play-doh color wheel (art lesson)

We’re excited to be back today with another post in our art lessons series. 

The lesson we’re going over today is one of those little projects that was handed down to me from a friend, who received it from another friend… it’s been tweaked and adjusted to the appropriate age category over time. And today I thought I’d share what I did with my kids in the color theory category last weekend.

This is a great way to teach your kids about the concept of colors. Involve them in conversation as you go, asking them what they remember from your last lesson, what colors they think certain combinations will make, etc. It’s fun to see their reactions to things, and the colors you can mix with a simple element like play-doh!

If you missed last week’s intro, feel free to check it out here! We’ll be reviewing a few  points before we begin with this one, so without further ado…


Points to review with your kids: 

• Do you remember what we talked about last week?

• Color is reflected light – You see color because light waves are reflected from objects, to your eyes. The light we see from the sun is called white light. It is actually all of the colors.

• Remember how we talked about a piece of glass called a prism, and how it can divide light?


• The rainbow is also called a spectrum of color. It’s always seen in the same order : Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet.

• Today, we’re going to make a color wheel. A color wheel is that spectrum of color, bent into a circle. It is a useful tool for organizing colors.


Here’s what you’ll need: 

• Play-Doh (in the primary colors – enough to mix – check out our homemade recipe, here.) + Our free color wheel printable, here. (titled : color wheel)

New talking points: 

• A color wheel is that spectrum of colors, bent into a circle.

• Today, we will make our own color wheel by mixing play-doh.



Begin with the color wheel printable, and the primary colors. Review the primary colors again, and what they are. Take a small amount, and help your child cover the three sections with the primary colors listed.


• Primary Colors : (Red, Blue + Yellow) The main colors from which all other colors are made. They can not be created by mixing other colors.



• From the primary colors, secondary colors are created.

• Secondary Colors : (Orange, Green and Purple) Are made by mixing primary colors. Red + Blue = Purple. Red + Yellow = Orange. Blue + Yellow = Green.

For these three colors, take the primary colors, and finding the appropriate spot on the color wheel, mix until you’ve formed each color. (It’s fun for them to see the colors made right before their eyes) Place that color in the spot.



Tada! These are your secondary colors.

• Notice the colors that are right across from each other on the color wheel?

• These are called complementary colors. Yellow + Purple, Blue + Orange, Red + Green. They are opposites of each other.

• If you were to mix any of these, you would make brown.

• What is left on the color wheel that has not been filled in? Our intermediate colors.

• These are also called tertiary colors. These are both big words.

• This basically means they are the third group of colors.

• They are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

See: Red + Orange = Red/Orange. Red + Violet = Red/Violet… etc.

Let the name of the color in the circle that needs to be created, be a guide for your play-doh formula. If the color is red-orange, then you will need two parts red, one part orange. It’s basically the color orange, with a lot of red in it. Play with it as you go, and see what combinations you make!


Slowly but surely, the color wheel should start to look like this.



Just another word to throw out (included on the sheet + depending on your child’s age) Analogous Colors = the colors next to each other on the color wheel.


I included a list at the bottom of the sheet for review, depending on the age of your child. For example: Malone was merely interested in mashing his colors violently into the paper. That’s fine. He also knows that different combinations make different colors. Mission accomplished. We will probably do this a couple of times, because they all enjoyed it so much. Definitely over his head, but he knows what a rainbow is, and he knows how to organize a rainbow with play-doh. Yay!



Aiden, my 7 year old, on the other hand, knows what complementary, primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are. He can’t say analogous or tertiary to save his life. It’s just there for reference, and expanding their vocab (read: impressing the general public with random factoids on a whim at your next family dinner party) is a new and fabulous possibility.

And Emerson… is kind of a big deal. (Check out that face.)


They were proud of their little projects and enjoyed merging those colors!

We will continue to review these in different ways, until our kids get the hang of it… use the words to reference them, etc. They don’t need to have it memorized, because we will keep reviewing this concept in future lessons. But a nice grasp of primary, secondary, complementary, and why we have a color wheel, is always a good thing.

color_theorySo there you have it! An interactive lesson on the color wheel with discovery for your children. Something fun to do and establish a good color knowledge basis as they grow.

Trust me, they’ll be glad they had this one! As always, let us know if you plan to use it… we’d love to hear!

Have an inspired day, little artists! ;}

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Responses to play-doh color wheel (art lesson)

  1. JT says:

    I adore this. Of course.

  2. Anna says:

    This art lesson is so smart. I love this idea. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, I am going to have to try it with my little ones. I kind of want to try it, just for me. haha!

  3. Bekki says:

    I love this! I just pulled out all of my color theory notes from college to see if I could put something together for my children. I was going to use acrylics but playdough is so much neater!

  4. Tiffini says:

    so stinkin pretty…i can’t get over it!

  5. Julie Earnest says:

    I have been inspired today. I’m bookmarking this to use in our little school at home. Thanks!

  6. My little Everett would love this activity, since we have a strict no ‘mixing doh’ rule. I know it may be weird but I cannot stand the beautiful colors getting turned all poopy brown, bleck.

  7. Anna says:

    I am sure it is elsewhere on your blog, (which I love by the way:)) but how old is your youngest? What age do you think this lesson would start to be appropriate? I have a knowledge hungry, vocab queen of a three and a half year old but I have no idea if she would actually want to sit still:) I love the idea of art classes for kids, I was just thinking that I wish her preschool did more fun creative art things instead of just the things the teacher does most of. Thanks for all of your inspiration!!

    • Hey Anna! Malone is 3.5. ;}I had to guide him through it because his attention span just isn’t that long, but even if you worked in the concept of a circle and the colors, and letting her mix, I think that’s fun for them! For a full on lesson, I would probably recommend 4.5, for them to actually pay attention. But every child is different, so I always try to work my younger ones in with my older one, anyway! ;}

  8. That play dough is so fun and colorful and your daughters face showing off her wheel made me laugh! Thanks for being a guest on my blog today,and thanks for sharing. Have a fabulous day!

  9. Jacque says:

    What a great idea! I think hands-on learning is always helpful for children (and many adults!) I don’t have any children at home now, but I will pass this on to my grown kids and on facebook.

  10. Heidi says:

    I’m filing this away for later. My daughter is only one, so I usually spend art time trying to convince her that crayons color as good as they taste. But when she’s older this is going to be awesome!

  11. Ashley says:

    I just wanted to saw thank you so much for this idea and your printable page. We used it last night for a fun family home evening with our family. I took some pictures of us doing the project I was going to send your way (nothing fancy) but didn’t see a way how. Thanks again!

  12. Mary Jane says:

    Loved this color wheel project! Plan to do it with our grand-kids…

  13. Margie says:

    Love your nest painting with the bold blue eggs! You are so creative and talented.

  14. Leigh Anne says:

    I wanted to thank you for this great idea! A friend and I are teaching art lessons and we are using this to explain color theory. :)

  15. Carolina says:

    I am an artist who gives private lessons to children. I tried this with some of my students yesterday (4 and 8) and they loved it! It is a really great way for them to remember how to mix their own colors, thank you!

    • SO glad! I’m hoping to start this series up soon again now that we’re settled in with homeschooling here. I want to add in the arts where I can. I am so glad it helped! ;} I’m an adult, and I loved it!