Units of Work

Mixing colours and making hand prints

Early Years

Meager, colour, color, hand prints, printing, colour mixing, color mixing

This unit is designed for early years children to help them understand the first principles of colour mixing. By making hand prints with a different primary colour on each hand, they can then rub their hands together to form a secondary colour and hand print again. By this means an understanding of colour mixing is achieved.

This simple unit is a very direct way to help children learn that colours mix.

"Here is a tray of red paint, here is a tray of yellow paint, here is a tray of blue paint. Put one hand in the yellow paint. Now press it onto the paper to make a yellow hand print.

Put your other hand in the blue paint. Now press the blue hand on the paper to make a blue hand print. Now rub your hands together! What is happening? Yes, your hands are changing colour. What colour are your hands now? They have turned green. Now make two more green hand prints on the paper."

You should have a bucket of warm soapy water to hand. The child can plunge their hands in the bucket and wipe them on a large old towel. They may still need to go and wash their hands properly before returning to make another set of prints.

Children can quickly learn that the primary colours yellow, red and blue will mix the secondary colours green, violet and orange. The hand prints could be made in a random way or perhaps you could help the children organise them into a pattern. In one UK school all the Nursery and Reception children combined the multicoloured hand prints to make a picture of a huge flowering tree for the entrance foyer.

This project can be the starting point for other colour mixing experiments. Look at the units 'colour mixing with pastels' and 'colour mixing with paint'.

  • Adapted and expanded from pages 36-37 of 'Teaching Art at Key Stage 1', Nigel Meager, 1993, NSEAD. See the NSEAD web site for information about ordering this book.

  • Beware of reds and blues that do not make a good violet or purple. The pigments in school crayons, pastels and paints may not be of the highest quality. Often children will mix a red and blue and it turns out to be brown. Choose a red and a blue that are tending towards purple rather than orange or turquoise. In order to get effective secondary colours you may need to use more than one red and blue. There is more detailed advice on this in the unit 'colour mixing with paint' .

More ideas about art connections

  • Have you thought of showing your pupils hand prints from the walls of Lascaux or Altamira caves? Or perhaps the hand prints of Aboriginal artists or Native Americans? A good example is the Arapaho Ghost Dance dress (Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago).

Red, yellow and blue ready mixed paint, 3 trays for the paint, paper to make the prints, a bucket of warm soapy water, an old towel, polythene to cover the tables.