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Early Childhood Informal Education Preschool    |    Daily Do

What Happens When We Mix Colors?

What Happens When We Mix Colors?

Crosscutting Concepts Is Lesson Plan Physical Science Science and Engineering Practices Early Childhood Informal Education Preschool

Sensemaking Checklist

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What Is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.


Today's Daily Do, What happens when we mix colors?, is for our youngest learners and their families. Families read Rainbow Joe and Me, which is about a young girl named Eloise who loves to mix colors and paint imaginative pictures. Pausing from the story, students mix colors of their own and identify patterns in the colors they make, then compare their colors to Eloise's. When families return to the story, they learn Eloise's friend, Rainbow Joe, sees colors in a different way.

Daily Do Playlist: Colors (PreK)

What happens when we mix colors? is a stand-alone task. However, it can be taught as part of an instructional sequence in which students coherently build the idea that patterns can be used to describe the phenomenon of mixing colors together produces new colors and make predictions about what happens when you mix those colors again and about the colors that emerge when you pull the new colors apart.

View Playlist



Before you invite your students to read aloud or read along with you, take a few minutes to gather materials and become familiar with the story.

Rainbow Joe and Me is written and illustrated by Maria Diaz Strom.

Color Mixing Materials (per student)

  • set of red, blue, and yellow water-based paint, markers, or crayons
  • white paper (lined paper works well, too)
  • color mixing template (resource #5 in the collection), optional

You might read the story beforehand to identify pages with big ideas you want to emphasize through asking questions and/or discussion.

Engaging Students With the Book

Before sharing the story with your students, consider setting the stage for reading by asking one or more of the following questions (or questions that target the big ideas you want to emphasize with your students):

  • What is your favorite color? Why do you like it so much?
  • Have you ever imagined something you couldn't see? What was it? What helped you come up with the image in your head?
  • What are the five senses? How do we use each sense? Why are they important to us?

You might ask students to turn and talk with a partner before sharing their ideas with the class.

Show students the cover of the book and read the title. What do they think this story might be about? Encourage students to support their ideas (claims) using observations of the cover (evidence). If students don't share ideas about Rainbow Joe, you might ask, "Why do you think Rainbow Joe is wearing dark glasses? What does he have in his hand?"

Set the purpose for reading by asking students to find out what happens when Eloise mixes her paint colors.

Pause on the page with the text Rainbow Joe says he sees colors inside his head (1:17 in the video) and ask students, "What do you think Rainbow Joe means when he says he can see colors inside his head?" Accept all answers.

You might pause on the pages on which Rainbow Joe describes yellow, red, green and blue (1:50–2:20 in the video)  and invite students to imagine the colors with him. You might first point to the color yellow, and ask, "What words can we use to describe yellow?" Students might say bright, light, shiny, sharp, glowing, hot, etc. Then ask, "What food might taste yellow?"; "What kind of sounds might yellow make?"; and/or "Can you think of something that might feel yellow?" Give students time to share ideas with a partner before sharing them with the class.

Stop reading after the text, "But then I remember melted butter and spicy red, and I believe that he's going to paint me a great big beautiful picture someday." (3:20 in the video) Say to students, "I wonder what would happen if we mixed colors like Eloise did."

Investigating Color Mixing

Say to students, "I have some yellow, red, and blue crayons. How might we use them to investigate what happens when we mix colors?" Accept all ideas. Guide students toward the idea of drawing with one color first, then drawing with a different color on top of the first drawing.

You might have students color on the color mixing template (resource #5). Allow students to choose the colors they want to mix in each circle. After a few minutes, you might ask students some of the following questions:

  • Which colors did you mix to get this color (point to a color)? What do you think would happen if you mixed _______ and _______ again?
  • How do you think the color would change if you pressed harder on the crayons? Why do you think so?
  • How do you think the color would change if you pressed very lightly on the crayons? Why do you think so?
  • (Point to a color.) Which color did you color with first? What do you think would happen if you colored with ________ first, then colored with ______ ?

Note: When mixing colors using markers, students may be able to see the new color more distinctly on the back side of the paper.

Put students in pairs. Ask them to find one new color they made that is the same or almost the same as their partner's. Did they both use the same two (or three) colors to make that new color? Can they find another new color they have in common? Did they both use the same two (or three) colors to make that new color, too?

As you move around the room, notice colors common to most students' drawings. Bring the class together. Ask students, "Who made the color green (or point to the color green and ask who made the same color)?" Invite one or two students to share how they created the color green. Then ask the rest of the students to raise their hands if they made the color green mixing yellow and blue (or hold up yellow and blue crayons) like the students who shared. You might create a poster and color yellow and blue next to each other, and then create green by mixing the two colors below them. Ask students, "Do yellow and blue always make the same new color? Why do you say so?"

You might repeat this process with the colors orange, purple, and/or grey/black. (Note: Students might not identify the new color mixing blue and red crayons creates as purple.) Say to students, "How can we use this pattern (point to poster) to answer our question: What happens when you mix colors?"

If you have more colors available, you might return to the book and ask students what colors Eloise created by mixing colors (pink, purple, olive, maroon, grey). Ask, "Do you think if we mixed (black and yellow) that we'd get (olive) like Eloise did? Why do you say so?" Refer students to the previous class observations. "What pattern did we notice?"

You might give students time to freely color before continuing with the story.

Finishing the Book

Continue reading Rainbow Joe and Me. Pause on the page with the text "Then violet. Pretty violet that blends back into blue." (4:34 in the video) Ask students to think about the sounds they thought yellow, red, green, and blue might make, and consider inviting students to sing the colors with Rainbow Joe.

Finish reading the story together. Consider engaging students in a discussion about the book, using questions like the ones below or your own questions to help deepen students' understanding about the big ideas you are targeting.

  • Why does Eloise call her friend Rainbow Joe?
  • Do you have a special grown-up friend or relative? What are some of the things you talk about with that person?
  • Why does Eloise have trouble understanding how Rainbow Joe mixes colors?
  • How does Rainbow Joe show Eloise how he mixes colors?
  • What does Eloise learn about seeing color?

Teaching the Daily Do Playlist

Navigate students to the next lesson by asking, "We used our patterns to predict what happens to colors when we mix them together. Do you think we could use our patterns to predict what would happen if we could pull the colors apart (unmix the colors)?" Accept all answers.

Let's investigate!

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NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a What happens when we mix colors? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking Add to My Library (near top of page).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos From NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.


What happens when we mix colors? is adapted from two lessons:

"The Early Years: Color Investigations" by Peggy Ashbrook, published in the NSTA journal Science and Children.

"Teacher's Guide For: Rainbow Joe and Me," published on the The Active Learner—Lee & Low Books website.

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