Kaleidoscopes were always a fun childhood toy that most kids had access to. But did you know that, by playing with a kaleidoscope, you were experimenting with reflection, refraction, and patterns? You were a young scientist without even knowing it!
Kaleidoscopes rely on the basic principles of light reflection and refraction to display some pretty beautiful colors. In today’s experiment, we will build a simple kaleidoscope that can easily switch out the materials inside to build a new display whenever you want.
Ready to make a simple toy that can exercise your child’s creative muscles? Let’s do it!
How to make the Kaleidoscope Creations engineering experiment
Supplies you will need
For this experiment, you will need the following:
- 2 empty toilet paper rolls
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic wrap
- Colorful materials (we used some sewing clips)
- Piece of paper
- Optional: markers
Before you start
We are going to view our kaleidoscope by pointing it toward a light source. Please watch your children and do not look directly at the sun.
Here is how to do this experiment with your toddler:
Step 1: Prepare the cardboard tube
First, cut off about an inch from your toilet paper roll.
The small piece is going to hold our colorful objects (we used sewing clips) and the larger piece is going to be the body of our kaleidoscope and the piece we look through.
Step 2: Decorate your kaleidoscope
If you want to decorate your kaleidoscope, go ahead and color it now!
My daughter chose to use markers, but you can also use stickers, crayons, paint, glitter, ribbon, or anything else you have on hand.
Step 3: Prepare your inner piece
We’re preparing the piece that fits inside the main kaleidoscope body. It will be the reflective piece that makes the kaleidoscope.
Mark the second toilet paper roll to be slightly shorter than your main kaleidoscope body. Cut the smaller piece off.
Then, cut down the side of the toilet paper roll so you can open it up for the next step.
Step 4: Add the reflective piece
For this step, you will need to cut a piece of aluminum foil that is slightly bigger than the opened toilet paper roll you cut in the previous step.
We are going to wrap the shiny side of the aluminum foil around the open toilet paper roll, trying to keep it as smooth as possible when wrapping it. If it is crumpled, the kaleidoscope won’t work quite as well as if it were smooth.
If you have trouble wrapping the opened toilet paper roll smoothly with aluminum foil, you could always use a flat cardboard box (since the toilet paper roll tends to roll back into a cylinder and can crinkle your foil).
Once you have the foil wrapped around your toilet paper roll or cardboard, fold it into a triangle (pictured).
Step 5: Create the colorful portion of kaleidoscope
Pull out the small piece that you cut in step 1, the plastic wrap, and the colorful objects.
Cut a small piece of plastic wrap and place it under your cut toilet paper roll. Add in the colorful objects, making sure they are not bigger than the toilet paper roll piece.
Now, we are going to wrap the plastic wrap tightly around the toilet paper roll piece, ensuring there are very few crinkles of the plastic wrap. Use some tape to hold the plastic wrap in place.
Step 6: Tape the kaleidoscope together
Next, take the piece we just created in step 5 and tape it to the main body of the kaleidoscope.
Once the body of the kaleidoscope is complete, go ahead and drop your reflective piece that we created in step 4 into the main body of the kaleidoscope.
Step 7: Create a viewfinder
You can use the kaleidoscope or the leftover cut piece of toilet paper roll to draw a circle onto a piece of paper.
Cut out the circle, but leave a little room around the circle when you cut. This will help when it comes time to tape the paper onto the kaleidoscope.
Cut small lines from the outside of the paper to the circle we drew all around the circle. The picture below demonstrates this better. I cut lines about an inch apart all the way around the circle.
Place your paper on top of the body of the kaleidoscope and fold down and tape the lines you cut out. This makes it a lot easier to keep the paper flat on top and tape it onto the kaleidoscope.
Step 8: Test out your kaleidoscope!
Gently hold your kaleidoscope up to a light source – natural sunlight or a lamp will work perfectly – and look through the viewfinder end. Rotate the kaleidoscope, and marvel at the captivating symmetrical patterns that emerge, like an ever-changing mosaic of colors!
Please use caution when having your child look toward the sun with their kaleidoscope.
This is a great opportunity to talk to your child about reflection, which is what they’re seeing when they see colors bouncing around inside of the kaleidoscope.
The engineering behind the Kaleidoscope Creations engineering experiment
This experiment teaches:
- Exploring the Wonders of Light and Colors
- Encouraging Creativity and Artistic Expression
- Introducing Basic Science Concepts
How it works
The kaleidoscope experiment works by using plastic wrap and colored shapes placed inside a cardboard tube.
When the tube is held up to a light source, the light passes through the plastic wrap, creating reflections and refractions that form intricate patterns. As the tube is rotated, the colorful shapes create an ever-changing mosaic of symmetrical designs.
This hands-on activity introduces children to the wonders of light, colors, and symmetry in an engaging and fun way, sparking their curiosity and encouraging creativity.
Exploring the Wonders of Light and Colors
The kaleidoscope experiment introduces children to the fascinating world of light and colors.
They learn that light can create patterns by reflecting and refracting through different materials. By observing the vibrant colors and symmetrical patterns in the kaleidoscope, children gain a basic understanding of how light interacts with transparent surfaces and colored objects.
Encouraging Creativity and Artistic Expression
Building and using a kaleidoscope helps boost children’s creativity. As they select and arrange colorful materials within the tube, they become little artists, designing patterns and playing with color.
Engaging in this creative process boosts their confidence, stimulates problem-solving skills, and helps them see the world from a unique perspective.
Introducing Basic Science Concepts
The kaleidoscope experiment also introduces small children to some fundamental science concepts. They learn about reflection and refraction, as light bounces off and bends through the transparent materials, producing the patterns they see.
Additionally, the concept of symmetry becomes evident as the kaleidoscope creates symmetrical designs. Children can explore how changes in angles and shapes affect the patterns, promoting early learning in geometry and spatial awareness.
More engineering experiments to try out with your child
- Build a Paper Cup Anemometer: Unleash the meteorologist in your child!
- Conductive Dough Circuits: A fun technology experiment with Play-Doh!
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