Valentine’s Day Thaumatrope

Valentine’s Day is getting nearer and we have a quick and easy way for you to express your love… with an interactive art piece called a Thaumatrope. We have made Thaumatropes before and kids love the optical illusions created by this simple craft. We thought this would make a really innovative and different type of Valentine’s Day card/gift for kids to make this year. Plus it is so quick and easy, perfect for a fast classroom project. So let’s foster a love of learning this Valentine’s Day with a fun, hands on, STEM Craft.

Valentines Day Optical Illusion Craft

Valentine's Day Thaumatrope STEM Craft

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What is a Thaumatrope?

This simple Thaumatrope is a small craft made from cardstock and other materials that explore Optical Illusions and Persistence of Vision. The original Thaumatrope was made up of a paper disc that had a different picture on either side and a piece of string tied onto each side of the disc. When the strings were twirled quickly between the fingers and let go, the disc would spin, and the two pictures became one image to the human eye.

The History of Thaumatropes

A Thaumatrope is one of the earliest animations. This simple toy, set the stage for future of stop motion animation films.

The word Thaumatrope means “wonder turner”, from Ancient Greek: θαῦμα “wonder” and τρόπος “turn” and was invented by John Ayrton Paris in 1826. This clever invention was the first of many other similar optical illusion toys that were developed over the years. Here are some examples:

The Science of Thaumatropes

While doing this activity, you will want to talk to your kids about not only the history of the Thaumatrope and Optical Illusion toys, but also the science behind how this cool craft works to trick the eye.

Optical Illusion

Optical illusions are like magic tricks for your eyes! They’re pictures or patterns that can trick your brain into seeing things that aren’t really there or seeing them in a wacky way. Imagine you’re looking at a drawing of a rabbit that also looks like a duck, depending on how you squint or tilt your head. That’s an optical illusion!

Your eyes are like super cool cameras that take pictures of everything around you and send them to your brain. Your brain is like a super-fast computer that looks at those pictures and tries to make sense of them. But sometimes, your brain gets a little confused and thinks it sees something that isn’t exactly what your eyes are looking at. Like when it is trying to understand the spinning thaumatrope.

Optical illusions happen because your brain is trying to guess what it’s seeing, using rules it usually follows to understand the world. But sometimes, those rules don’t apply, like with the tricky moving images in thaumatropes that create an optical illusion. And that’s what makes them so fun and surprising, it’s like playing a guessing game with your own brain!

Persistence of Vision

Persistence of vision happens when the Thaumatrope is spinning and the brain is tricked into seeing the two pictures as one persistent, moving image. Kids are always shocked when they first play and the two images magically become one.

The human eye and brain can remember an image for up to a thirtieth of a second. If another image replaces the first one in this period, it will put the two images together as one image.
When you spin the Thaumatrope slowly, you will see each image by itself. If you spin it fast enough, you will see the two pictures on top of each other, as one image. This happens when images are presented to your eyes faster than your brain can process them individually, so it combines them into a single image. This is also how animations works too. They are made up of individual images, or frames, which change so quickly from one to the next that your brain sees them as one continuous moving image.

So, get your supplies together and let’s make Thaumatropes for our loved ones! These are a great idea instead of the traditional Valentine’s Day Cards.

How To Make a Thaumatrope

Watching our quick tutorial video is a fantastic way to see how fast and easy it is to do this project with your kids. If you can’t see the video, your adblockers or firewall are blocking our video feed. You can also find the video on the STEAM Powered Family YouTube Channel.


Glue stick
Felt tip markers or pencil crayons
Thin wooden skewers or chopsticks
The templates for the Thaumatrope

Valentine’s Day Thaumatrope Directions

Usually a Thaumatrope is round, but we thought because it is Valentine’s Day, we would make it heart shaped.

One design is already colored, the other needs to be colored in or you may choose the blank template to be creative and come up with your own design and message.

Print and cut out all the template pieces using cardstock. When cutting, remember to leave the one part of the two sides attached.

Do all your coloring or designing before assembling the thaumatrope. When your designs are done, open the hearts and place the pointed side of the wooden skewer in the middle of the heart and tape it down.

Next, put glue onto the opposite side of the heart, making sure it is well covered. Close the two halves of the heart together, like you are closing a book. Rub it well and make sure that the edges line up and are properly closed.

If the wooden skewer is too long, just cut it shorter with a scissors. It should be long enough that you can twirl the skewer between the palms of your two hands.

Your Thaumatropes are ready!

Valentine's Day Thaumatropes

Using the Valentine’s Thaumatropes

Let’s test them out before you give them to the people you love.

Hold it upright in front of you between the palms of your hands.

Lightly roll the wooden skewer back and forth between your hands so the two images flip back and forth.

That was a quick and easy project, right?

Inquiry Questions and Extension Ideas

What happens when you spin it slowly?

What happens when you spin it quickly?

Does it make a difference how far away you are from the thaumatrope while it spins?

Try it again with new pictures. Which images work best?

Try different colors. How did the new colors change how you saw the image?

Could you make a thaumatrope that shows one object moving, instead of two objects combining? How would you do it? For tips check out our flip book project.

Can you make a thaumatrope that completes a hidden message? For tips, check out our original Thaumatrope project.

Want more Valentine’s Day interactive art projects? Try our Valentine’s Day Agamograph Project.

You can find this and more ideas for Valentine’s Day in our Valentine’s Day STEM Activities resource.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Have fun crafting thaumatropes!