The Science of Color

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, October 5, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Science

Lesson Time

Two 50 minute class periods


In this lesson, students will use the scientific method to explore how to make different colors with paint. They will also problem solve ways to darken and lighten colors without using black and white paint.

National Standards


Students will do the following:
  • hypothesize how to create new colors
  • describe the process used to create new colors


  • Internet websites
  • "Make New Colors" worksheet


  • small plastic or glass containers for paint (each group will need three containers)
  • paint brushes or Q-Tips
  • paper
  • measuring spoons
  • paper towels to clean spoons between experiments


Building Background The Nature of Color

The purpose of this activity is to build students' background knowledge on color as it occurs in nature. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one of the websites listed below. Have each group read the information on the site and record important information. After groups have finished, have them explain what they learned to the rest of the class.
Environmental Education for Kids  "Why Do Leaves Change Color?":
KidsHealth "What is Color Blindness?":
Rose Gathering "Symbolic Meaning of Color in Roses": 

Steps for Learning Exploring Color

In this activity, students will use hypothesis formation, experimentation, and trial and error to create colors. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Pass out the "Make New Colors" worksheet. 2. Give each group a set of three cups containing the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. Also give them a measuring spoon such as a quarter or half teaspoon. Explain to students that all of the colors can be created using these three colors. Tell students that these three colors are called primary colors. 3. Tell students that they are going to mix equal amounts of two colors to create a new color. 4. After students have finished experimenting, have them share their process and results with the rest of the class. Explain to students that the green, orange, and purple colors they created are called secondary colors.



Write three things that you learned today. What colors did you mix together to make the prettiest color? What colors did you mix together to make the ugliest color? What colors did you mix together to make the most interesting color? What colors did you add to darken a color? What colors did you add to lighten a color?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Body Paint
Ask students to mix a paint color that as close as possible matches the color of their skin. Use the paint to create a self-portrait.

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