Science: Mirrors and Reflections

Hey, it’s a post where I took back over the science afternoons!  It was so good to get a break, but also so good to be back.  Perhaps because I was so psyched to be back, I did way more prep for this week than usual.  However, it may have just been because I had such a good book inspiring me.

Mirrors: Finding Out About the Properties of Light by Bernie Zubrowski is another of the Boston Children’s Museum Activity Books that I sang the praises of before after we used the one about waves.  I really wish I had discovered these earlier.  They are so amazing.  The author, Bernie Zubrowski, sounds pretty awesome too.  These books break free of the constraints that hold down so many of the science experiment books, even the good ones, to suggest ways to set up things so that kids can really play with scientific concepts.  Honestly, I don’t know of any other science experiment book series for kids that’s this good.  I’m in awe of them.  The only drawback is that they require more prep work from the parents than other books.  It’s one thing to gather some materials together beforehand and another thing to be called upon to make a big tank (as the book about waves asked) or to set up little mirrors on stands and create a big grid (as this book did).  It’s always a debate as to whether that much prep is worth it for an activity that will only take up a few hours at most.  Many times, for me, the answer is no.  We’ll do something simpler or make it easier somehow.  But so far, the activities from these books have been worth all the work.  Pretty much every single activity we did for this day came from this book and there were dozens more we didn’t do that were just as good.

Anyway, we started with journals, but we quickly moved on to simply exploring the mirrors.  To make these, I bought a very cheap wall mirror (it was less than $5), pulled it out of its cheap plastic frame, scored the glass and broke it so we would have smaller mirrors.  A glass scorer is also pretty cheap (the one I had was less than $3) and it’s pretty easy to do, not to mention quick.  Obviously, buying mirrors of about the right size (these were about the size of a greeting card) would have been easier, but probably more expensive.  To protect the edges, I wrapped them with a bit of Duck Tape I had on hand, which I also let become the backing of the mirror just in case any got broken (one did, but by me!).  In order to make them stand up, I just used old wooden blocks and rolled a bit of the Duck Tape onto the back of them and attached them.

The kids had a lot of fun just playing around with the mirrors.  BalletBoy kept saying that, “The floor is on the ceiling!” as he walked around with the mirror perpendicular to his forehead.

Next, I let the kids make patterns with the mirrors and the pattern blocks.  Every time I think we’re finished with the pattern blocks (you know, because they’re so “little kid” then we find another use for them.  If you don’t have any, you could use all sorts of other things instead.

I challenged the kids to use the mirrors to show their faces again and again.  How many times could they show their face?  2?  4?  12?  We looked a little at what angles the mirrors needed to be at.  It was nice to have two different kids trying it with the four mirrors so they could compare for this and see that it took similar angles.

Next, we made the Lego people repeat infinitely.  It was especially trippy and Tron-like on the grid I had taped down (more about that in a minute).

As a blog aside, when the kids were smaller, we had a trip to Paris, where BalletBoy poked his head into a small room in the Cite des Enfants and quickly popped back out exclaiming, “That room had too many BalletBoys!”  This is one of my favorite memories of Paris.

Okay, back to the present (or the more recent past anyway).  We played a game where the kids had to try and “find” each other in their two mirrors from across the table.  They began to see how their reflections could bounce across the table and therefore how light could too.  It actually came in handy that this was a dark, rainy day because we turned out the lights and watched the beam of light bounce through the mirrors too.

After a break, the kids came back and we played a game on the grid I had taped down.  This would work equally well on some posterboard or by drawing the lines onto newspaper that’s taped down on a table.  The grid I used had 120 2×3 inch rectangles, though the book suggested an even larger grid.  I made little cardboard squares that were 6 inches and stood them up by sticking little 2 inch cardboard squares into the bottom of them to form a T.  The kids each drew a monster.  For the first round, I arranged the cardboard into a little maze so that the monster was protected and told them a story.  The monster has been terrorizing the village by night.  During the day, he hides in his cave where he’s built a maze.  If you shine the light on the monster, he’ll be defeated because he’s allergic to light.  But you can’t move the light, the monster, or the cardboard that is the maze set up.

The kids had to use the mirrors to reflect the light onto the monster.  We played this game for each kid’s monster, meaning we did it four times over.  It was played in the dark, making it extra fun.

Then we played it again with all the monsters and they made the maze so that I could try and beat it.

And then they did it again!

To wrap up, we looked at reflections in spoons (and brilliantly, in an ice cream scoop that one of the kids thought to pick up).  They had done this before and introduced the idea of concave and convex, but I reminded them of how mirrors can distort images as well as reproducing them faithfully.  We went outside and found puddles (really, sometimes it’s good that there was a rainy day!) in which to see reflections.  Then we distorted them by putting waves into the water.  We also looked at reflections in the car and saw how the windshield distorted that.

Overall, it was a pretty great science day.

3 thoughts on “Science: Mirrors and Reflections

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