How to Teach Color Theory to Preschoolers

Updated on February 12, 2018
Teresa Coppens profile image

I worked for many years as a science teacher in Toronto, Ontario, and now am an occasional teacher working in the local school board.

Colour Mixing Fun with Shaving Cream

Source

I recently visited a friend's kindergarten class, and she and I discussed the joy of discovery inherent in very young children. She told me about this fantastic activity she did with her kids, which sent them over the top in the joy of discovering colour and the magic of mixing pigments. I have three boys who are very active learners even now in their teenage years. Concepts learned at school are learned faster and retained longer when kids actively participate in an activity. Preschoolers excel when presented with an opportunity to physically engage in their learning. The lesson plan outlined below presents a fun, active method of teaching kids primary and secondary colours!

Main materials for investigating primary colors with shaving cream.
Main materials for investigating primary colors with shaving cream. | Source

Extensions of the Colour Mixing Activity

The following could be added to the lesson depending upon the time of year the activity is completed:

  • Use smaller paper when making the 'Shaving Cream Paintings' and glue onto cardstock to make Mother's Day or Father's Day cards.
  • If done at Halloween, create more orange and black and have the kids create pumpkins and black cats in the shaving cream for Halloween art.
  • At Christmas time, focus on reds and greens, creating ornaments, presents and Christmas trees in the shaving cream. A Christmas card for the family could be the focus of your 'painting'.

Primary and Secondary Pigment Colours Lesson Plan

Rationale: Colour surrounds all of us. It is important in signs seen and used by all. Stop signs are red and that means stop or danger. Animals use colour as warning signs. Orange and red in snakes usually mean that snake is poisonous. Rainforest frogs use similar colours to warn predators that they are poisonous if eaten. Colours in the home and school can convey moods. Green is a calming colour while the primary colours stimulate the visual sense. Many preschoolers know their primary colours at least before entering school. Most others pick them up quickly in their first few formative months. How do we get all the colours of the rainbow? Active participation will allow the students to see first hand how various colours are created from the main three primary colours.

Subjects: Science, Art

Grade Level: Preschool; Junior Kindergarten, Senior Kindergarten

Suggested Time: 60 minutes

Materials:

  • baking sheet or paper plates depending upon whether you want a group focus or individual focus
  • liquid food colouring of the three primary colours: red, yellow, blue
  • shaving cream
  • 81/2 by 11 white printer paper
  • various colour construction paper slightly larger than 81/2 by 11 printer paper
  • baby wipes
  • paper towels for clean-up
  • a paint smock for each child
  • colour wheel for the Art Talk

Objectives:

  1. Students will learn the three primary colours.
  2. Students will learn the three secondary colours.
  3. Students will learn that there are intermediate colours that can be created by mixing primary and secondary colours.
  4. Students will create a 'shaving cream' painting.

Order of Activities:

  1. A few weeks prior to this activity it would be advisable to send a letter home indicating that an activity will be done in class involving the students manipulating shaving cream and food colouring with their hands. Ask for parent volunteers for this activity if it is allowed in your school or preschool. Small group participation with an adult helper would be ideal for this activity.
  2. Art talk using a painting or reproduction of a painting by an artist the class is focussing on in art if possible or at least one that demonstrates use of primary and secondary colours. Vocabulary can be introduced at this time including the three primary colours.
  3. Shaving Cream colour mixing activity. Paint smocks would be advantageous for this activity as it can get messy. Baby wipes will be handy for removing as much colour staining from hands as possible. Alternatively, you could have students use popsicle sticks for colour mixing but the effect will not be as tactile.
  4. Creating their 'Shaving Cream Painting'.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Painting by Dutch painter Marion Baars illustrating the variety of hues possible from mixing the three primary colors.Color Wheel illustrating primary, secondary and Intermediate colors.
Painting by Dutch painter Marion Baars illustrating the variety of hues possible from mixing the three primary colors.
Painting by Dutch painter Marion Baars illustrating the variety of hues possible from mixing the three primary colors. | Source
Color Wheel illustrating primary, secondary and Intermediate colors.
Color Wheel illustrating primary, secondary and Intermediate colors. | Source

Art Talk: What Are Primary Colors?

Use the information in this capsule in discussing with the children primary colours and colour mixing.

The painting by Marion Baars above this capsule illustrates the primary and secondary colours and how they can be used to advantage in the creation of stunning art work. The reds and oranges in the picture as well as the blues and greens are related colours because they are found next to each other on the colour wheel. The name of the colour is its hue. The common hues are the colours of the rainbow - red, yellow, orange, green, blue and violet. These hues also make up the primary and secondary colours of pigments. The three primary colours are:

  • red
  • yellow
  • blue

Many colours can be created using these primary colours. Mixing equal amounts of the primary colours result in the secondary colours:

  • orange - red+yellow
  • green - blue+yellow
  • violet - red+blue

If you look again at the picture by Marion Baars, you can see colour variations of the primary and secondary colours. These are made by varying the amounts of the primary colours used or by adding white to 'lighten' a primary or secondary colour. The colour wheel also presented to the right shows the primary, secondary and intermediate colours possible by mixing pigments.


Playing with Shaving Cream and Food Colouring

Click thumbnail to view full-size
RedYellowBlueFinger mixing a primary color.Mixing two primary colors.Yellow and a little Blue=Light GreenOverlap drops of paired food colouring to see the secondary colours appear!Blue+Red=VioletYellow+Red=OrangeBlue+Yellow=GreenFinished masterpiece after mixing primary and secondary colors.
Red
Red | Source
Yellow
Yellow | Source
Blue
Blue | Source
Finger mixing a primary color.
Finger mixing a primary color. | Source
Mixing two primary colors.
Mixing two primary colors. | Source
Yellow and a little Blue=Light Green
Yellow and a little Blue=Light Green | Source
Overlap drops of paired food colouring to see the secondary colours appear!
Overlap drops of paired food colouring to see the secondary colours appear! | Source
Blue+Red=Violet
Blue+Red=Violet | Source
Yellow+Red=Orange
Yellow+Red=Orange | Source
Blue+Yellow=Green
Blue+Yellow=Green | Source
Finished masterpiece after mixing primary and secondary colors.
Finished masterpiece after mixing primary and secondary colors. | Source

Shaving Cream Colour Mixing Activity

Feel free to modify this activity for large, small group or individual students by varying what you put the shaving cream on. A plastic covered table with raised edges could be used for a large group while paper plates could be used for individual exploration. I have designed this lesson plan with groups of four in mind with a parent or older student helper for each group.

  1. Cover a baking sheet with shaving cream.
  2. Tell the students you will be adding a primary colour to a few places in the cream and then wait for the ooh's and ahh's when you do.
  3. Ask the students to identify the colour and then add one more primary colour to a few places in the cream.
  4. After that colour has been identified, ask for a volunteer to mix the two colours together. You may have to demonstrate! Listen again for the ooh's and ahh's when a new colour appears.
  5. Ask the students to identify that colour.
  6. Add a different combination of two primary colours and repeat steps 3 to five. Once all three colour combinations have been created discuss the secondary colours that they have created.
  7. Allow each group to create pictures of colour for a while adding more food colouring to allow each student the opportunity to create secondary and intermediate colours in the shaving cream.
  8. When finished, hands will need to be washed and then wiped with baby wipes to remove as much food colouring as possible.

Creating a Shaving Cream Painting

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Printer paper is placed over top of the shaving cream and pressed firmly.Printer paper has been carefully removed.  There is a layer of shaving cream still on the paper.Shaving cream is carefully scraped off using a sharp knife.A framed Shaving Cream painting.
Printer paper is placed over top of the shaving cream and pressed firmly.
Printer paper is placed over top of the shaving cream and pressed firmly. | Source
Printer paper has been carefully removed.  There is a layer of shaving cream still on the paper.
Printer paper has been carefully removed. There is a layer of shaving cream still on the paper. | Source
Shaving cream is carefully scraped off using a sharp knife.
Shaving cream is carefully scraped off using a sharp knife. | Source
A framed Shaving Cream painting.
A framed Shaving Cream painting. | Source

Shaving Cream Painting

  1. Allow each student, one at a time to lay a piece of the printer paper on top of their final shaving cream creation.
  2. They will probably need assistance patting it somewhat flat on their shaving cream creation. Depending on the size of your baking sheet you may be able to have three students lie their printer paper side by side and do all or most students at once.
  3. Carefully peel the paper off of the shaving cream.
  4. Taking the paper to a sink and using a sharp knife, carefully scrape the shaving cream off of the paper.
  5. The food colouring will have soaked into the paper leaving a mirror image of the students handiwork.
  6. After it has been allowed to dry help each student choose a complimentary colour of construction paper.
  7. With assistance if necessary, have each student glue their painting to the construction paper.
  8. Display the students' handiwork in the classroom or hallway for all to see.

Questions & Answers

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      • kerlund74 profile image

        kerlund74 

        4 years ago from Sweden

        I love this and I believe that children do to:) A great way to learn!

      • Missy Mac profile image

        Missy Mac 

        6 years ago from Illinois

        This is a fun activity and I enjoyed your vivid way of explaining this activity. I am learning many things as a newbie.

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Theju, hope you find time to use the ideas! Thanks for leaving a comment.

      • profile image

        Theju 

        6 years ago

        I loved it its too funny and interesting. Thanks a lote.

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Glad you liked it Marissa. Thanks for commenting!

      • missolive profile image

        Marisa Hammond Olivares 

        6 years ago from Texas

        Too fun! I love working with my hands and using these types of manipulatives is great for the kiddos. Great tips and excellent ideas. I love the idea of adding food coloring. Nice presentation too! Thank you for sharing.

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Thanks Alissa. Make sure you get right in there with your boys. It's fun for everyone!

      • alissaroberts profile image

        Alissa Roberts 

        6 years ago from Normandy, TN

        Oh how fun - my boys would love this! What a clever way to teach little ones their primary colors. Going to have to add this to our list of fun summer activities to try out. Thanks for the idea - voted up and sharing!

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Donabhatt, thanks for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed it!

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Robin, glad you liked it. It is a really fun activity and everything smells so nice afterward.

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        I had so much fun myself. Cara I know you and your kids will enjoy this and you should have some great art work to display when you're done!

      • donabhatt profile image

        donabhatt 

        6 years ago from Hyderabad

        I love colors and painting..and so loved your article. very informative............

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        Loved it, too! This is such a fun and easy activity to learn about primary and secondary colors! Both of our girls' favorite center in Kindergarten is shaving cream. It's so easy; will definitely do this in the summer!

      • cardelean profile image

        cardelean 

        6 years ago from Michigan

        Loved this hub! I had planned on doing some shaving cream activities with my own kids this summer and now I'll be adding a little color. Thanks for the great info!

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Glad you liked it! Hope your sister finds it useful.

      • ChaplinSpeaks profile image

        Sarah Johnson 

        6 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

        Shaving cream art - how cool! Kids do soak in learning better with hands on activities like this, and it is fun! I will be sending this right over to my sister who teaches preschool. Thanks for sharing.

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        mwilliams66, thanks for the comment. Feel free to pass on the idea to friends and family with younger children.

      • mwilliams66 profile image

        mwilliams66 

        6 years ago from Left Coast, USA

        What a wonderfully enjoyable activity. Very unique. My children are grown now, but I will keep this in my arsenal for my grandchildren (to come).

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Thanks Indie. I had great fun putting this one together. I'm hoping to get a video together of the boys later demonstrating this technique. I might do it outside though. I'm sure not all of the shaving cream will stay in the baking sheet!! lol

      • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

        Teresa Coppens 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Thanks HawaiiHeart I had a lot of fun getting my hands in the shaving cream myself! If I had so much fun imagine a group of 3 to 7 year olds!

      • K9keystrokes profile image

        India Arnold 

        6 years ago from Northern, California

        This has to be the most unique approach to teaching primary and secondary colors I have read. Great idea, and a super fun classroom project for our youngest school age children! What a great hub!

        HubHugs~

      • HawaiiHeart profile image

        HawaiiHeart 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        What a fun and interactive way to learn about the colors!

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