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Let's talk about colour...

Most people don’t realise just how much children learn and recognise before they can even talk. Before children learn the  basics of  numbers and letters , they learn through colours and shapes. They may not know that they have a "RED" cost but they will recognise their coat because of its colour. However, they may still end up with someone else’s red coat by home time!

When children are out and about in the world they are already starting to record lots of information such as trees and sky especially with the help of a chatty adult pointing and saying look blue sky, green apples, yellow lemon, etc.

Looking at the world of colour, what is a young child doing?

  • Sorting and classifying building bricks
  • Organising toys, plates and cups into piles!
  • Observing differences and similarities!
  • Enjoying the sensory effects of colours - they will already have a a favourite colour that makes them happy!

They will do all of these things without even giving a colour a word! Below are some great ways to reinforce colour names with children

Talk about colours and play fun games

  • Colour Eye Spy - "I spy something that is red..."
  • Colour sorting - can we sort these pom poms so we have all the blue ones in one place?
  • Colour scavenger hunt - lets all see if we can find something that is blue? (especially good for outdoor play)
  • Pom Pom Easter egg hunt - hide a pack of poms around your setting, assign a colour to each child and see what they can find.
  • Sorting and naming coloured food/cereals pieces  - how about an edible rainbow cereal necklace?
  • Rainbow song and other colour songs, i.e., 'blue, blue, blue (repeat twice),  the colour of the sky is blue...'.



Colour Mixing

Once children have grasped primary colours, it’s time to move onto colour mixing so they can differentiate all the shades around them.

Before we get all magical and create brand new colours, it is best to talk about shades of colour.

Shades and Tones

shades of blue All the shade of blue

Ask each child to find something blue and then talk about the different shades of blue they have all found a group. You can these take these item and put  them in shade order from dark to light . Use this to  show how a colour can change but still be called, "BLUE".

Then it is time to get the paints out! Experimenting with shades can be done with other media but paint is the easiest!

Let's start with making colour lighter! 

Give everyone a brush and a dollop of paint in their favourite colour. Ask them all to make one mark of their colour. Then slowly,  slowly,  add a little bit of white and ask them to mix - make a mark using this new colour. Rinse and repeat! Remembering don't add too much white early on as you will lose the colour quickly. Your should end up with a lovely tonal line.

What about making colours darker?

Ask the kids (and a lot of adults) and they will say "Add black!"   This is not the best way - you do tend to end up with BLACK!. There is a couple of ways to show children how the colours form.

Get some children to repeat the colour mixing shade process in the opposite direction. Start with white and add their favrouite colour drop by drop  - it will take a longtime to get back to your original colour or go darker!

Show another way by asking some children to take the original colour and give them a colour opposite on the colour wheel  (complementary colours), if you start with red, add green drop by drop. We talk more about colour wheels and complementary colours later on!

Once your tone lines have dried see who has got the darkest colours!


What are Primary Colours?

These are the basic colours that can’t be mixed from other colours! When you mix them together you can create different colours!

Primary Colours Primary Colours


Mix them together and you can get some lovely colours:




These are the secondary colours!

We have made a great little video to show how this works - it looks great on a smart board or tablet! Feel free to share.


What are Secondary Colours?

Secondary colours are made by mixing two primary colours together.

Secondary Colours Secondary Colours


Green is quite often confused as a primary colour - even if it is not it is a nice one to buy in ready made as making a nice shade of green can be quite hard!

The secondary colours all lay between the primary colours on the colour wheel.


Complimentary Colours Complimentary Colours


You can make some lovely colour combinations by mixing primary and secondary colours:




It’s always exciting to see what children organically create and invent when in a mixed media setting! You can use ready mix paints, crayons, food dyes, play dough, powder paints, water colours and inks in water to explore all these colour rules.

Of course when it all get a bit much, you can buy the colours ready made - Ready Mixed Poster Paints (P485)




What is the Colour Wheel ?


colouring mixing poster A1 Classroom Guide to Colour Mixing (P799-Colour) from BCreativetolearn.co.uk


The colour wheel is a lovely visual representation of what happen when you mix colours together.  It is great to have a copy in the classroom so children can use it to find which colours they need to mix together.

Choose a colour, (for example green) and the primary colours either side of it are what you need to mix to get green. In this case blue and yellow. We have a great classroom poster that includes the colour wheel.

The colour wheel also gives some great information about complementary colours.




What are complementary colours?


These colours sit opposite each other on a colour wheel, for example:

GREEN  is complementary with RED


PURPLE is complementary with YELLOW


ORANGE is complementary with BLUE


Earlier on we discussed the best way to make a colour darker is to add it's complementary colour! You can get all of this information from the colour wheel.

As well being a great teaching point, knowing complementary colours is very handy when it comes to doing your display boards. You know you are off to a good start if you poster rolls complements you border roll!


What else do we need to know about colours?


What about colour temperature?


Warm and Cool Colours

The colours  on a colour wheel can be roughly  split from warm to cold colours .

This a lovely concept to introduce to children - show them a colour and ask them how it makes them feel?  Talk about the colour in favourite cartoons, such as Frozen, how does the world change when the world if frozen in comparison to how it looked before the coronation?

Most warm colours will complement with cold colours and you’ll see one colour that stand out up against the other


Ummm  - what about Black and White?


Black and white are not colours on the colour wheel, but they are defiantly colours we see in paints, crayons and other media.

It's fiercely debated whether they are or aren't colours, but in a teaching setting they are definitely pigments so we think they can be classed as colours used in art!

They aren't the most popular colours in most settings but they are great for adding tone and shading to colours. It is always great to have a bit of each on hand!



Creative Ideas with Colour


  • Mixing colours in water – use inks, food dyes, paint blocks and ready mix paint (all in small amounts) in water. Children can get their hands in the water to naturally interact with the changes in tone.
  • Colour object sorting games – you can use buttons, lego, painted stones, small sorting rubber toys, coloured clothing pegs (this also works on motor skills when they attach them to a paper plate).
  • Painted ice lollies – children love these lollies of discovery. You can use spices and flavours in your lolly for extra sensory. You can then paint them in primary colours for children to explore on paper (like paint brushes) and in their mouths! It’s inevitable!
  • Painting with ice cubes is fun in the summer! Watch as the colours appear and melt into each other!
  • Painting with sweets! – you can mix  sweet delights into your primary paints like chocolate and fizzy pop rock! This will leave a memorable fun and happy experience whilst discovering colour mixing. They will see and hear the popping and feel like scientists!


Classroom Colour Tips


  • In Early Years use less colour selection when you put out your paint pallets. This will avoid colours turning into a mucky brown!
  • You can create areas in your class that have limited materials/paints for specific colour mixing targets of the day, ie, yellow and blue green mixing discovery day (KS1). This way the children are more independent in their discovery and sense of achievement!



Still struggling with colours?


Have you considered colour blindness? It is not routinely tested in schools. It's more common than we may realise but it affects 1 in 12 boys and 1 in 200 girls! Identifying colour blindness is one of many challenges in school classrooms. Look out for some of the signs if a child is:

  • using inappropriate colour choices.
  • using reoccurring dull colour choices on painted art work.
  • holding back in colour split team school sports.
  • being reluctant to make choices or voice them in colour selecting/matching.

It’s incredible how much learning is happening through colour!!

You can find fun ways to introduce the discovery of new mixed colours.  One example is a simple task of painting one hand yellow and one blue ...clap hands,.. and hey presto!... Wow, look a new colour and it’s green!’


Join us next week for our blog on powder paint!

Follow us on Pinterest for fun arts and crafts ideas throughout the year! 

One thought on “Let's talk about colour...”

  • […] Classroom set up: It’s handy to have an easel with paper set up and ready mix paints in non spill pots readily available for children to do independent painting. A reachable drying paint rack is useful for when children finish painting; it will encourage them to dry out their work independently. With simple small systems like these in your learning setting, painting doesn’t have to always be adult led. Independent discoveries will occur such as colour mixing! […]

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