We didn’t dilute our water color today.  We pulled out red, yellow, and blue, and armed with full-strength color, we painted strokes of beauty and creativity on thick, absorbent watercolor paper.  We used white crayons to create a color resist, we pressed down masking tape before adding color to protect some area of our pages for a striking white design, and we even soaked strips of paper in water first and then added color, watching the primary set bleed and then transform into the secondary. 

And then came something I did not expect.  Addie, who loves to submerge her hands, feet, arms, legs, and elbows into any kind of water, dumped her small containers of color onto the trays we were using for our materials.  She began painting her arms and swirling the water around on the tray.  Tekoa saw what was going on and asked if she could dump her colors.  At first I said no.  I was concerned about the watercolor getting everywhere. (silly me…when will I learn that mess is KEY!)  Then I stopped, and instead of saying no, I verbalized my concerns.

Me: “I’m concerned that if you pour the water out, that it will get everywhere, and I’m not prepared to handle that inside today.”  It is fair that I assert my expectations up front.  While mess is a part of learning, it is okay for me to draw a line to respect the limitations of what I can handle.
Tekoa: “I can keep it on the tray.”
Me: “Okay.  I will need some extra help when we are all finished.”
Tekoa: “Okay.”

The experience moved from painting to water exploration seamlessly, allowing the kids to meet their needs for discovery and exploration and me to meet my need for having a morning of sensory play contained enough that I could get it cleaned up before snack time.  Each child discovered, in her own way, that the trays were not level on the table – that one end of the tray was deeper than the other, and in order to cover the tray they had to add water carefully with eyes on all corners to the water did not overflow.  The drying watercolor creations were torn into passengers and set sailing in the small paint-tub-boats.  Tekoa was especially perplexed at why her boats were not moving, but Cadence’s were.  “You need more water,” Cadence suggested, and passed the pitcher to Tekoa.  The deep blue water reflected the florescent light of our art room, and Addie noticed that when she looked in the water at just the right angle, she could see me sitting across the table from her!  When all was said and done, we did have a mess, but I had three committed helpers!  I rinsed and kept washrags wrung out, and Addie, Cadence, and Tekoa scrubbed the floor, trays, chairs, and table.

I should mention that when I set up the experience this morning, I offered to the whole group, “I have paints ready for anyone who wants to come!”  Simone, Christian, and Henry were deeply engaged in dramatic play and did not want to paint.

Me: “Are you sure you don’t want to join us?”
Simone: “Yeah. We’re too busy.”

Never let it be said that I forced a child to leave dramatic play for paints!   What are your best ideas for watercolor in early childhood settings? I’d love to expand my artistic repertoire!