Light refraction is the bending of light.

Light Refraction and Kids' Activities

by Pamela Harvey Bates

Your child might not be so interested in a big and boring word like "refraction," but the magic of bending light is pretty irresistible. Using common household items, you can set up simple experiments that sneak some science into the fun of making things appear and disappear, bend and flip and turn colors.

1. Making a Rainbow

A simple way to show your child that light refraction occurs when a beam of light is bent is to make a rainbow. All you need is a glass of water, a piece of white paper and the sun. After filling the glass, place it on the edge of your kitchen counter or on a table so that it is sitting half on and half off. Position it so that the sun is shining through the water. Tell your child to take the white piece of paper and place it on the floor so that the sunlight that is passing through the glass of water is shining directly onto it. Watch as your child's face lights up when he sees his very own rainbow reflecting off of the paper.

2. Bending a Pencil

Tell your child that he can do a magic trick with a glass of water and a pencil and see if he believes you. Set a clear glass of water on the kitchen table and hand your youngster a pencil. Instruct him to place the pencil in the water and then watch what happens. When you look at the pencil through the side of the glass, it appears to be bent, but why? Explain to your child that this happens because the light that is shining through the glass and through the water is bent by placing the pencil in the water, making the pencil look as if it is bent too.

3. The Upside-Down Television

We all know that kids love to watch TV, but what if you could turn their whole world upside down with a simple light-refraction activity? Give your child a magnifying glass and a piece of white paper, and then turn on the TV. Turn off all of the lights in your living room and stand about ten feet from your television set holding the white piece of paper in front of you. Tell your child to hold the magnifying glass about halfway between you and the TV. Move the paper around until the image focuses and then sit back and watch your child's reaction as the picture from the TV appears on the paper in the upside-down position. To add to the fun, try standing at different distances from the TV and using varying sizes of paper to see just how big or how small you can make the image appear.

4. Making Money Appear

Refracted light can make objects appear and disappear. You and your child will have fun with this activity as you make money disappear and then reappear right before your very eyes with just some water and tape. Use a clear bowl or cup and have your child tape a coin securely to the bottom. Tell your child to move his head slowly back from the rim of the bowl until he cannot see the coin. Carefully pour water into the bowl. You and your child will notice that the coin reappears as the water covers it. You can explain this magical reappearance by explaining that the light rays are bent by pouring the water over the coin, allowing your eyes to see the reflection of the coin in what appears to be a different position.

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