Christmas is coming up and we have a fantastic STEAM Project that encourages students to develop their artistic skills, critical thinking skills, engineering skills, plus they will learn about optical illusions. We’ve made Thaumatropes before, but today we have a whole new concept that involves a fun engineering build to create a spinning stand. Use it for this Christmas Thaumatrope project, or apply it to one of our other fun Thaumatrope projects!
Christmas Thaumatrope Project with Stand
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Christmas is just around the corner, and this is a great time to do a Christmas STEAM project! We’ve taken a favourite activity and given it a magical festive twist, plus added a stand for an extra engineering challenge. Check out the Easy Thaumatropes and the Halloween Thaumatropes we have made in the past. Then explore this activity to learn how you can easily adapt any of our thaumatrope projects to include a stand.
With this fun STEAM activity, you could be making your family and friends a fun optical illusion toy to keep them busy over the Christmas holidays. You could even invite them all over and do this activity together! What fun would that be?
What is a Thaumatrope?
A Thaumatrope is a toy first constructed in the Victorian era, which was made from a disk with a different picture on each side. They function by spinning rapidly. You can achieve this by either attaching to two pieces of string or elastic to holes in the Thaumatrope or you can build a stand. When the Thaumatrope spins very quickly, and the two pictures blend into one, it creates an optical illusion. Optical Illusions occur because the two images our eyes see don’t disappear from our brain immediately after seeing them. Our eyes “remember” each picture for 1/30 of a second, making the two pictures look like one image.
In this easy-to-do and fun STEM activity, the version of this toy you will be making is a Thaumatrope on a stand, so all you must do is to place the Thaumatrope on the frame and spin the disk from the two sticks on either side. This stand allows you to make Thaumatropes for any occasion and “play” them using this clever little Thaumatrope stand.
With this design, it makes the Thaumatropes wonderful for placing around a classroom or in a learning centre for students to explore and play with, or at home during the holidays as a piece of interactive Christmas décor.
If you prefer you can also adapt this project to use the strings or elastics. Simply reference this Easy Thaumatrope project for alternative directions.
This simple and amazing project takes advantage of a simple biology function humans have called Persistence of Vision.
Ask your students what they think Persistence of Vision means?
It is a phenomenon where our brains interpret images as movement. This is how animation tricks our brains into seeing still images as moving. When multiple images appear in fast enough succession, the brain blends them into a single, persistent, moving image.
Even though the two pictures are on different sides of the disk, when you spin them quickly, your brain does not process the two sides as separate images, it merges the visual information together to create one drawing! This is also known as an Optical Illusion or an Illusion of Motion.
A thaumatrope is a very simple form of animation.
How to Make a Thaumatrope with a Stand
Materials & Tools
An old CD and a few pieces of thin, single-wall cardboard
Small side-cutter (wire cutter)
Sandpaper or sanding block
A few thin wooden skewers – choose the straightest ones you can find in the pack
Two wooden tongue depressors
Two scrap pieces of wood for the base:
~Top piece – approximately 14cm (5½ inches) in length
~Bottom portion – approximately 18cm (7 inches) X 7cm (2½ inches)
Plus you need the Christmas Thaumatrope Templates which are available for STEAM Powered Family mailing list members. Simply enter your email to unlock the printable.
Christmas Thaumatrope Tutorial Video
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Thaumatrope with Stand Directions
Let’s engineer the stand first:
Teacher Tip! These first steps to prep the tongue depressors can be done ahead of time if you are doing this as a classroom project.
Drill a small hole into both tongue depressors. Make sure they are wide enough to fit the wooden skewers into and 2cm (¾ inch) from the top.
Cut the rounded edges off one end of both the tongue depressors with the craft knife. Use small pliers to break the ends off gently and sand with some sandpaper.
On one of the tongue depressors, mark a line on either side of the hole, up to the top and using a craft knife, cut along these lines and remove the little piece, leaving a “channel” for the wooden skewer to move in and out quickly.
Mark and cut all the wooden skewers to 20cm (8 inches).
Glue the top of the base to the bottom piece, ensuring it is in the middle.
Glue the tongue depressors onto either side of the top piece, with the flat sides resting on the bottom of the base.
Check that the wooden skewers fit into both the hole and the channel.
Let’s get the wooden skewers for the Thaumatropes ready:
Make a 4cm (1½ inches) mark on either side of the wooden skewers. It is the edge of the Thaumatrope and where the pony beads will be glued.
Before moving on, check that the marks you made are correct by placing the skewer on top of any of the templates in the middle (There are dotted lines in the middle).
It’s time to cut out all the Thaumatrope templates:
Print and cut out all the templates, keeping the small placement diagram from the right-hand corner of the template close at hand.
Color in all the templates that need to be colored, and draw your designs on the blank template if you wish.Using either one of templates you cut out or an old CD, trace the circles you will need for each Thaumatrope and cut them out with a craft knife.
Important Safety Tip! You may need the help of an adult to do this, as the craft knife is very sharp. Do not try and cut the templates out in one pass. Instead, go around the circle a few times using less pressure.
Ensure that the dotted line on each template side is in line with a fluted hole on either side. You will need to push a skewer through the hole in the fluting to the other side, so it must be straight and go through the middle of the circle.
Place the skewers and glue the pony beads and pictures onto the Thaumatrope:
Find the middle of the cardboard circle, ensuring that the skewer will go straight. You can use the pointed edge you cut off the skewer to open the hole slightly.
Push the skewer through the circle, stopping at the marks you made 4cm (1½ inches) away from each end of the skewer. Do this with all the Thaumatropes you have chosen to make.
PRO TIP: You can use a little glue to hold the skewer in place, as some cardboard has larger holes than others.
Assemble the Thaumatrope Christmas Images
Glue each picture onto the cardboard circle, lining the dotted lines with the skewers. Don’t forget to check your small placement diagrams. You don’t want to stick any pictures upside down!
Put a little glue into the pony bead or onto the stick and slide it snugly up against the Thaumatrope. There should not be any spaces!
Test the movement your Thaumatrope makes on the stand. Does it spin easily? If you are happy, go ahead and glue on all the pony beads or make your adjustments now until it spins freely.
It would be an excellent time to decorate your Thaumatrope base, or you can leave it plain wood!
Your Christmas Thaumatropes are ready. Get the stand and watch the magic of Optical Illusions!
If you do not see one correct image as the Thaumatrope spins, you have not put the one image upside down. You should check this before you glue your pictures down.
There are blank templates included for you to make your own Christmas Thaumatrope. Inspiration could come from all sorts of places. How about Christmas Songs? Get creative and give it a go!