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Many Shades: Paint

Making lighter shades of paint.


  • white paint and one other color of paint
  • black paint (optional) 
  • paintbrush with a small tip or a craft stick, white plastic or paper plates (for each child)

Key Science Concepts

  • There are many different colors.
  • A single color can have different shades, from very light to very dark.


Encourage children to use words such as color, paint, and shade; descriptive words such as lighter and darker; action words such as describe, paint, and mix; and science process words such as change, compare, and observe.


  1. Tell children that they are going to experiment with creating a few shades of a color by adding different amounts of white paint. Provide each child with three pieces of white paper or plastic plates.
  2. Have children put a blob of the same color of paint on each plate. Then have them add a little bit of white to the first plate and mix it with the colored paint. What do they notice?
  3. Have them add a larger amount of white to the paint on their second plate and mix. What do they notice?
  4. Have children add even more white paint to the paint on their third plate. (If you have only one plate or piece of paper per child, have children add a little white paint to the colored paint, stir, then stop and discuss the new shade before adding more.)    
  5. Encourage them to describe and compare the colors they created and talk about how they made different shades. Point and say:
    • Compare this blue to this one: How is that shade of blue different from that shade? How is it the same?
    • Which shade do you think is the lightest? Which is the darkest? How did you make it so light?
    • What did you do to make that shade? I wonder if you could do it again.
  • You might want to offer children a tiny amount of black paint to mix in with the original color. Ask, How is mixing in black paint different from mixing in white paint? What do you think will happen if you add more black paint? If you add some white paint?
  • Help children document some of their discoveries by painting patches of several of the different shades they have created on a separate piece of paper. Ask, How did you make this (dark gray color)? This pale gray color? Write the child’s responses on the paper.

    When I mixed black with a lot of white I got this: swatch of color

Reflect and Share

Display and compare the children’s color samples and talk about their discoveries.

  • How did you make all those different shades of (insert color)?
  • If you want to make this shade of blue (point to a light blue) a darker shade of blue, what would you do?

(Children may come up with several solutions, such as “add a little black,” or “put in some dark blue.” Encourage them to try out their solutions when they next paint in the learning center.)