This week we’re focusing on rainbow science for kids by exploring prisms. Prisms can provide such a fun, hands-on way for kids to observe and hypothesize about light. Here’s some fun ways to use prisms with preschoolers, kindergarteners, and elementary students.
*This science activity correlates with Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) 1-PS4-3.
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I have been so so excited to set up this prism exploration center for the kids! I remember using prisms as a kid and absolutely loving them. Prisms provide such a wonderful hands-on way for kids to explore light- especially rainbows! Not only is exploring prisms a fun physics activity, but it would fit into a geometry unit as well. (This post contains affiliate links.)
Rainbow Science for Kids: Exploring Prisms
Whenever I invite my kids to participate in science activities, my main goal is NOT for them to master a set concept, but simply to allow them to explore the activity in their own way. Giving this freedom to children inspires them to make predictions and critically think about the world around them in a pressure-free setting.
Setting Up a Prism Exploration Center
Setting up a prism exploration center was super easy! I set out a few materials and made sure the items were located at a level where both kids could reach them on their own. I also hung a few prisms from a sunny window to get the kids excited about rainbows! Here’s which materials I placed in our prism exploration center:
- Various prisms (see which prisms I recommend at the end of the post)
- Some scraps of paper with different designs on them
- Blank white paper
- Colored pencils or crayons in the colors of the rainbow
Using the Prism Exploration Center
The kids started out by discovering all the rainbows around our house created by our window prisms.
We found them on our walls, the floor, and even on our couch! (It was fun for the kids to see how the rainbows moved to different locations as the day went on, and how they disappeared completely when the clouds came.)
Later they decided to explore the triangular prisms I placed in the tray. Theo put his in the window to see what would happen.
He saw little rainbows inside!
We played around with ways to tilt the prism so we could make the rainbows go in different locations in the room.
The kids used colored pencils to color over their rainbows created by the prisms on white paper. What a fun way for them to see all the colors of the rainbow right up close!
The kids also discovered how different things looked when observed through a prism. Lucy loved looking through hers and noticed how she could see many things at once. “I think I can see three things because there are three sides around the outside of this prism!”
When we put the prisms onto patterned paper, the patterns changed!
The kids were so inspired to hypothesize and observe using the prisms! I’ll definitely be leaving the prism exploration center out all week to see what other exciting discoveries the kids make!
White light is a combination of all the colors of the rainbow (which Lucy really found fascinating). As the light from the sun passes through the prism, the light refracts (bends) and separates, making the colors of the visible spectrum.
You can find different kinds of prisms made from both optic glass and acrylic.
It’s fun to have a few glass prisms on hand because they are so much clearer, but I wouldn’t leave the kids unattended with them as they can break. (BUT, I’d definitely want at least one to use with the kids!)
- I purchased this 2.5″ crystal optical glass triangular prism which you see in the post.
- We also hung this crystal teardrop prism and this crystal ball prism from our windows. These lead to all kinds of rainbows showing up around our house on sunny days which the kids are just fascinated by!
Definitely purchase some acrylic prisms for younger kids. That way you’ll feel comfortable letting them explore all around the house or classroom with the prisms, and they’ll feel free to try all kinds of neat things with them without the fear of them breaking.
- I bought this plastic crystal prism which we used in our exploration center. It wasn’t as clear as the glass one, but I felt comfortable letting my kids carry it around all over the house to create rainbows!
- These also look like nice sets, and I might consider getting them in the future: Equilateral Acrylic Prisms, acrylic prisms in wooden storage box.
Want to go even further?
Even more activities about light to inspire creativity and critical thinking for various ages.
- Create your own rainbow using water and a mirror.
- Make a rainbow mobile with prisms.
- Bend light in this fun science activity.
- Here’s some children’s books about rainbows!
- This video shows an outdoor science activity using a prism and offers some scientific explanations perfect for kids.
- This activity for young children uses a rainbow to help teach color words.
Be sure to check out STEAM Kids book and ebook for even more creative STEM and STEAM ideas!