Exploring Color

Ages 2-4

Why I Built This Kit:

  Curator Tibby W.

Curator Tibby W.

Colors were some of the first words we taught our daughter and she quickly began to use them to refer to her toys. She also began scribbling around 14 months, making huge swaths of color and gradually shortening her strokes to teeny tiny, intense scribbles, then moving on to small swirls and jagged figures. I keep out the majority of our art supplies for whenever the mood strikes and we’ve had such fun exploring color across mediums. I wanted to create a kit that would encourage other families to enjoy color exploration as much as we have and give them a start for further exploration and conversations with their children about color in the world around them.


General Information/ Introduction for Parents

When children use art supplies they tend to engage in two types of art: process and representational. In process art there is no product, it’s all about exploring what a medium, like paint or clay, can do. Representational art is when children create a representation. Whatever it is they draw or build or sculpt, children are using the art as a tool to make their thinking visible.  

Giving children the opportunity to explore various art mediums in their process art helps them build a toolbox they can draw on when they want to express their thinking. This is an especially useful skill for young children who may not yet be able to read and write or are still mastering writing.

We often think of color as a part of art, but it is also a child’s first brush with science. It is also a very natural place for children to begin to exploring the world because it is everywhere and seems to be endlessly fascinating to them. Allowing children to to simply play with watercolors, markers, and crayons allows them to discover many of the basic principles of color theory on their own and is an incredibly powerful learning experience. Exploring color together is a great entree into sharing art supplies and thoughts about how the world works that can then be drawn or built. The following books, app, videos and activities will provide you with resources to start that exploration.

General Information/Introduction for Kids

Color is all around us. You can see it in your backyard, in your closet, even on your body. But have you ever wondered about color? Have you ever wondered about red? What does it taste like? Or maybe blue? What does it sound like? Can a color sound like something? Or maybe green? What does it smell like? Do those colors make you think of your garden or your house or maybe your clothes?

You might know the names of the colors, but have you thought about the different shades of a color? Sea green? Pea green? Maybe you’ve explored color in an art class or in your backyard. But do you know there are colors called primary colors that mix to make all the other colors you know? Do you know what happens when you add white or black to a color? You’ve seen green before, but have you ever disagreed with someone about a color thinking it was blue when they saw purple? Or maybe you’ve wondered if someone who is blind can understand color. Have you looked for all the colors in your neighborhood? Did you find all of them or is there one missing?

We’ve all seen colors, but is there more to them? Would you like to become a color explorer, learning more about color?

Suggested Books


Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

The accuracy and precision of the language we use with children is very important for shaping not just their vocabulary, but their perception of the world around them. When first teaching children about color we often use a catch-all term to refer to any shade or tint. A deep crimson and a bright strawberry are all “red”. Green is a wonderful book for beginning to think more broadly about color. By showing how one color can vary and be called by different names it encourages children to observe and label the variety of colors they see around them everyday.


Color Dance by Ann Jonas

Color Dance is a great way to introduce the basic ideas of color mixing to a young audience. Children may also want to get up and dance around after reading this in their own color dance which is a great way for them to engage more than one sense when exploring and understanding color. If you have colored scarves they can dance with after reading, so much the better.


The Black Book of Colors by Elisa Amado

This is a fantastic book for showing children that people can perceive colors differently. It is about a blind child who shares what colors “look” like to him. The reader discovers that the blind boy “sees” colors in things that sighted people don’t normally (a scraped knee) and that he “sees” some colors differently than our eyes see them (green for lemon ice cream). But they also discover that he sees many colors the same way we do (red for strawberries).




Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

This book does a wonderful job of showing children color in the world as they know it. Seeing how the mother and daughter use the flowers and plants to paint a rainbow draws their attention to the world around them and really encourages them to see color as something integral to their lives and the world.


Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People by Jane Yolen

Yolen’s poems are not what may first come to mind when you see red or green or gray in the landscape. But this really encourages the reader to look and think deeply about color in nature. It also shows children that words are also an art supply that can be used to represent the world they see.

Suggested Apps

  1. Montessorium Introduction to Color   
    • Using traditional Montessori color tablets and activities, children learn to identify colors by sight and name. They also get practice matching the colors. As is traditional with the Montessori materials, the colors are separated out into primary and secondary color sets. Children can also sort color sets from darkest to lightest (gradient) and each color tablet is associated with a note which plays a scale when the pieces are in the correct order. There is also a place to finger paint and a color search game. One of the best things about this app is that the activities span a range of ages and abilities, from just learning color names to matching to seeing small differences in the tint of a color.
  2. Mini Monet - Art Studio and Creative Art Studio for Kids
    • Using the drawing pages younger kids can use this app to draw and color on a blank canvas. Even better, you have the option of different background textures and colors. An app is a great, compact way to take your color exploration to the park, the zoo, or the grocery store or even just your backyard.

Suggested Media

  1. Three Primary Colors” by Okay Go!
    • Catchy song and video about the three primary colors and how they mix to make the secondary colors.
  2. Color Theory Infographic
    • A simple, visual way of seeing how colors combine as well as a little additional information. From Lindsey Besser, future art educator. 
  3. Pigments and Paint
    • Video from the Exploratorium about how paint is made using pigment and a binder.

Kinesthetic Activities

Mixing Color with Water, Salt and Cornstarch

Children can experiment with how colors work together and the different textures created by the wet salt and cornstarch. Setting it up outdoors in a well-lit or bright room encourages children to see how light interacts with translucent color. 

What you’ll need:

  • Large mirror or cookie sheet
  • Liquid watercolors diluted in water in small dishes or baby food jars OR food coloring diluted in water in small dishes or baby food jars
  • Eyedroppers or pipettes or small spoons
  • Cornstarch
  • Kosher or coarse salt

What to do:

  1. Set out the mirror or cookie sheet either on the ground or on a table.
  2. Sprinkle the salt and cornstarch across the mirror. If you keep some of the cornstarch in piles the addition of the colored liquid will make oobleck, a substance that is as fun to play with as color.
  3. Set out the watercolors or food coloring, placing an eyedropper or spoon in each dish.
  4. Encourage your child to drip, drizzle, and squirt the color all around the mirror or cookie sheet. They can mix colors with the stream of color or can use their finger and hands.
  5. Encourage them to notice how the colors are mixing. What colors can they make? How does the liquid act when dripped or drizzled onto the salt and cornstarch?Also encourage them to notice the textures by touching the mirror and how the salt and cornstarch dissolve when the liquid is added.
  6. You might draw their attention to how the light reflects through the mirror into the color, water and salt. Does it change the colors? Does it make them brighter? Lighter? Darker? Deeper?

Adapted from:

Pelo, Ann. The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings. St. Paul: Readleaf Press, 2007. Print.

Cooper, Sheryl. “Using Mirrors to Explore Light and Color Outdoors.Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds. Jul 2013. Web. 07 May 2014. 


Coffee Filter Window Transparency

Not only will this activity create something beautiful that you can hang in a window, it allows your child to see how colors blend once wet. Using the spray bottle gives them good practice with muscle control and hand.

What you’ll need:

  • White, basket coffee filters
  • Stack of scratch paper, thick sheet of absorbent paper, or a rag towel
  • Water soluble markers such as Crayola
  • Spray bottle with water

What to do:

  1. Lay out the coffee filter flat on a work surface on top of a rag towel or preferably a thick stack of paper that can absorb some water.
  2. Color designs, swaths of color, and scribbles on the filter.
  3. When coloring you can discuss warm and cool colors, primary and secondary colors, and the color wheel or spectrum.  If your child wants they can color coffee filters that demonstrate these aspects of color theory. Ask them to make predictions about what they think will happen with the colors when they apply the water. Will the colors blend? Will one overpower another? Will the colors drip and run? Will they colors lighten or darken?
  4. Gently spray the filter with water. Not too much or all the colors will run together and drip off! Although, if it gets too soggy and runny you can always make another. Allow to dry.
  5. Once they are dry you can hang the filters in a window or on a door. When hanging them you can talk to your child about how the light shining through them changes the way the colors look? Are the colors brighter? Is it easier to see where the colors mixed?
  6. You can cut or fold the coffee filter onto shapes (think snowflakes, stars, rings, etc.) before or after you color if you want to add a little more of a fine motor challenge.

Adapted from:

MaryLea. “Mark Rothko Inspired ATC Color Studies”. Pink and Green Mama. 19 Jul 2013. Pink and Green Mama LLC. Web. 07 May 2014.

Suggested Family Experience: Nature Color Walk

You can do this walk in your backyard, on your street or throughout your neighborhood. It’s a great way to get outside and can be done in tandem with a weekly family walk or as a special event. Drawing your child’s attention to the color in the world around them will help them become more observant. It can also help them realize that color is all around them, not just in the art room.  

What You’ll Need:

  • Sheets of construction or colored paper in a variety of colors
  • Bags and a camera for collecting

What to Do:

  1. As you walk around pick up small objects (rocks, twigs, leaves). Match the objects to the construction paper. Demonstrate holding the object up to the paper, saying the color of the paper and the name of the object. Is this flower yellow? Doesn’t look like it. Maybe it is red? Young family members may need some help or guidance initially, or you may want to pair them with another family member.
  2. As you find things place them sorted by color into the bags. Use the camera to take pictures of things that move (insects, neighborhood cats, etc.) and things that are too large to take home (trees, cars, etc.).
  3. When you get home you can use them to create a small nature display or you can pore over them again, using them as conversation starters about color, color in nature, naming different shades of colors, or telling the story of your walk. Your child also may wish to draw or paint pictures of the objects.
  4. If you prefer not to collect anything, you can take pictures of all objects you find. As with the objects, you can use the pictures to make a color display either physical or digital.

Note: If you don’t have construction paper on hand,  you can draw squares of color on a piece of paper using markers, crayons or colored pencils.

Adapted from:

Child’s Play: Montessori Games and Activities for Your Baby and Toddler by Maja Pitamic & Dr. Claire McCarthy (Pitamic, Maja and Dr. Claire McCarthy. Child’s Play: Montessori Games and Activities for Your Baby and Toddler. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, 2009. Print.)

About Tibby

Tibby, a curator from the Bay Area, was born to love books.  Seriously.  Her parents named her after a nickname from a children’s book!  Anyone remember the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib” books?  There you have it.  Even stranger, Tibby’s best friend from high school is the granddaughter of the illustrator of the series.  Now, that is someone almost born with a book in her hand!  Tibby is a former teacher and children’s librarian, currently staying home to spend time with her little one.  She is a dynamic member of our curator community, and we’re thrilled to have her!  Let the questions begin, and if you have more questions, leave comments or visit us @zoobeanforkids!