Thursday, March 31, 2011

Home-made Play Dough Color Theory

Sometimes I realize that something I have covered long ago in my oldest children's homeschooling was never a topic we went over with the littler ones. Color theory was one of those topics! So yesterday we remedied that little oversight. It wasn't that Ethan (my youngest boy at 7 years) had no idea about what happened when you combined colors, but I wanted to be sure he had a firm grasp on the concept before we moved on to our next (exciting!) art lesson.

First we whipped up a batch of homemade play-dough using the following recipe.
  • 3 cups flour + a little extra for kneading
  • 1/2 cups salt
  • 2 tbs. cream of tartar
  • 2 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups boiling water
Mix the first three ingredients in a large heat-proof bowl. Boil the water and oil. Slowly add the water with oil to the dry ingredients mixing well. (I often use my large stand mixer for this part... it goes faster!) Once your play dough is smooth, soft and elastic remove it from the bowl and divide it into 2 or more parts to be colored. This time we divided it into 3 balls and used paste food coloring to make our primary colors. You may need to add a tiny sprinkling of flour if it becomes sticky or tacky.

Our three primary colors: Yellow, Red and Blue
Ethan mixing his first two primary colors... So excited! (*Excitement is probably partly due to the fact that this was the first time in his memory I've encouraged the mixing of play dough colors... I'm not sure why I've never really encouraged it. It's not like it is expensive or hard to replace. One of those ingrained things from my own childhood I guess. I remember always being told not to mix my play dough colors... they would get ugly and muddy looking, but boys like muddy and ugly looking sometimes don't they? Plus our mixed colors turned out pretty for the most part. See purple below... not so sure about that one!)
His secondary color emerging...

Primaries and Secondaries
See what I mean about the purple? We tried mixing equal parts red and blue, more red and less blue and vice-versa. But they all turned out weird! My husband thinks it is because our blue looks more turquoise than pure blue... maybe he is right. But still it was purple enough for Ethan to understand the theory of red + blue = purple. And that was the important part, even if it wasn't a very pretty purple!

See our rainbow of colors emerging? Aren't they pretty? Ethan had so much fun making all of these colors! Color Theory concepts learned! Success!
 All of the kids enjoyed (re)learning about color theory. Afterwards we all played with playdough for a while!

 Claire had never played with playdough before. She was thoroughly impressed! She only tried to eat it a few (dozen!) times. She did have lots of fun playing and squishing it through her fat little fingers.


  1. I am LOVING this lesson!

    (Oh, and FYI, you just have one of the most beautiful families I have ever laid eyes on! Whenever I visit your blog, it just makes me want to come over to your house and be apart of your fun!)

  2. I should do this with my oldest. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me. Thanks for the inspiration! (:

  3. Hi Rachel
    What a great idea for learning colours - I usually only make one colour playdough, but yours looks so pretty there!
    Thank you for your email - I'll send you a reply today (I've been so exhausted since arriving home from camp).
    Hope you are keeping well - I've been thinking of & praying for you !
    Have a wonderful day

  4. Hello Rachel

    Thank you for visiting today. Its lovely being back. A lovely idea about showing the color wheel. Thank you~

    Have a great day
    Warm regards

  5. I have a class of Kindergarten students who could use some extra fine motor skills experiences and am so excited to show them this lesson! By the way, you'll have more success with purple if you start with magenta instead of red. You're getting a plum-y color because the red and the blue are warm and cool respectively which makes for muddy colors.

  6. Great ideas! Thank you so much! The CMY color wheel (subtractive color theory- where cyan, magenta, and yellow are the primaries) may be a bit complicated for a 7-year old, but you'll get less muddy, more vibrant colors when mixing paint and dyes. Here's a good intro explanation along with some color recipes:

    And this page goes more in-depth if you're interested (though you can also just google CMY color theory):


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