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Many Shades: Food Coloring

Make many shades of a single color, using food coloring and clear water.

Materials and Preparation

  • Put drops of a single color of food coloring in a bottle of water—make sure the color is fairly dark and concentrated.
  • Provide each child and yourself with a white ice cube tray, a cup of clear water, and an eyedropper/pipette.
  • chart paper labeled “Shades of Color” 
  • crayons 

Key Science Concepts

  • A single color can have different shades, from very light to very dark. 
  • Diluting colored water with clear water creates a lighter shade of the same color.


Encourage children to use the names of the colors, and descriptive words such as shade, light, lighter, dark, and darker; action words such as describe, drop, and mix; and science process words such as change, compare, dilute, and observe.


Tell children that they are going to make different shades of the same color, using water and food coloring.

  1. Pour some colored water in the first compartment of each ice cube tray. Ask children to describe the color of the water. What does it remind them of?
  2. Use an eyedropper or pipette to put some of that colored water into the next compartment of your ice cube tray. Ask, what do you think will happen if Alyssa adds a little bit of clear water to this colored water? Have the child add a few drops. Ask children to describe the color change.
  3. Have children spend time making shades of the colored water in their own ice cube trays. Circulate and engage individual children in conversation. Share observations and thoughts.
    • How do you think your colors are different from Leslie’s? How are they the same?
    • Point to two different shades: How is that shade of (insert color) different from this shade?
    • Compare how these two look: Which shade do you think is the darkest? Which is the lightest?
    • How did you make that color so light? Can you show me how you did that?

Reflect and Share

Invite children to talk about their discoveries. Encourage them to point to the shades in their filled ice trays as they talk. Start a new chart that you’ll use for the week, with the heading “Shades of Color.” Write down their ideas about shades of color and, using the different crayons, have them add some visual examples of the different shades to the chart.