Kaleidoscope Project – STEAM Learning for Kids

Did you know white light is separated into many colours when looking through a prism? Imagine having a toy that is a tube with a mirrored prism inside it, and when you look into it, you see many different patterns and shapes instead of seeing different colours. A toy that allows you to make your art and explore the world of light and reflection, a magic show in a tube! In this exciting and fun project, you will make a Kaleidoscope that will do just that.


Kaleidoscope STEAM Project showing a DIY kaleidoscope for kids

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What is a Kaleidoscope?

In 1816, Scotsman Dr. David Brewster was the first to arrange mirrors and objects in a tube. The word kaleidoscope comes from a Greek phrase meaning “to view a beautiful form.”

A kaleidoscope is a magical toy that uses mirrors and colorful objects to create beautiful patterns when you look through it.

Imagine you have a tube with mirrors inside that are set at angles to each other, and at one end of the tube, there is a small hole.

When you hold the tube up to your eye and look through the hole, you see colorful patterns made up of reflections of objects placed either above or inside the tube.

When the tube is rotated, the patterns you see are constantly changing because the mirrors inside the tube are placed at 60° angles to each other, which makes the light bounce off them in different ways. A reflection of the objects occurs and causes the patterns to look different each time you move the kaleidoscope.

The Science of a Kaleidoscope

A typical kaleidoscope consists of three main components: the object chamber, the mirrors, and the eyepiece or disc.

The object chamber is part of the kaleidoscope where small objects like beads, glass pieces, or toys are placed. The kaleidoscope you made has a disc with patterns attached to the top of it, leaving the object chamber empty.

The mirrors are arranged in a triangle shape inside the kaleidoscope, with each angle measuring 60°. This angle causes the images to be reflected 6 times. Symmetrical patterns are created and are known as the principle of reflection.

The eyepiece is at the end of the kaleidoscope. Here is where you can see the patterns created by the reflection of the objects.

As you rotate the kaleidoscope, the objects inside the object chamber move, creating a changing pattern of reflections.

Your kaleidoscope stays in one position, and the disc on top is rotated, creating the same pattern of reflections.

The light reflected off a mirror is often compared to a bouncing ball. When you drop the ball straight down, it bounces straight back at you. If you throw the ball, so it hits the ground a short distance in front of you, it will bounce off the ground at the same angle in the opposite direction. Light behaves the same way.

So amazingly, the science of a kaleidoscope involves the principles of optics, symmetry, and reflection to create beautiful and mesmerizing light patterns.

Types of Kaleidoscopes

Wheel Kaleidoscopes have a wheel or turntable which makes up the end-piece. The wheels can be made of paper, glass, or other materials.

Dry-Cell Kaleidoscopes contain small objects like beads, glass pieces, or toys that tumble as you turn them.

Oil-Cell Kaleidoscopes are like dry-cell kaleidoscopes. The difference is that the object chamber is filled with oil. By turning the object chamber, the objects in the oil tumble quickly or slowly, depending on the oil’s viscosity. Once you stop spinning, things continue to move around slowly.

Teleidoscopes have a clear orb on the end that turns everything they are pointed toward into a kaleidoscopic image. A teleidoscope can turn anything around you into a magical picture! Imagine you could turn your friends into kaleidoscopic images.

Let’s make a Kaleidoscope!

Kaleidoscope STEM Project Video Tutorial

Check out the video tutorial of how to make a Kaleidoscope with your kids. If you can’t see the video, please turn off your adblocker as they also block our video feed. You can also find this video on the STEAM Powered Family YouTube Channel.

How to Make a Kaleidoscope

Materials & Tools

Craft cutting board
Toilet roll inner or another cardboard tube
Glue gun
Glue stick
Hobby knife
Wooden skewer to make holes in the cardboard
Wooden dowel (7mm / ¼ inch)
Screw to score the cardboard
Mirror board or silver aluminum foil
A very small screw and two small spacers
Clear tape

Plus the Kaleidoscope Templates. Simply enter your email to join the STEAM Powered Family mailing list and unlock the printable pack.

Kaleidoscope DIY Directions

Getting your pieces ready

Print out all the pages of the template on some project board.

Decide on the size of the tube you’re using and cut out the appropriate mirror board strip template. (I used the larger tube for my kaleidoscope)

Now cut out the appropriate size of the top and bottom caps from the template.

Get the pattern templates and choose one template to start with. An excellent place to start would be one of the colored ones first. Cut it out.

Preparing the mirror board strip

Turn the mirror board upside down(white side up) and place the template onto the board in one of the corners. Trace it and mark out all the scoring lines. Use a ruler to mark the scoring lines and cut out the whole strip.

Use a screw or other sharp object to score the lines.

PRO TIP! Do not push too hard, as you do not want to pierce the mirror side. The scoring is only meant to make it easier for you to fold.

Fold and join the two edges with Cello tape to close the prism. Remember that the mirror side is on the inside of the prism.

Putting the kaleidoscope together

Place the prism into the tube.

Get the dowel stick and cut it so that it measures approximately 1cm / ¼ inch longer than the tube you are using.

Make a hole for the tiny screw in the dowel stick’s top end. You can use a drill, a nail or an awl to make the hole.

You may need the help of an adult to do this step.

Remove the mirror strip from the tube, and using a glue gun, glue the dowel stick in place, not forgetting that it should stick out of the top of the tube with the hole visible at the top too.
Glue the top and bottom cardboard caps onto the tube.

PRO TIP! Make sure you line the large triangle at the top to the triangle of the mirror strip inside the tube, and the small triangle at the bottom should also be in line with the mirror strip.

Decorate your kaleidoscope

You can decorate your kaleidoscope in any manner you choose. You may use paint, felt-tip pens, stickers, or the supplied templates.

Get the template that has the printed colorful wrap and the plain one. Decide which one you are going to use.

Using your kaleidoscope, mark the correct size on the chosen picture and cut it out.
Using the glue stick, glue the picture onto your kaleidoscope.

Ensure you line the picture up correctly with the edge of your kaleidoscope. You don’t want to glue it down and find it is not straight!

Glue small sections one at a time, and pull them tight with each piece you glue down.

It’s time to make kaleidoscope magic!

Get the pattern template you chose and cut out earlier, and using the dowel stick, make a hole on the dot in the center.

Do not make the hole too large. It just needs to fit the small screw to hold the pattern down.

Get the small screw and two spacers. Use the diagram below to see the pieces’ placement and screw into the dowel stick with a screwdriver.

Screws and spacer placements for kaleidoscope

Do not make the screw too tight. The template should be able to turn easily but not be loose.

Watch the magic!

Finished homemade kaleidoscope

Hold the kaleidoscope to a light or the sunlight and gently turn the disc to see the magic!

Now use the other templates to make your patterns and designs. You can use dots, stripes, hearts, shapes, or words. Just have fun and experiment!

Material alternatives in this STEAM project

Any cardboard tube will work. You will have to adjust the templates to fit your tube. You may need the help of an adult to do this.

If you do not have a dowel stick, a chopstick with a thicker top end or a bendy straw will also work.

Extension Ideas

Try making a kaleidoscope with a four-sided square mirror to fit inside the tube and see what difference that makes.

Visit the Kaleidoscope Painter, a Kaleidoscope Pattern Simulator online to make some incredible patterns.

Try making a Periscope out of a Pool Noodle.

Kaleidoscope STEAM Project for kids