make it a point to include primary colors and black and white so the children can experiment with shades, tints, and color transformation.

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We are now seeing the students mix colors with the brush or with their hand and say, “I made orange! Now I want to make green!” It’s incredible that at this age they understand color theory and how to create secondary colors (by mixing two primary colors together.) We continually encourage the children to experiment with the paints, asking them what will happen if they add a little bit of the white paint, or a lot of the black paint. They are able to develop a hypothesis, engage in an experiment, and reflect on whether the results were true or not. Our goal is to not simply teach them how to make various tints of green… we want them to explore and learn how to do it on their own and discuss (or write down) their process along the way.

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Recently we explored mixing watercolors with acrylic paints. This activity was completely child led. (We didn’t even think of the idea until they started doing it! Ha!) Because of their interest, we began exploring pastel shades by adding water color to white paint and seeing what would happen. This inspired a discussion on the change in texture: how the acrylic paint is thicker than water color, and how the water color becomes more dense when we add even a little of the acrylic paint to it.

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Moreover, we are even seeing the children observe their “scribbles” in the painting. At one point, one child was painting two paintings at the same time, but doing two different “scribbles” on each painting (for example: dots on one with round scribbles on the other), illustrating that there is meaning behind each individual scribble and painting.


Analyzing marks and scribbles is an excellent way to track a child’s development progress. According to Development of Infant and Toddler Mark Making and Scribbling, a study done by Carl Dunst and Ellen Gorman, the development of infant and toddler mark marking and scribbling emerges in a predictable sequence and the transition from making simple marks and scribbes to drawing lines and pre-representational drawings occurs between the ages of 12-14 and 15-24 months.

 “In those studies where age related changes were reported, there were statistically significant increases in the level and complexity of drawing between 1 and 3 years of age.”

 During this activity, we encouraged the children to think, revise, and construct a wider understanding of colors and descriptions for those colors. It’s amazing that something is no longer just “green.” It can now be light green, dark green, lime green, and more. This activity engaged the children by incorporating the different “languages” in which they learn. By physically mixing the colors, feeling the differences in the paint thickness, seeing and discussing the color differences, we consistently encouraged them to express their understanding in different ways!  

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“The visual arts… range from drawing, painting, sculpture, and design, to architecture, film, video, and folk arts… [Students] exhibit a sense of joy and excitement as they make and share their artwork with others. Creation is at the heart of this instruction. Students learn to work with various tools, processes, and media. They learn to coordinate with their hands and minds… They learn to make choices that enhance communication of their ideas… and they learn the value of perseverance.”Mahlmann

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