Water Color Mixing

Kristi Kuehn
Groveland Elementary School
Minnetonka, MN
Author Profile


In this classroom lab activity, students will experiment with mixing the primary colors together: red, yellow, and blue, to determine what new colors may be observed.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to learn primary and secondary colors, to become familiar with chemistry tools, such as a well tray and pipette, and for students to observe the natural mixing of colors to create new colors. The vocabulary words to be introduced are: primary colors, secondary colors, well tray, and pipette.

Context for Use

This activity is best used in kindergarten during a colors unit. The activity itself should be completed with small groups of students (3-5). The experiment alone should take anywhere between 10-25 minutes, depending on the interest level of students, but the whole lesson will be about 30 minutes or so. To complete the lesson, please have the following materials ready: 3 clear, plastic cups filled with water; 3 bottles of food coloring: red, blue and yellow; 1 pipette per student, 1 well tray as an example, 1 white or clear ice cube tray per student (use as a more developmentally appropriate well try for the young students); a color mixing sheet for students to draw what new colors were made. This activity can be used as an introduction to color mixing or for extra practice of mixing primary colors together.

Subject: Physics:Optics:Color
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Primary (K-2)

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity should be a small group center with 3-5 students. To introduce the activity, read the story Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. The story introduces 3 little mice who get into some paint and discover the secondary colors. Next, tell the students that we are going to be mixing some of our own colors today! Introduce the new vocabulary: well tray and pipette. Show students the proper way to use the new tools (I use an ice cube tray as a developmentally appropriate adaptation for the well tray) and give them free exploration time to mix the primary colors. I would like the students to discover how to make the secondary colors, but also their own variations. If the students are having difficulties making the secondary colors without guidance, try asking more guided questions, such as: What happens if you put the same amount of drops of 2 colors into your well tray? For closure, students can use markers to color their observations: ___ and ___ = ______.

Teaching Notes and Tips

You'll need to adapt this lesson according to your students' needs. For example, do they require a more guided lesson, or do they have a good understanding of color mixing already? Some issues that may arise: what students should do when their well tray is full and they would like to continue or squirting with pipettes. I always model appropriate behavior before the lesson (including use of pipettes) and have an ice cream bucket or sink nearby to give students an empty well tray after it's been filled. This activity is different from the past in that I never used the term: well tray. I also was a little bit too guided in past lessons, and I am eager to allow my students more time for inquiry.


Most of the assessment in this activity will be observation. In working with a smaller group, observation and participation becomes much easier. You may also wish to create an activity sheet where students record the new colors they created. It may be best to have students color as they experiment, but you'll simply need to address the issue of water on the paper then.

Students will use observations to develop an accurate description of a natural phenomenon and compare one's observations and descriptions with those of others.

References and Resources