Light for Kids: Activities & Experiments

Instructor: Shelby Golden
Get kids interested in learning about light with these hands-on experiments. This article offers directions for these activities and can help you find additional educational tools.

Bending Light

Help younger children build their understanding of the properties of light with this experiment. You'll need these supplies:

  • A half-filled glass
  • A straw

All you need to do for this experiment is place the straw in the glass and allow your students to observe it from the top, bottom and side. Have them pay special attention to what the straw looks like where it enters the water. Do they notice anything strange?

This experiment helps students understand that light can change direction when it passes through a medium, such as water. This refraction causes the straw to look like it's bending as it enters the water. Kids can learn more about this particular phenomenon with this lesson on the refraction and dispersion.

Wavelengths of Light

Help students explore the relationship between wavelengths of light and colors with this experiment. You'll need to get these supplies:

  • A large, clear plastic box
  • Water
  • Flashlight
  • Milk

Begin by filling up the box with water. Ask one of your students to hold the flashlight so it shines through the box while you mix in enough milk to make the beam visible. Have students look at the tank from various angles, including from the side and the far end. Depending on their position, they should be able to perceive different colors in the beam, from blueish in the center to orange at the end.

So why does the white beam of the flashlight turn blue and then orange? It's all about the wavelengths of visible light waves! Blue light has a shorter wavelength and is easily scattered, so it appears first. Orange light is much harder to scatter, so it remains for your eyes to see at the far end of the container.

Kids can learn more about the visible light spectrum and color frequency with these lessons on wave parameters and the nature of light.

Examining Diffraction

Complete this activity to help students understand diffraction. You'll need to find these supplies before you begin:

  • 2 pencils with erasers
  • Transparent tape
  • A candle
  • Matches

Prepare for this experiment by wrapping one of the pencils with a piece of tape below the eraser. Light the candle and put it about two feet back from the edge of a table. Have students take turns looking through the pencils by holding them together, eraser end up, about an inch away from one eye.

They should see a perpendicular line of light between the pencils. If they rotate the pencils 90 degrees, the line should now be vertical. Students who look closely should also be able to see tiny dots of light making up the line, which get bigger if the pencils are squeezed closer together.

These spots are caused by the light waves overlapping as they pass through the slit between the pencils. This creates a pattern of diffraction that your students can see! Your students can find out more about this aspect of light with this lesson on diffraction.

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