SchoolArts Room

Early Childhood Color Symmetry

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Aug 13, 2019

One of the first early childhood lessons I ever taught as an elementary teacher became one I always taught. It combines imagination with simple color theory and bilateral or line symmetry. It also has an engaging "wow" factor; for me, one of the best components of a successful lesson.

elementary art student coloringStarting with an introduction to color, I would show transparent color paddles or gel sheets and demonstrate how they create secondary colors when overlapped in front of a window. (The very first time I did this, a child shouted out, “It’s magic!”). I would then demonstrate the project before I passed out materials.


I gave students 12" x 18" Manila paper and crayons and asked them to fold their papers in half, open them up, and write their names on them. (If students couldn’t write their names, I would write them for them.)


Having previously filled squeeze bottles of red, blue, and yellow paint, I would quickly go around the room and squeeze out a blob of each color in a triangular formation on one side of the students’ opened papers. Don’t place the paint too near the edges of the paper; place them closer to the fold. (You might instead choose to have a set of squeeze bottles for each table for students to use themselves, but I recommend using this approach for follow-up experimentation.)


Next, I would ask students to carefully fold closed the empty side of the paper like a book and then gently rub it with their hands to spread the paint inside. Then, they could quickly use the edge of a ruler to spread the paint further. Finally, students open their papers and see what they have created. “Wow” factor time!


elementary art project - butterfly
elementary art project - landscape
elementary art project - face

Students shared their images with the class, looked for secondary colors where the primary colors overlapped, and began thinking about what their images could become with imagination. We also talked about symmetry and how one side should be the opposite of the other. At this point, we set the papers aside to dry in preparation of adding drawing in the next class. If time allows, you read aloud a book about color or show a short film clip. OK GO has a great and engaging one, Lego Primary Colors. When students returned to class, they added to their pictures by drawing with crayons or oil pastels. Since the paint was now dry, they could also draw over it.


Before beginning this lesson, experiment with the tempera paint you have; some brands are better than others at giving vibrant colors. Manila paper works better than white drawing paper for this process, as it is more absorbent. Rubbing the folded papers with a ruler is less likely to tear the paper than just rubbing with the hands. Every child can be successful with this lesson and it remains one of my favorite.


Materials and Resources

  • Primary color paddles or gel sheets
  • Manila drawing paper, 12" x 18"
  • Squeeze bottles of red, yellow, and blue tempera paint
  • Rulers
  • Crayons or oil pastel


Nancy Walkup is the editor-in-chief of SchoolArts Magazine and a longtime elementary art teacher.


Creating: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.


OK Go, Lego Primary Colors,