Video 28: Make-Believe Colors!

Have you ever witnessed two children argue over “make-believe spilled coffee?” I will never forget the first time I saw this happen in the dramatic play area in the classroom. Here’s a way to take advantage of the fact that imagination is sometimes more powerful than reality, especially in the early years!

A long time ago, I came across Harry Chapin’s song, “Flowers Are Red.” During my career, I have unfortunately witnessed much of what the words describe, but luckily, I have met more great teachers than otherwise. As parents, we all live this at a visceral level and hope that fantasy is used to the highest potential when our children are engaged in learning experiences.

While the children were painting their pictures, and I was filming, I made comments such as “wow, it’s so cool to see these brush strokes here.” I would quickly be reminded that the “clouds” were surrounding the moon and a drier brush would do that. Green pine trees emerged at the horizon line and brown hill, too. The trick was that they were only using one color to paint: white!

Painting with one color brings me to this imaginative and creative space. Children are often faced with choices around red, orange, blue, purple, green, you name it. Sometimes, they are also faced with a model to copy, or one way of seeing certain pictures. And let’s remember comments like, “don’t you want to use red for your apple?” When children engage in color mixing with paint, or with colored water, they discover a new part of learning that they didn’t even know existed. Colors change right before their eyes and the science of colors uncover dozens of secrets that they will call upon later.

When children have only one shade, the story is very different: change happens on the spot and with only one color! The use of imagination to imply color frees up space in their brains to focus on the endless possibilities that one single color can offer; limitations of this kind can often foster creativity. As you can see in the video, the contrast between black paper and white paint offers rich information about shade, grade, and thickness in relation to each paint brush. High contrast combinations seems to work best (i.e.: black and white, yellow and black, red and green, etc). But there is more: the children are also developing an important scientific skill: they are practicing problem solving. Problem solving that will help them with reading, sounding out words, or solving a mathematical problem by accessing different viewpoints or strategies to solve one problem. Exploring deeply is often better than staying at a shallow level.

The best part is that when this type of activity is available, this can last quite a while. Spend some time looking at their eyes to see how they communicate their “aha moments” to you. Observe the ongoing explorations, and use open-ended questions to help you understand their intent in order to keep things moving along. And most of all, have fun!

Set-Up for Episode #28:

  • White paint
  • Any color paper
  • Paint brushes, tooth brushes, etc
  • For the table Top Easel: Plexi glass cut to taste, hinges, string, buttons and glue gun

Glue guns can be found at your local craft or hardware stores.

The easels are quite sturdy for one or two children at a time. It would be interesting to also explore pictures that describe seasons without the characteristic colors for each one (i.e.: red leaves, brown highlights int he winter, bright green for spring and summer, etc).


Simple table easel, using hinges and strings on the bottom. They are held by hot glue.

Only a dab of hot glue. Other types of glue work just the same.

I used enough string to keep the easel up without tumbling over.

Back side of the holding point (a regular plastic button):

“Kid-tested” front side – they really stick together!

Very convenient for storage. If you decide to make bigger table top easels, you can always velcro them to the back of a door!

Both fit in a supplies shelf and are available and accessible for the children (who use them for projects with markers as well as paint interchangeably).

“The Snow Bridge.”

“The Summer Night.”

“The Summer Night” close-up.

Did you enjoy this post? Share it with others! Need more? Let us know how we can help you enjoy this site with your children.

Have fun and Go Beyond The Classroom!


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