Infrared Waves Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Deb Maxwell

Deb has an MA in education and 15 years of elementary classroom experience.

Infrared waves are part of the elecromagnetic spectrum. We can't see them, but we can feel some of them as heat. Lots of everyday technology uses infrared light.

Infrared Radiation and Waves

Do you know what you have in common with the sun, your remote control, a cat, and an ice cube? You all send out infrared radiation! Actually, everything on earth emits, or sends out, infrared radiation (IR).

Just like visible light is divided into colors, infrared waves are divided into smaller sections. Closest to visible light is near infrared energy, followed by mid, far, and thermal infrared energy. Humans experience thermal infrared energy as heat.

Place on the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Infrared waves fall between visible light and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of energy produced by the combination of electric and magnetic waves. Visible light is the most well-known portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

Electromagnetic energy travels in waves. Like ocean waves, electromagnetic waves curve up and down. Imagine that you and a friend are holding opposite ends of a jump rope. If you move your hand back and forth, you'll see waves in the jump rope. If you move your hand slowly, the waves will be very wide, which means they have a long wavelength. If you move your hand quickly, the waves will be very short, which means they have a short wave length.

On the electromagnetic spectrum, different wavelengths have different kinds of energy. Red light has the longest wavelength that we can see. Wavelengths that are slightly longer than visible red light are called infrared.

Sources of Infrared Light

There are many sources of infrared light. Anything that has a temperature produces infrared light, including you! The sun, fires, heaters, stoves, people, animals, and even ice cubes send out waves of infrared energy. Special cameras can detect infrared and make it visible.

Uses of Infrared Energy

People use infrared energy for all kinds of purposes. Around your house, you use infrared waves every time you operate a remote control. Remote controls send messages to televisions using pulses of near infrared energy.


Infrared sensors can be used for security both outside and inside a building. With thermal imaging cameras and night vision goggles, we can see what's happening, even in the darkness. This technology is critical for soldiers working at night. When studying animals, infrared sensors can help us see them in the dark.

Infrared image of a wolf
Infrared Image of a Wolf

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