I watched my little PreK girl dip her paint brush in the red paint, then the blue paint, then the yellow, green, and orange paint. After dipping in every color that was out at the easel, she reached up and made large gray swirls of paint in the center of her paper. She did this over and over again until she finally decided she was done.
After she left the easel, a new child took her place. He dipped his brush in the blue paint and began to paint swirls of bluish-gray paint on his paper. He set the blue brush down and picked up the red brush. Again, he painted swirls of redish-gray paint on his paper.
Throughout the morning, each child that came to the easel and painted colorful grayish paintings until one child came to me and said, “Mrs. Stewart, I need some green paint.” I directed her to add a splash of green to the greenish gray jar and she happily went on with painting mostly green swirls of her own.
It was the beginning of the school year and the children were highly interested in mixing the colors of paint. They would stay at the easel for the longest time just mixing colors and painting swirls. Not one of the children said, “Look at what I made!” and not one of them complained, “They keep mixing all the colors!”
We are 3 months into the school year now and for most of the children, color-mixing is still their exploration of choice. Only now the children will come to me and say, “Look Mrs. Stewart, I made the color purple.” Or “Look Mrs. Stewart, this is a greenish-blue.” They still rarely ask me to look at “what they made.” Instead they want me to see what they discovered. But across their paper I can see shades of colors carefully placed on each part of the paper. The children’s interests are starting to change.
I do, however, have a few children who are using the colors with intention outside of color mixing. For those children, I show them how to create a paint pallet using a paper plate. They add the color of paint they desire and then paint with that color. Their paintings are filled with beautiful illustrations of rainbows, trees, or creative designs.
The painters are starting to influence the color-mixers. Soon, I suspect we will see more painting with a design in mind at the easel. I am excited about this new level of painting starting to emerge. I am excited to be able to hang up rainbows instead of gray blobs on my wall. I am excited that the children can tell me exactly how to make the color gray, purple, or how to keep the color just blue.
And how did I teach all of these concepts to the children?
- By staying out of the way
- Supporting their efforts
- Listening to their questions
- Responding to requests
..and letting the children explore the process.
Do I ever teach my students how to paint something? Yes, I model lines, colors, and dots on my own paintings on occasion to give them a vision of what is possible. There is a role for me in the process, but I work hard at not taking over the easel painting process.