One of my favorite art activities for preschoolers is watercolor painting on paper towels and felt. Young children find it absolutely mesmerizing to watch the colors mix and love squeezing and dripping the paint with the droppers. It’s a fun and playful way to teach about colors, to develop those fine motor skills and practice the pincer grip that will later be used to hold a pencil and write.
We started by reading the Color Dance by Ann Jonas. It’s a fantastic book about mixing primary colors and lends itself perfectly to let the children point out which colors they know as well as to do a dance party with colored scarves (as the children in the book do). After reading the book (and lots of dancing) we were excited to work on our own magical color rainbow.
Step 1: Introduce the droppers
It might take a few of the younger children a few tries to get used to the droppers. We gathered in a circle, passed a glass with water around and practiced how to use the dropper: pinch and release to suck up the water, pinch again to drop.
Step 2: Watercolor on paper towels
Cover a table or the floor with a layer of foil and paper towels and prepare the colors ahead of time. Mix some water with just a few drops of liquid watercolors. Add a dropper to each glass. Invite the children to drop the watercolors onto the paper towels.
Tip: While painting simply observe, comment and ask questions about what the children are doing. Focus on the process, the experience and the exploration of the materials rather than the finished product. Point out how the colors mix, how the towels soak up the watercolors. Ask things like:
“I wonder what color you will use next?”,
“I wonder what would happen if you mix two colors?”,
“Which colors did you use to create this color?”,
“I notice you’re squeezing your dropper really hard, I wonder what you have to do to make it drop the color again?” etc.
We even had our own color lab when some of the children started mixing up different colors in our glasses, just to discover that “it makes brown!”.
Tip: Collaborating on a project can lead to great discussions on friendship and sharing. We discussed how we can ask each other kindly for turns with the colors, or set a timer to share, to work out a trade or that it’s ok to say “I’m using this color right now, you can have it when I’m done!”.
Step 3: Watercolor on felt
We couldn’t get enough of painting with the droppers and once our paper towels were soaked with paint we went on to experiment further on felt. We loved the soft texture and made sure to drop the watercolors all over our felt. We watched as the colors mixed and discovered that we can create big and small drops and that we can connect dots and draw lines if we move our hand slowly. Some of us even mastered using three droppers at a time :).
The colored felt pieces turned out so vibrant that we decided to glue them onto cardboard and attached beads for a hanger (tape or hot glue to the back).
I hope your children will enjoy this as much as my group did!