Today’s edition of Super Simple Saturday features a preschool basic – paint! Inspired by Bev Bos I suggest this art invitation you might not have considered for your kids – let the kids mix their own colors!

Introducing this activity Bev said, “Sadly for many children the art experience is far too narrow, being confined to brushes, paper, paint, and participating in a teacher-directed project.” Bev paid close attention to what children were interested in and noticed that children love to just mix colors and see what happens.

Basic Supplies:

  • Paint
  • Paint cups
  • Paint trays
  • Spoons
  • Newspaper

Simple PLUS Supplies:

  • Paper
  • Brushes
  • Easel
  • Other art supplies as desired

The Invitation:

This invitation could not be simpler. Lay out plenty of newspaper on your surface. Place paint in cups on the table. Set out spoons for scooping the paint – I suggest 2-3 spoons per paint pot. Put out enough paint palettes or muffin tins for the children. As always an adult should be close by to support the kids, answer questions, and add materials. Most importantly – let the children own the process! Let them dip the spoon from cup to cup.  Let them mix the worst colors together. Give up your idea of what they should be doing or learning and let them DISCOVER for themselves!

I love this short video of Bev’s program:

I have to admit I was a little nervous about how this would go over in our program. I pictured paint flying everywhere. My fears were unfounded however and I have found it to be a very engaging and meaningful invitation for the kids.

I would have your PLUS supplies handy, but be careful to present them in a way the kids don’t feel like they HAVE to use them. The point of the invitation is to give children a chance to mix colors. If they want to move to painting they have the materials available.

Tips and Tricks:

Use what you have! I have a few sets of paint pots and they are a great size and shape for this. Recycled sour cream or peanut butter jars also work great! 

We have loved our craft sorting trays (white trays pictured above), however I’ve been unable to find similar ones for the past few months. They are about the same size as small muffin pans and muffin tins would work really well for this. I like this style of tray because when the kids are done, if there’s still paint left it’s easy to cover with Press’n Seal to save for later. I found these muffin tins on Amazon that are the same size as our plastic trays and I’m going to order a set for our program!

Use washable paint. Insisting that young children use paint smocks can be discouraging for little ones. Often they will walk away from what could be meaningful learning experience because it’s too much trouble. I tell the parents in my program to dress children in clothes that can get dirty!

  • You will see a smock on one girl in these pictures. This was at the beginning of the “no smock” policy and my teachers told one mom we would do smocks for her daughter. Having to wear the smock changed her experience much of the time.  She would run over and want to paint so we’d hurry and put the smock on. Then she’d run off and want to play something else so we’d take it off. This happened over and over and was very frustrating to her and hard for us to keep up. After we clarified with all the teachers and her mom about our policy she enjoyed engaging in art more and we as teachers were all less frustrated!
  • We do have smocks tucked away in a drawer if we were ever to have a child that asked for one, however I have yet to use them at the request of the child.

I buy washable tempura paint in gallon jugs and use pump dispensers. I have found the best price and customer service at Kaplan. They usually offer a 17% off coupon a few times a year and I stock up then! If you don’t want gallons of paint you can find paint anywhere in smaller bottles.

I usually just put out a few colors at a time. I often just put out primary colors so they can discover what happens when they mix the colors. It’s really exciting for the kids when they ask for orange paint and discover that they can make it on their own!

Make sure you have plenty of white paint out! It really adds to the variety of colors they can mix. Black paint is also fun and adds another element to the mixing.

Use a child height surface if possible. Working at a table that is child sized allows the child to focus on exploring the paint. If they are at an adult size dining table they have to worry about more elements (reaching father into the middle of the table, balancing on a tall chair, etc.). It makes it more complicated for the child and takes away from their experience. You’ll notice most of the children in the pictures aren’t sitting.  They simply want to stand and work with the paint.

I love our Community Playthings tables we purchased with grant money. They are adjustable and can raise or lower depending on your group needs. However if you don’t have a budget for expensive early childhood specific equipment there are a lot of budget friendly options.

  • If your looking for something comparable in function and quality I’ve had good luck with the classroom furniture section on This table is a great size for a small preschool or home setting and is a beautiful neutral color. It also comes in red and blue if you prefer more colorful options.
  • IKEA has a variety of inexpensive coffee and side tables that work great for this purpose. Their LACK side table is only $7.99 and comes in a variety of colors. Or there are several fun options in their children’s furniture section.  A warning with the plastic furniture – some of it is textured and prone to holding the paint color on the surface.
  • If you don’t live close to an IKEA I’ve seen similar models at Walmart and Target for a few dollar more. Amazon carries this version for $14 and they will deliver it to your house!
  • Thrift stores, yard sales, and online blog shops are great options as well. You can buy a used adult size table and cut the legs off, however make sure they are well balanced if you choose this option.

Finally – don’t be nervous because it’s paint. Paint washes out. The mess is worth it! The learning that is happening is SO valuable! Want more information on the academic benefits of art experiences?

Raising Small Souls blogs about the benefits of art for young children here.

The Penn State Extension talks about the value of art experiences here. talks about some of the benefits across various academic disciplines here.

Have you tried paint mixing with your children?  I’d love to hear how it goes for you and if you have any challenges!

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