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Reflection & Refraction Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Jon Hadley

Mary Jon has taught in an elementary school for nine years, and am currently working on my doctorate in curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Reflection and refraction are both important properties of light energy. When you look in the mirror you see a reflection of yourself. Using a magnifying glass to make smaller words appear larger is an example of refraction.

Reflection

Have you ever walked outside at night and had to use a flashlight to see where you were going? Or perhaps the lights in your house went out, and you had to use a flashlight to get around in your home.

Did you know your flashlight was using reflection to direct the light coming from that tiny light bulb into a beam for you to see? Next time you pick up a flashlight take a look at the area around the light bulb. You will notice that it's a shiny silver color. This allows the light to bounce off of the shiny material, and reflect back out to shine in any direction you point your flashlight. Since human eyes are not made like cat or dog eyes, we cannot see in the dark without extra help. Thank goodness for flashlights.

What about when you get up in the morning to brush your teeth and hair before getting started with your day? Do you look in the mirror to see if your teeth are getting clean, or to make sure your hair looks good? Well, you are using reflection every time you use a mirror. Reflection is simply light bouncing off of a shiny object. If we understand that light travels in a straight path, and cannot go around objects, then we can see how light can bounce back in a straight path.

Swan Reflection
Picture of reflection of a swan in the water

Notice the picture of the swan. It looks like there are two swans, but there is only one. The shiny water reflects the light so that it looks like there is another swan looking up from the water. There are too many examples of reflection to mention, but keep an eye out for them as you go through your day. You will probably be surprised at all the places you see reflections happening.

Refraction

A Flower Stem in a Jar of Water
A flower stem appears broken in a glass of water

Another property of light is refraction, which is the bending of light. When light travels at an angle through one material, such as air, into another material, such as water, the light bends. The straight path that light travels in is affected by the material it is passing through. If light passes through a glass of water with a flower in it, the stem of the flower will look bent or broken, as in the example picture.

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