Color Mixing + Learning the Properties of Matter

One day while the children were playing on the overhead, they were combining translucent materials to create secondary colors.  One child said, “If we used something else to make this color it would be a different purple”.  This let us know that they understood the difference in shades of colors depending on what materials were being used.

We have since provided them with provocations every day to help push their theories and thoughts by using art as a means to learn science by mixing colors in different forms to discover the properties of matter.

According to Morning Earth, art and science are two disciplines that practice, “observing nature closely, viewing and recording what we observe, discovering and expressing essential qualities, searching for pattern and order, and asking ‘what if…?’ and then experiment.”

We did just that by starting off the children with 4 cups of water, each cup had either a yellow, green, red, or blue colored wooden stick to identify the colored water.

The children then twisted coffee filters and used each end of the coffee filter to dip into each cup. The colors would absorb through both ends of the twisted filter, bleeding through the entire filter to create a new color or shade.




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Discovering qualities

The children had 3 containers each filled with red, blue and yellow glitter. Another 3 containers were filled with red, blue and yellow colored paper. Another group had red, blue and yellow fiber tip markers as well.

By using the primary colors red, blue and yellow in different forms the children explored why materials made different shades and colors, and why some materials mixed and some couldn’t mix like mixing paint vs. mixing glitter. This type of play encourages children’s thoughts to develop by playing freely with designated materials.  In doing so it encourages children to form independent ideas and observations within the world around them.

Through the exploration of solid, and liquid materials like glitter, watercolor paint, water, paper and markers the children learned that the different properties of matter create different results depending on the material that is mixed together.  According to, knowing your materials is the absolute basis for both science and art. Using open-ended materials encourages fiddling, sorting and ordering to understand the potential in the materials. One must utilize their hands, eyes and whole body to make judgments and see potential (Duckworth, E. 1996).






Searching for pattern and order

While the children have been learning about color mixing they began to ask questions about mixing red and blue together. When some children were putting too much blue they made the assumption that red and blue was making black (it was such a dark purple that they said it was black), while others were mixing red and blue said they were making dark purple.




They worked with atelierista, Marjon, to take this investigation further.  Were they really making black?  The purple was so dark that it seemed black, but when they worked with Marjon, she used black paint next to the dark shades of purple for the children to observe that it actually was purple and not black.  “No color exists without being in relation to another color.”  This helped them explore math skills – quantities, volume, color theory, and combining two things to create a new quantity.

From this observation we offered the children a scoop of red and a scoop of blue tempera paint.  First they mixed red and blue and then they mixed blue and red.  The red and blue made light purple while the blue and red made dark purple. After doing this experiment most of the children said these colors came out this way because of the orders the 2 colors were mixed in. They told the teachers that red and blue can make “different types” of purple. One child understood that the blue was the stronger color and described blue as being the “bigger color”.


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This is the same approach we have taken with each grouping of materials listed below.  From our observations we have pushed the project further to test the children’s theories.

Recording what we observed

In our provocations the children mixed the following materials with primary colors:

-Coffee filters and water color paper.

-Regular paper and water color paper

-Water color+ paint+ glitter+ confetti paper+ marker

-Glitter + water color (floats and sinks)

-Mixing oil pastels

-Red and blue=purple + red and blue +black

-All 3 primary colors make brown


Asking “what if” then experiment

The other day the children observed colored ice cubes melting and mixing in water, in the near future we will push this in relation to color theory and properties of matter by mixing the ice cubes in oil next to ice cubes melting in water

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Why it matters

Learning with watercolor paint, paper, coffee filters, glitter, and ice is influential for children’s early stages in intellectual development because the children learn about the world through actions on physical objects and the outcomes of these actions.

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The materials the children worked with thus far have a variety of sensory attributes –some are warm or cool, wet or dry, bumpy or smooth, hard or soft. Exploring and discerning different characteristics in mixing paint with glitter or water with glitter for example, sets a foundation of sorting or categorizing for the Pre-K class.  Letting them “mess about” with each of these materials builds a stronger knowledge of their properties, which in turn will strengthen our curriculum in the properties of matter ex: why glitter and oil pastels will not mix, but paint and water will.

These experiences have allowed the children to interpret information by discovering similarities and differences in the results they gathered from these experiences. These skills are all components of active learning. Being inquisitive, observing, analyzing, creating hypotheses and solving problems can be applied to different subjects and in later stages of our children’s education such as junior high or high school.

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These provocations will inspire the child to use cognitive skills by trying and solving problems, making observations and predictions, exploring cause and effect and combining different materials to make a change while learning science and color theory. We are excited to see where this takes us!



To read more about how learning science through art is a critical tool in provocations, click the links below:





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