Tag Archives: light

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.

Science: Light

Let there be light!

While I still think shadows was more fun, light was a fun topic to explore too.  It was a little less hands on, but there were a whole lot of good book resources to tackle it.  This is a double post today with Color, as we’re catching up with science finally!  Oh, and for anyone who might be interested, I compiled all my science posts into one handy tab up at the top of the blog titled “Science Without a Net” (as in, without a curriculum!).  It links to all the previous posts as well as lists in one handy spot our favorite video and book resources.

Book Cover

We had several basic books out about light, but as usual the Let’s Read and Find Out title Day Light, Night Light by Franklin Branley was the best.  My only complaint about it was that it said repeatedly that light=heat, which is only true to a point.  So to balance that, I was glad we happened upon the book Cold Light by Anita Sitarski, which was a long form picture book exploring concepts in fluorescence by looking at things like glow-in-the-dark stickers and various glowing animals.  The other thing that struck me was how many of the books we looked at expected the kids to be able to go see how hot a lightbulb gets within just a minute of being turned out.  Seeing as we changed out all the house bulbs to be CFL’s around the time Mushroom and BalletBoy were born and the other source of light they know best is probably the LED’s in their flashlights, the idea of the old fashioned incandescent bulb perfected by Edison is pretty foreign to them.  But the books were all at least a few years old.  So we took out the book The Lightbulb by Joseph Wallace to read as well.  This book told the story of why people wanted the lightbulb so badly (having just read Bill Bryson’s At Home, I was well brushed up on this myself!) and explained Edison’s journey to invent it as well as the future of the lightbulb (including LED’s and CFL’s) in some good detail.  Both this book and Cold Light were on the long side for a science book for Mushroom and BalletBoy, but just like they’ve learned to appreciate longer fiction books and history books, I think it’s good to push them a little with read aloud nonfiction titles like these, even if we didn’t quite read every word in either of them.

For videos, The Magic School Bus offers us “The Magic School Bus Gets a Bright Idea” which isn’t one of their best offerings but is perfectly fine.  Bill Nye gives us two options.  First, we have “Light” and then we also have “Light Optics.” I also stumbled upon the show DragonflyTV, which I had never seen before, but which is available free on PBS’s website.  This is a clip about light and color.

We watched a lot of videos about light bulbs.  Despite the fact that it was an ad where I skipped a bunch of the commercial parts, the kids really like this one by a company who makes CFL’s.  It shows the process by which a CFL bulb is created, which the kids found very cool.  Here’s another one, from the Discovery Channel about florescent bulbs.  Of course, you can also go with the more traditional option.  This is from How It’s Made about incandescent bulbs.

The kids did a bunch of very simple observations to go along with light:

  • They looked at each other’s pupils as they expanded and contracted depending on the amount of light.
  • They found things that reflected light and talked about the materials.
  • They found things that were transparent and opaque.
  • They found the darkest, completely dark back of the basement room to see what it’s like with extremely limited light.
  • They felt the heat of various light bulbs as they went from cold to warm.
  • They observed how light bends when it goes through things, such as by making a straw look “broken” in a glass of water.

I’ve been really appreciating how my friend, who took over science, gets the kids to slow down, ask more questions, and discover things like transparent and opaque for themselves.  It’s pretty cool.

Science: Me and My Shadow

Really, we had so much fun with shadows that I thought it deserved its very own science post.  It’s just one topic in the heading of “light” but it was one which turned out to have lots of fun applications.  We mixed most of this in with light, but I think shadows get to be the introduction to light because they’re such an easy way in.  So more on light next week, but first, Shadows!

There are two unexpected children’s books that we read which I simply adored.  The first was photographer Tana Hoban’s Shadows and Reflections.  I’ve long been an admirer of Hoban’s children’s books, which are mostly wordless collections of her photography along a theme (her book More, Fewer, Less is probably my very favorite preschool math picture book, which is really saying something).  This book is exactly what it sounds like, but the conversation it can inspire, about what reflects and what distorts, about where the light comes from, about the relative size of things, and so forth, is just great for this unit.  There is another book which is similar to this called Guess Whose Shadow by Stephen Swinburne, which also uses photos to show the interaction between objects and shadows.  The second book is a wordless fiction picture book called simply Shadow by Suzy Lee, who also created the amazing book Wave.  This whimsical book uses shadows to reflect a young girl’s imagination, changing them and eventually letting them interact with reality.  It’s not science at all, but it was such a perfect fiction go along that I had to mention it.

For other books, Let’s Read and Find Out has a nice, simple title called What Makes a Shadow, which actually has surprising depth for a level one book in this series.  But even better was the book Me and My Shadow by Arthur Dorros.  This book was very much like the Let’s Read and Find Out title but with a lot more detail.  It tied shadows into the broader topic of light much better, especially by highlighting how the earth is in a shadow every night and how when we watch the moon wax and wane, we’re watching a shadow.

Finally, there’s a Boston Children’s Museum Activity book about Shadows called Shadow Play.  I adore this series, but we didn’t end up doing much from this book this time around, but I had it out from the library and I was appreciating it so I thought it was worth the mention.

For activities, again this week, I give most of the credit to my awesome friend who took over science activities while I was swamped with other stuff.  Also, again, I have a lack of cool pictures in part because I was tending a tiny baby and in part because I’ve gone through two phones in the last month and lost most of the pictures I took as a result.  The first and last thing the kids did that afternoon was to measure their shadows outside by each standing on one rock then placing another rock at the tip of the shadow.  Later on, they went back up there and measured again.  They could see that their shadows had lengthened over the course of a couple of hours.  And while it may sound trivial to us, it was pretty exciting to them.

In fact, while all our science topics have carried over into daily life, where we can talk about things like energy transfer and wave motion, this topic carried over especially well.  The kids played with their shadows and noticed their shadows all week.  Later in the week, they roped their friends into a game of “shadow tag.”  They were also so fascinated by the shadows created by the theater lights when we set up the stage for The Tempest that I really recommend getting several bright lights in a room (such as those traditional desk spotlights) and playing with them to create multiple shadows.  That allowed us to talk about umbra and penumbra, the two different shadows that are created when a light shines on an object.

The other big science activity we did with shadows was to make shadow pictures using sunprint paper.  There are other brands, but I stole the image here from the brand we used, which was Sunprint.  The kids gathered items from outdoors and arranged them artfully on the blue paper then allowed the sun to make a shadow.  When you rinse the paper in water it will reverse the colors, which is fascinating to watch.

Finally, if it’s not obvious, the best way to explore shadows is with a shadow puppet show.  Take that desk light and shine it onto a sheet suspended in a doorway and let the kids cut out shapes to make shadows for shadow puppets.  Or just use their hands to make more traditional shadow puppets with the shapes of their fingers.  Mushroom and BalletBoy have been at that for the last couple of weeks with a new excitement, thinking about shadows.