Inspire Artistic Expression by Teaching Pointillism to First Graders

Bright Little Dots

Pointillism is a style of painting in which small dots of color are applied to a surface so that from a distance they blend together. This


practice was developed by Georges Seurat in the nineteenth century. First graders love to paint and pointillism is an enjoyable and easy way to teach them about an art concept, color, and at the same time integrate it into basic classroom lessons.


Students will be able to identify primary and secondary colors.

Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of a color wheel through mixing exercises.

Students will be able to describe what happens when different colors are placed side by side.


Tempera paint (red, blue and yellow)

Cotton swabs (6 for each child or 3 double edged)

White paper (8 1/2" x 11")


Coloring Book

Basic Color Wheel (13 colors)

A large poster or illustration: Georges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Mike Venezia's book, Georges Seurat (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists)

Sunday Comics

Preliminary Discussion

Teaching pointillism to first graders entails a discussion of art in general, i.e., how art is all around us and the purposes it serves. For example, you might ask the children about their favorite color and how that color makes them feel. Define "pointillism" loosely at this point. Discuss the artist who originated the term by reading Mike Venezia's book to the children. This book is not designed for first graders per se. However, it is appropriate as a read aloud and the children will enjoy the cartoons.

To get the children in the habit of thinking about art as a regular class subject, rather than a "special," it would be useful to integrate art words into your regular word wall. The second option is to create an art word wall. If art history is a regular part of your weekly or monthly schedule, each new artist could be displayed with words peculiar to his or her style.


Define the following terms and discuss. "Pointillism" is the major new term, so take a little time with it. Have the children repeat it after you. Have them clap the word in syllables. Have them find other words in the term, e.g., point, in, till, etc.

  • pointillism – small dots of color that appear to blend at a distance
  • primary colors – basic colors from which other colors are made
  • color wheel – painter's reference sheet – suggest that it is similar to the alphabet chart.)
  • secondary colors – colors formed by mixing primary colors
  • blend – to mix together

Color Wheel

Display a color wheel and discuss the color combinations. Discuss the primary colors and the secondary colors.

Have each child create a personal color wheel to better understand the concept.

Provide each child with an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of white paper with a triangle drawn in the center, three small containers with red, yellow, and blue paint, and three cotton tip swabs (double tipped).

Instruct the children to place a yellow dot at the top of the triangle, a red dot at the bottom on the left of the triangle, and a blue dot at the bottom on the right. Explain that these are primary colors. (Tell the children that the top of the triangle is like the top of a tent or teepee, so that everyone will start at the same spot.)

Have them do the following and "blend" the colors to make the secondary colors.

1. Have the children place a yellow dot in the middle between the yellow dot and the blue dot. Have them place a blue dot on top of the yellow dot in the middle. They should discover that the color turns green.

2. Have the children place a blue dot in the middle between the red dot and blue dot. Next, have them place a red dot on top of the blue dot. They should discover that the color turns purple.

3. Have the children place a red dot between the red dot and the yellow dot. Next, have them place a yellow dot on top of the red dot. They should discover that the color turns orange.

Let’s Mix It Up

Mixing Process ( Self Discovery)

Stress to the children that their personal color wheel is their reference sheet. Allow the children time to experiment with the primary and secondary colors.

1. Have the children mix a primary color with a secondary color. Have the children discuss what they see. (The children should notice a "middle" color, e.g., yellow green, red violet, etc., such as they've seen in their crayon box.)

2. Have the children mix all of the primary colors together. Have the children discuss what they see. (The children should notice a brown color.)

Mixing Colors Optically

Display the poster by Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Discuss how the dots of color have been placed side by side and how the eye blends the colors.

Provide the children with an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of white paper with two circles on it.

Have the children apply red, yellow and orange dots in one circle. Have the children apply yellow, blue and green dots of color inside the other circle. Encourage them to place the dots side by side. When they are finished, tape the papers on the board and get feedback from the children. Ask them questions, e.g., Do the colors seem to blend? Which colors seem nearer? Which colors seem far away.

Refer back to Seurat's poster and have the children look for the same colors that they have in their circles.

Provide each child a page from a coloring book or some other activity sheet on hand. Make sure the illustrations are simple and fairly large.

Instruct the children to color the illustrations with dots in the primary colors only. Have them create the illusion of secondary colors by placing a primary color next to a different primary color to make the secondary color, e.g., place a yellow dot next to a blue dot, a red dot next to a yellow dot, etc. When they are finished, tape the papers on the board and get feedback from the students. Play the tape for relaxation. (The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi is a good one.)

Extension Activities

Bring in the Sunday comics and have the children identify primary, middle, and secondary colors. For example, ask the children what kind of colors does the artist use to draw the "Garfield" comics?

During your math centers, ask the children to create designs with their blocks using only primary colors or only secondary colors. Next, have them create designs by mixing up the primary and secondary colors.

Visit an art institute and view Seurat's picture.

Ongoing Evaluation Ideas

Your youngsters can be evaluated on an ongoing basis by restricting them to three crayons, red, blue and yellow, for their regular class work. In this way they will be forced to refer to their color wheel to make middle colors or secondary colors. Also, whenever a story is read and they are asked to illustrate their favorite part, ask them to use only primary colors, or use the pointillism approach.


Allowing children to mix paints is the fun part of painting. They will discern for themselves why the primary colors cannot be made by mixing other colors. Also, they will discover for themselves what approach makes a color lighter or duller. Finally, they will even discover that sometimes they'll mix colors that look like "mud". Yuck!


Keller, Horst, The Great Book of French Impressionism, Greenwich House, New York, 1982.

Images: (Bokeh) and (Art)

The author is a former art teacher and the ideas in this article stem from her teaching experiences.