There’s so much more to light than meets the eye! In this science-rich unit study, we’ll explore everything from the color of light to the power of its energy through hands-on activities and experiments that will bring complex concepts to life for your child. Track your progress along the way with our printable tracking document, available here.
Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- All About Light by Lisa Trumbauer (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla (or read it here on OpenLibrary here)
- On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- All the Colors of the Rainbow by Allen Fowler (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Newton’s Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist by Kathryn Lasky
Optional additional reading:
- Energy: Physical Science for Kids by Andi Diehn
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- clear glass cup
- paper towel roll
- craft knife and/or scissors
- blank (or old) CD
- scrap cardboard
- glass jar with lid (you will need four throughout the week)
- 1-inch nails
- three feet of insulated copper wire
- 6-volt battery
- picture hanging wire (iron)
- electrical wire
- wire cutters
- laminator + laminator sheets (optional, but recommended for repeating lessons)
- dry erase marker (yellow)
- sidewalk chalk
- materials with different trasnparencies (examples: plastic sandwich bag, clear glasses, sunglasses, cupcake liner, plastic wrap, a Magnatile (or something similar), foil, a piece of felt, etc.)
- clear contact paper (you could also use a laminator + laminating sheet)]
- bamboo skewers
- aluminum pie plate (you might be able to find this cheaper at a local grocery store)
- magnifying glass
- food coloring
- masking tape
- thermometer (optional)
- toilet paper tube
- 2 googly eyes
- cotton batting (or cotton balls)
- plastic cup
- paper plates
- small mirror
- variety of prisms (Note: These glass prisms are more of an investment, but the produce much clearer results. Just be sure to make sure your child only uses them with supervisions because they can break. If you want an acrylic version your child can use on their own, this set is nice as well.)
- 15 pipe cleaners (including one of each color in the rainbow, if possible)
- playdough (any color is fine)
- pony beads
- glow sticks
- ingredients for this recipe (you’ll also need popsicles sticks)
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
Ready to let the light in? Light is a form of energy that can come from natural or manmade sources. Let’s learn more in the book All About Light. Throughout this book, there are small actions mentioned that show how light behaves. We encourage you to perform the actions with your child as you read to bring what they’re reading to life.
Activity 1: Let’s examine more about light refraction, or the bending of light as mentioned in our book. After you do the straw activity, try some of these other simple activities to learn more about the physics at play when light bends.
Activity 2: Has your child ever heard of a spectroscope? This is a special apparatus that can break light down into its component colors, similar to a prism. We’ll learn more about this phenomenon later in the week, but let’s bring it to life with this DIY spectroscope craft.
Activity 3: A man named Thomas Edison invented the first light bulb. We can learn more about it in this video. Then, let’s make our own form of manmade light with this simple lightbulb tutorial. Note: Let your child do as many of the steps as you are comfortable with, but use caution with the wire cutters and battery.
Activity 4: Let’s use light bulbs to illuminate the answers to some sums and differences with this math printable. If you don’t have a laminator, you can put the sheet in a large plastic bag and write over that with a dry erase marker.
You can’t have light without a little shadow! Today, we’ll take a closer look at the world of shadows with some art and music mixed in. Start by reading What Makes a Shadow?
Activity 1: Let’s examine how light source, object, and distance can affect shadows with this human sundial activity. This graphic can be helpful for explaining to your child how angles affect the size of the shadow.
Activity 2: The type of shadow an object casts depends on if it is transparent, translucent, or opaque. Let’s start by learning what these words mean:
- Transparent: An object or substance that allows light to pass through completely so that objects behind can be clearly seen.
- Transluscent: An object or substance that allows some light, but not detailed shapes, to pass through.
- Opaque: An object or substance that does not allow light to pass through or be seen through.
Give your child a flashlight and a variety of materials with different transparencies (examples: plastic sandwich bag, clear glasses, sunglasses, cupcake liner, plastic wrap, a Magnatile (or something similar), foil, a piece of felt, etc.). Go into a dark room and have them shine the flashlight at a wall. Take turns holding up each object in front of the light to determine the transparency of each, then categorize them with this printable chart.
Activity 3: Let’s do a little shadow crafting with this shadow frame project. You can also use shadows to create a sweet silhouette of your child. Have them stand in profile near a wall and point a flashlight at them. (You can also use this as an opportunity to show how shadows get bigger or smaller the closer we are to the light source.) Put a piece of paper on the wall behind their head and trace the outline. You can then have your child fill in their silhouette either with one color or draw in their facial features.
Activity 4: Let’s end our day with some music and shadow puppets! Start by preparing a few shadow puppets using the printout in this post. (We recommend at least one small prey animal, like the squirrel or rabbit, and one predator, like the bear or the wolf.) Next, introduce your child to Ludwig van Beethoven, a German-born composer who has written some of the most famous music in the world. Use this page to share more details about him. Next, introduce his Symphony No. 5 (linked at the bottom of the post). Using the music as your “score,” use the puppets and a flashlight to act out the music as a story about the squirrel or rabbit escaping from the bear or the wolf. As you play, point out when the tempo (speed) or volume of the music changes. Ask your child if they think the animals are running faster or how they are feeling at that part of the song.
Now that we have a broader understanding of the behavior of light, let’s look into what else we know about light as an energy source. First, we’ll learn about a very famous scientist who was fascinated by energy, Albert Einstein, in the book On a Beam of Light. This book references many topics that you have already covered with your child. For example, on day one of this unit, we demonstrated how quickly light travels by seeing how quickly it can fill up a room—you may want to repeat this or show how fast a beam of light can travel across a room with a flashlight. We also learned about atoms in our China Unit—you may want to take out that printable again to review what atoms are when you get to those pages of the book.
Activity 1: Light energy is also called radiant energy. This type of energy can even be turned into other forms of energy, like thermal (or heat) energy! Let’s demonstrate this with this simple activity. Note: You will be making a fire in this activity, so parental supervision and involvement is a must.
Activity 2: Energy affects how fast atoms move. We call the study of the relationships between temperature and energy thermodynamics. Let’s explore some thermodynamics in a hands-on way with this experiment.
Activity 3: Albert Einstein would have been a fantastic homeschooler—and he talked a lot about how children learn! Let’s use one of his quotes for some copy work today. Let your child choose one of the quotes from the list below:
- “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
- “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
- “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
- “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
- “Play is the highest form of research.”
Activity 4: In honor of Albert Einstein’s endless search for answers, let’s have our own “I wonder…” activity. Start by letting your child spend some time brainstorming a question they have. It can be something about nature, something about how something works, or anything that they wonder about. Next, help them research the answer to the question. See if you can find books about the topic on OpenLibrary.org, or take a field trip to the library to dig deeper. Research as deeply into the topic as your child wants to until they are satisfied by the answer—or until a new question is inspired!
Activity 5: Want to inspire a little more creativity today? Make this adorable Einstein craft.
There is so much to learn about rainbows, we’re going to spend the next two days learning more about them and why they happen. Start by reading All the Colors of the Rainbow. Read up to page 11, and then pause for the below activity.
Activity 1: Let’s demonstrate the color wheel phenomenon mentioned in the book by making our own disappearing rainbow wheel using this tutorial. (This video also demonstrates the tutorial in method #1 if you want to make sure you put it together correctly.) After making and using your wheel, go back and finish the book.
Activity 2: The person who discovered how light can be split into different colors was Sir Isaac Newton. We can read more about his discovery in the book Newton’s Rainbow. Then, let’s make our own rainbow with this activity and then by playing with prisms.
What is happening here? Kids Britannica explains:
Certain objects, such as triangular pieces of glass called prisms, can separate white light into the individual colors. When light travels through a prism, waves of different wavelengths bend by different amounts. The color of each wavelength then appears separately. This effect is called a spectrum.
Activity 3: The science behind what makes a rainbow is actually similar to what makes the sky blue. Let’s prove this in a hands-on way with this activity.
Activity 4: Let’s get a little reading and rhyming practice with this Rainbow Rhymes activity.
Let’s end our week with a few more fun rainbow- and light-themed activities! Start with this song that can help your child memorize the order of the colors in the rainbow.
Activity 1: Rainbow STEM challenge.
Activity 2: Let’s turn our pipe cleaner rainbow into an abacus with these tweaks. Use your new abacus to practice skip counting as the post describes!
Activity 3: Can light be art? Artist Dan Flavin thought so. Known as the “father of neon art,” Dan Flavin took a medium that had traditionally been used just for commercial signs and turned it into art pieces. [source] Click here for more information about his life and samples of his work in museums.
This is likely a new type of art for your child (and maybe for you, too!), so encourage a conversation about it. Does your child think this is art? Why? Do they like it? How does it make them feel when they look at it? What do they think the artist is trying to say?
We can’t make our own neon art, but let’s use tape and glow sticks to create our own light sculpture. Tape the glowsticks in your desired shapes to a black piece of cardstock. When they’re ready, take it in a dark room and let it glow!
Activity 4: End the week with these sweet rainbow popsicles.
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