Color Science: A STEM Program for Preschoolers

Skittles Experiment

Photo by Amy Koester.

Winter can be a dreary time of year color-wise. Maybe you’ve got blankets of white snow, or maybe you’ve got the dull browns of leafless trees and dormant foliage. Whatever muted color palette you may have in the winter, I find that exploring the science behind color is a surefire way to brighten things up. Here are the details of a recent Color Science preschool program that I offered at my library. As with my previous preschool science program plans, I hope you’ll copy this one to share with your own kiddos.

First, we read our story. There are many great color concept books out there, but one of my favorites in terms of length, simplicity, and retell-ability is White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker. White Rabbit is a curious little bunny, and when he finds himself with access to buckets of red, yellow, and blue paint, he can’t help but test what happens when he combines the colors. This story offers a great introduction to primary and secondary colors.

Next, we retell the story together and talk about the science. I turned White Rabbit’s Color Book into a stick puppet story, and with the help of my young scientists, we narrated what would happen when, for example, White Rabbit jumped into the yellow bucket followed by the blue (“He turns GREEN!”). I introduced the terms primary colors and secondary colors, and we talked about what those terms mean.

We always have plenty of time to explore the science with hands-on stations. I set up three activities for our experiments with color. They were all easy, inexpensive, and–based on the excited chatter in the room–enjoyable:

  • Our first activity station was an exploration of how regular white light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. I set out flashlights and old CDs at this station, and I gave caregivers instructions to have the children shine the light on the shiny side of the CDs. The result is a reflected rainbow that the children can manipulate by moving their tools.

    White Light into a Rainbow

    Photo by Amy Koester.

  • Our second activity station used an activity I found on the Prekinders website that helps demonstrate how colors can mix together. Each child had a small bowl with about an inch of water in it as well as a cup with one of each color of Skittles candy. The children could pick any three (or more) of their Skittles to put in their bowls of water. After about twenty seconds, the colors of the Skittles really start to run off into the water. I had crayons and paper at the station so the children could record what they observed during the experiment.
  • Our third activity station reinforced the concepts of how primary colors combine to create secondary colors. Before the program, I had mixed small bottles of vinegar with red, yellow, and blue food coloring (I ended up with four small bottles of each). These bottles were set on the activity station table along with rimmed plates with a good scoop of baking soda on each. Children were instructed to choose one color of vinegar and pour a bit of it on the side of their baking soda pile; the soda pile fizzed and turned the color of the vinegar. Next they chose another color and guessed what would happen to the baking soda when the vinegar was added to it. Then they could add that second color of vinegar to the soda pile to see if they had guessed the correct secondary color. This station was particularly exciting because of the controlled eruption of baking soda and vinegar, but I also heard lots of great discussion between children and caregivers regarding what color the substance would turn and why.

    Eruptions of Color

    Photo by Amy Koester.

Everyone gets to take something home to reinforce our STEM topic. I had a number of books about color and experimenting with colors that program-goers checked out after the program. I also had a one-page (front and back) take-home sheet with activities for reinforcing color science at home. The activity sheet included a coloring activity, instructions for dying celery or white carnations with colored water, and a how-to for making colored slime. I have extra activity sheets available at the library’s check-out desk for two weeks after each program so that all interested families get a chance to try them out at home. It’s a great way to move discussions of color beyond simple point-and-recite or pronouncements about favorite color.

Have you explored the science of color with your preschoolers? If so, what did you do?

 

This entry was posted in Blogger Amy Koester, Programming Ideas, STEM/STEAM and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Color Science: A STEM Program for Preschoolers

  1. Jill H. says:

    I am totally stealing (borrowing?) these ideas for my next “Read, Learn Grow” activity. Whee, fun!

  2. Natalie says:

    Great program! I am having a “Roy G. Biv Party” to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and I can definitely see using these!

  3. Andrea says:

    Great ideas, Amy! I’m going to use some of this on Saturday at my Little Scientists program. The other experiment I like to do is this one with milk and food coloring from Steve Spangler Science. http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/experiment/milk-color-explosion

    So much fun! Thanks again for putting these ideas out there!

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  6. Lisa Riesenberg says:

    could I have a link to the take home sheet that goes with this program?

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  9. Elizabeth says:

    I am doing a color magic night for summer reading program: Fizz, boom, read. This will be perfect! Thanks!

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