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By Audra D.

This simple DIY kaleidoscope can be made with materials you most likely have at home. This project combines art and optics to lead to tons of customizable fun! Use this project to explore multiple areas of STEAM and experiment together. Want more? Check out these titles on Hoopla: Stomp Rockets, Catapults, And Kaleidoscopes and Light.

Materials needed

  • Toilet paper tube
  • Decorating supplies 
  • Ruler
  • Scissors 
  • 1 bendy straw
  • Blank white paper 
  • Mirror paper

Instructions

  1. Start with decorating your toilet paper tube! You can use markers, stickers, decorative tape, or any other supplies. This will become the outside tube of your kaleidoscope.
  2. Next, take your mirror paper and cut out a piece that is 4 inches by 4 ½ inches.  Fold this into thirds with the mirror side in. Try folding the top and bottom edges inward at the same time until they are the same size. It should look like a triangle when you are done.
  3. Put a small piece of tape on the top of your paper to hold it in a triangle shape. Place it inside your decorated tube. It should fit snugly.
  4. Next, pull out the bendy part of your straw until it is as long as it can be. Cut the bottom part of the straw so there are only 2-3 inches past the bendy section. Set this aside for now.
  5. Now, draw and cut out a circle on your white paper that is approximately 4 inches across. Decorate it using two or more colors. Try making different patterns and shapes on different sections of the circle. When you are done decorating, carefully poke a hole in the middle of the circle with a pencil.
  6. You are ready to put your kaleidoscope together! Thread your paper circle onto the straw until it is in the middle of the bendy section. Then, tape your straw to the outside of the tube so that the circle touches the tube but can still turn.
  7. In a well-lit area, hold your kaleidoscope up to your eye and turn the paper circle to watch the patterns you have created! 

Questions to ask

  • Will your kaleidoscope work with any kind of shiny surface? Take out the mirror paper and try the experiment with aluminum foil instead.
  • What different patterns can you make in the kaleidoscope by drawing on the circle? Flip your circle over and try different shapes and colors to test them out.
  • How does light affect how well your kaleidoscope works? Will it still work in the dark? Try out different lighting to find out!

How it works

Your kaleidoscope works by reflecting light! Most kaleidoscopes have at least two mirrors inside that are placed at an angle so part of their reflection overlaps. Light filters through the materials at the end of the tube (your paper circle). When the light hits the mirror paper, it bounces back or reflects. The reflections then bounce off the other mirrors, creating amazing patterns inside the tube. Kaleidoscopes were invented in 1816 by Dr. David Brewster and patented to be used as a toy and an inspiration for artists in the following year. Kaleidoscopes are still used for fun over 200 years later!

Audra D.
Adult & Teen Librarian

Audra D.


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