Have you ever wondered how to introduce colour theory to your toddler or young child? Montessori art teacher and teacher trainer Spramani Elaun joins us again today to share her tips on learning art basics through colour mixing play. This is an activity that I've set up for my toddler and it was a total hit, I'll continue to try this over the summer holidays! This is also a good activity to try with siblings or, in playgroup or classroom setting. I hope you enjoy!
Little minds are always ready to explore. Isn’t that one of the best parts about having a toddler in your home!? Experiencing things for the first time can be exciting and invigorating, and as a parent, it’s such a joy to be able to create these moments for your child, then watch and see them grow. In my opinion, art play and color mixing are two of the best ways to open up your toddler’s mind, let them have some fun, and develop their creativity.
Experienced artists must master ‘color theory.’ These are the rules and guidelines regarding color mixing and the use and effects of color in art and design. It includes the color wheel (with primary, secondary, and tertiary colors), color harmony, and color context. As you can imagine, detailed color theory—getting into the nuts and bolts of it all—can be way too advanced for toddlers and primary-aged children.
That doesn’t mean you can’t introduce your child to very basic color theory though. It’s a great foundation for their art education and can be fun, exciting, and intellectually stimulating. I’ve actually had a ton of success teaching young students the basics of color theory through color mixing sessions, or what I like to call ‘watercolor play.’
What is Watercolor Play?
Watercolor play teaches the ideas of color theory, which is very important as kids grow and get more experience with art. This activity is process-based—meaning it’s about experimenting and discovering through the process of making art.
With Watercolor Play, all you really have to do is set up some paint and a few basic materials, then let kids go at it—mixing, playing, and learning. It’s a really fun and easy way for kids to truly learn how artists mix colors. They get to see how the colors change and make connections between their own actions and the color-based results.
It’s a simple, natural way for kids to learn the basis of color; it introduces color to them in a way that meets their level of understanding and comprehension.
What’s even better—mixing colors can be therapeutic. It’s soothing, relaxing, and can relieve stress. You’d be surprised at how captivated, mesmerized, and quiet (because of their focus) your toddler with become with such a simple activity!
Watercolor Play How-To
Here’s what you need to know about setting up Watercolor Play.
I recommend setting up this art lesson on a regular basis—maybe once a month, or even once a week—so their understanding consistently grows and deepens. You’ll see that it’s super easy to put together too, so you don’t have to stress or think too much about the activity.
The most important thing to look for when it comes to kids’ art supplies is making sure it’s safe and non-toxic. Watercolor paint is the foundation of this activity, but everything else—buckets, tubs, bowls, brushes, etc.—are what lead to new discoveries. Here’s what you need for Watercolor Play:
- Kid-safe, non-toxic liquid paint (acrylic, tempera, or watercolor) that’s been watered down to be transparent (try one part paint to five parts water)
- Bottles with adjustable caps OR clear plastic tubs
- Bowls, cups
- Paintbrushes, sponges, stampers, drippers
- Watercolor paper or other thick (optional)
- Aprons or old clothes
What I love about this activity, is that it’s so simple to set up! Plus, you can mix things up every time you put it together to give your toddler new experiences and keep expanding their curiosity.
NOTE: This project should be set up outdoors or somewhere where you’re comfortable with water being splashed (i.e., tile, not rugs or carpet). This project can get messy with younger children, since most toddlers don’t yet have the fine motor skills or dexterity to control what they’re doing. But a little mess is all part of the fun! And you don’t have to worry about permanent stains, since most kids’ paint is washable.
There’s really only two steps for Watercolor Play:
- Put all your materials out on a table
- Let kids explore and play
The best part of all this, is that kids do all the discovery play work on their own; you don’t have to lead any lesson or make things technical. Just let them play with the colors and mix things naturally, they’ll create their own colors and see things for themselves. If they’re old enough to ask about colors, then you can go ahead and start naming the general hues, and hint at what adding other colors might do to change the original color (i.e. make it lighter).
I’ve spent years—a few decades, even—observing how children learn art and creating easy activities like this, to help them skip along on their art journey. As a former homeschool mommy (my two kids are both grown now), I know what a treasure it is to see sparks of curiosity as their little minds develop. I also know how important it is to give yourself a break with easy-to-set-up projects like this.
If you’re intrigued about color theory and want to dive deeper on the subject, you can check out my book, Kids Color Theory. It gets into a little more detail about what color theory is and how to teach it; it even includes 11 other color mixing lessons!
Spramani Elaun trains Montessori teachers and parents Internationally how to teach kids art. Spramani’s also a mom of two, author, artist and the founder of Nature of Art® Art School & Online Art Supply company from San Diego, California. Visit Nature of Art® @ www.Montessori-Art.com