How Does Light Travel? - Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:05 The Fastest Thing in…
  • 0:44 Light Is Energy
  • 1:27 How Does Light Move?
  • 2:10 How Does It Do Both?
  • 2:54 Light Is a Solo Act
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Ryan Newton
Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Nothing that we know of travels faster than light. But how exactly does light move so quickly? Does it travel in waves like sound or in little particles? In this lesson, we'll investigate the scientific facts behind how light travels.

The Fastest Thing in the Universe

What moves faster than anything else in the world? Is it a cheetah, a jet, or a sports car? It definitely isn't you doing your chores! So what is it? Believe it or not, it is light! Light travels at 186,000 miles per second!

If you moved as fast as light, you could run all the way around the Earth 7.5 times in one second. So how can light move like that? Well, it isn't because of fancy new sneakers or extra muscles. Before we clear this up, let's take a closer look at what light really is.

Light Is Energy

We all know that light is an important part of our lives. The light from the sun brightens up our days. Light from electricity helps us see in the dark, watch television, use our cell phones, and play on our computers. Life without light would be pretty dull.

Light is a form of energy, like heat and sound. But what is really unique about light is how it travels and how it gets from one place to another so quickly. Think about this: sound is really fast too. It can travel a mile in about five seconds. But remember, light goes 186,000 miles in one second!

How Does Light Move?

For a very long time, scientists weren't sure exactly how light traveled. They figured out that sound traveled in waves, but light was more of a mystery. Some thought that light also traveled in waves (kind of like the waves a rock makes when you throw it in a lake), but others thought it moved in little particles. To imagine particles, think of tiny specks of dust.

Scientists figured out that light bounces off certain objects like walls, but is able to pass through other objects like windows. Light can also be slowed down and bent to produce the colors of the rainbow. Finally, scientists decided that light must travel in both waves and particles.

How Does It Do Both?

Light is a special form of energy that has a way of getting almost everywhere really quickly. We can think of light traveling like waves rippling across a pond or water spraying out of a hose. In each case the water is traveling away from a source. Sometimes it bounces back, and other times it passes through. That's kind of how light works.

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Additional Activities

Act Out the Light

In this activity, students will get a deep understanding of how light travels as they put themselves in the place of the scientists who studied this phenomenon.


  • Props, such as:
    • Small yellow balls (pingpong balls would work well if available, scrunched up yellow paper would work as well)
    • Optional props chosen by students


  • If there are multiple students, students should work in small groups.
    • Students can also work independently.
  • The goal of this activity is to write a brief skit/play that explains how light travels.
    • Students will act out the role of the scientists who originally studied light and learned of its movement patterns.
    • Students can use the props to represent light in the skit.
  • Students working independently should play all the roles of multiple scientists doing experiments on the movement of light. Students working in groups should act out the disagreement between scientists on the way light moves.
    • Creativity and humor are encouraged for these skits to have the greatest impact.
  • All students should perform their skits after having time to compose and practice.
    • Students working independently can video tape the skit to create a memorable movie.
    • Students working in small groups can perform for each other.


  • All students should write a brief paragraph explaining what they understand of how light travels.


  • Scientist A: Light clearly moves in waves, see how it goes right through that pane of glass?
    • Student rolls a ping pong ball through a square frame to simulate light going through glass.
  • Scientist B: No, light travels in the form of particles! Anyone can tell that the particles bounce off solid objects. See?
    • Student rolls a ping pong ball into a wall and watches it bounce off in another direction.
  • Both scientists begin to yell 'Wave/Particle/Wave/Particle' until suddenly they stop, look at each other and say, 'Maybe it is both!'
  • Note: this is a very simplistic example to give students an idea.

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