Learning about Value

Every year I have my first graders do a project involving value.  They paint a circle with white paint, and then they add a little bit of blue, then a lot, and then finally black all in a circle. We add black bats to our sky and it always looks great.  Perfect for Halloween.

This year, as part of my goal to provide more inquiry in our art experience, I did something different.  First I asked students to fill out post-it notes answering the question: How do you make a color lighter or darker?

Most students answered that they didn’t know and some answered that it depended on how hard you pushed the brush.  I was surprised that only a few answered by adding black or white.

The next step was to hand out paint pallettes (dry tempra paint cakes).  I told them they were going to divide their paper into two parts.  On one side they had to made their base color (red, orange, green, or blue) lighter.  On the other side, the task was to make it darker.


This was a great way to get students to mix colors and see what could happen. There was a lot of discussion about black and white, and lots of kids really liked making peach out of pink and orange. Checking for understanding, we did a quiz:


Pretty surprising after all the conversations, after all the experiments,  only about 50% of my students got it.  But, that is better than what I had at the beginning so I am happy.

And now for the project.  The big change for me is that students could pick different colors to make their value scales: red, blue, green, orange. They also got to pick their subjects for the silhouettes. I tried to make it easy for them, but some students really wanted to do ballerinas, camels, etc.  For next year, I’m going to limit the options a little bit more.  I may do the bats again as a pregame activity, to build confidence.

Students painted their circle like I showed them, and we got our tables really nice and messy. No worries, my kids love to clean too so it’s a win. Then we practiced making silhouettes on scrap papers.  When they were ready, students got to make their silhouettes out of black or white paper.


The hardest part for me was making sure students used their space.  A lot of students will draw the smallest object, cut it out, paste it in the middle and proclaim they are finished.  I encouraged adding more animals, sand dunes, branches, etc. to prevent emptiness.

Overall, I am super happy with what these kiddos can accomplish.  They are super good at taking risks and always try their best!







Author: Sonia Chapman

I am an art teacher, living in the Middle East, following my passion for art, teaching little children about the finer things in life, and loving every bit of it.

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