Discovering Colours with Our Little Ones!


 Photo: West Coast Families


While making art with my niece, I would ask her what colour she wants to use. To which she would exclaim, “Green of course! It’s my favourite!”


Children identify with colours from a young age. Is colour something we need to teach our children? If yes, how do we do so? In elementary school, we used to learn about colour by painting the colour wheel. My teacher showed me how the colour wheel should look - from drawing the circle, to splitting it up into equal parts, and finally how to mix the colours. We “Ooo”-ed and “Ahhh”-ed at the perfect colour wheels by our more artistically-inclined classmates. Our teacher then explained to us what primary, secondary, and complementary colours were.


Looking back at this lesson as a teacher now, I begin to ask myself - What was the objective of the lesson? Where is the element of discovery? How do we teach colour theory and concepts in more engaging ways?


 Photo: Proven Winners


To me, play is so essential for a child. When children are engaged in an activity and are enjoying themselves, the learning and discovery come naturally. These lessons are usually the ones they remember the most vividly! Similarly, with regard to exposing our children to colour, allow them to play! Provide children with finger paint or poster paint and brushes of primary colours, and pose them a challenge: How many colours can you create? Name them all! You will find children beginning to associate the colours they create to objects they see around them. 


In order to set our children up for success, prepare the necessary materials and share with them steps to prevent their colours from getting too muddy (when too many colours are mixed together and become brownish). Use thick paint like finger, poster or acrylic paint that children can easily mix and see colour changes.


For the palette, reusing plastic from packaging, or cutting and flattening plastic bags would work. Wax paper can also be an alternative. Using a flat surface instead of palettes with wells removes physical barriers to the mixing process.


If children are using finger paint, prepare a rag that they can wipe their hands on after picking up a colour and after mixing colours. If children are using brushes and paint, teach them how and why they need to wash their brushes clean. I often use two cups of water for washing brushes, as one cup of water gets muddy pretty quickly. You can also teach the child to determine when they need to change the water too. The idea is to teach them art studio habits in the process as well.


 Photo: Mom Loves Best


Our roles should be facilitators and partners in their process of discovery. We can probe children with questions such as: 


  • What object does this colour remind you of? 
  • Do you think you can mix the colour of your favourite toy? 


We can also affirm their progress or prompt them when they feel stuck: 


  • Wow! Look at all the colours you made - which is your favourite? Could you share with me why?
  • What colour are you trying to mix? How about trying to mix these two colours? 


Making observations and relations to the environment around them can help them to internalise their discoveries and be more sensitive to their environment:


  • That purple you mixed looks like the colour of the grapes we ate just now!
  • Oh, I see that you used yellow and red to create orange! What is a name you could give this orange colour?



 Photo: School Paints


Using questions allows children’s sense of curiosity to be activated and facilitates them to think deeper about the process, making more significant discoveries. 


Colours are all around us. This is just one method of stimulating our children’s senses - through touch and sight (Can you think of some ways to engage their other senses?). You may discover some exciting colour associations from your children you had never thought of before! Play away!


Exploring Art with Piet Mondrian


Written by Ting Yan Khor