DIY Kaleidoscopes were one of those projects on my long standing must-make list for what seemed like forever….the reason it took me a long time to make one was because most of the existing online tutorials are pretty challenging. Finally in an effort to keep it simple I realized that omitting the colorful bottom of the kaleidoscope was the way to go. “Wait!” you scream, “isn’t that the entire point of a kaleidoscope?” Well, the answer is partly, yes; in fact, a kaleidoscope without an end is actually called a teleidoscope. In this post I do include some suggestions for ends but I also love how leaving them open-ended means you can go out and explore the world a little differently!
This project was hit at Camp STEAM especially with one young man who decide to turn the teleidoscope into a pair of teleidoscopic binoculars, though I’m not sure that’s a real term…I thought his idea was brilliant and if you scroll down you can check out how to turn them into a pair.
This post contains affiliate links to products.
For the Kaleidoscope
- Mirrored Plastic Sheets or Reflective paper
- Cardboard Tube
- Xacto knife/straightedge/cutting mat
- Double sided tape
- Decorative Paper
- Perler Beads
- Colorful paper
- More suggestions below….
- Step One (optional) Trim paper for the outside of the tube. Using double stick tape, adhere the paper to the outside of the tube. This step can be omitted if you don’t care how the kaleidoscope looks on the outside. Design snob over here had to cover that tube, though!
- Step Two Cut your Mylar. First trim a piece it to match the length of the cardboard tube. I used tubes that were 4” in length.
- Step Three Score and cut the Mylar as follows for the interior shape desired:
Circular kaleidoscope Cut your 4” wide piece of Mylar equal to the diameter of the tube. Curl the paper into a circle and slip it into the cardboard tube. Secure the ends of the Mylar to the tube using a piece of double stick tape.
Triangular kaleidoscope Cut and score your 4” wide piece of Mylar as follows: Make 3 marks approximately 1 7/16” apart. Score the middle two marks and trim at the third mark. Tape the triangle together. Slide the shape into the cardboard tube.
Square kaleidoscope Cut and score your 4” wide piece of Mylar as follows: Make 4 marks approximately 1 3/16” apart. Score the middle three marks and trim at the fourth mark. Fold along the scored lines and tape the ends together. Slide the shape into a cardboard tube.
- If using plastic mirror make sure that no edges protrude past the tube! The corners are sharp!
- To test out the size of mylar needed to fit within the tube score and trim a piece of paper first. The dimensions I listed above worked for the tubes I had on hand but may not work for all cardboard tubes. You want a snug fit so that the mirrored shape does not fall out of the tube. If you make it too small, you can use tape to secure the shape to the interior of the tube.
- If you are using reflective paper you will want to score the BACKSIDE of the paper so that the reflective side faces the interior of the shape.
- Use as highly a reflective material as possible. Tinfoil does not work well. If you can’t find Mylar sheets use reflective papers usually found in the scrap booking section of a craft store. The paper can have some designs on it, just be sure to use silver colored sheets.
Make it a double!
To make a double teleidoscope glue a spacer between two teleidoscopes. We used a large nut but you can use another piece of cardboard tubing as well. It would be fun to experiment with the orientation of the two teleidoscopes and how that affects what you see. For instance you could try one triangular teleidoscope and one circular one, or two triangular ones with the point of the triangle facing opposite directions.
Since your teleidoscope is open ended here are some suggestions on what to look at to get started. These are things we had great luck with in creating cool effects:
- Colorful Patterned Paper Tape several sheets of patterned paper to a window and look through the kaleidoscopes. Use the circular, traingular and square versions and see how each of them affects the optics.
- Perler Beads I made a couple of colorful Perler Bead discs for use with the kaleidoscopes. Simply hold the disc at the end of the kaleidoscope and rotate/move the disc around while looking through the scope. Not familiar with Perler beads? They can be found at any craft store or here: Perler Beads. To make a simple disc for viewing with your kaleidoscope use the circular pegboard included with the beads and create a pattern. When finished with the design, place the sheet of ironing paper included in the set over the board and ask an adult to iron the beads to fuse them together. For this project you want to be sure to include a lot of translucent beads.
- More Ideas I taped our oil and watercolor art to the window and looked through that, you can also look at colorful lamps and more. Encourage your children to take these kaleidoscopes around the house and see what materials, patterns, or objects create the coolest effects when viewed through them.
David Brewster. David Brewster is known as the man who invented the kaleidoscope in 1816. He was a jack-of-all-trades scientist who focused much of his career studying optics. The Kaleidoscope was his most famous invention but he also spent years developing a stereoscope called the Brewster stereoscope (he did not invent the stereoscope). Don’t know what a stereoscope is? Familiar with Viewmasters? That’s a version of a stereoscope, where two images seen through the right and left eye are combined to form a 3d image. Brewster was the first to develop of a hand held version of the stereoscope.
Conclusion & More
I loved the idea of keeping our diy kaleidoscope open-ended because it allowed for more chances for discovery than your standard self-contained kaleidoscope. I also loved experimenting with the different shapes for the interior of the kaleidoscope. I think making them all allows kids a chance to experiment with the way optics change depending on the shape of the mirrored surface as well at the object/patterns being viewed. I also loved that keeping the kaleidoscope open ended meant it took about 5 minutes to throw together, perfect for a quick but entrancing project for kids!
- For more optical fun be sure to make a simple Camera Obscura. If you love unexpected color hit up Art in the Dark.
- Did you know there is a David Brewster Kaleidoscope Society? Neither did “eye!” If you can’t get enough of all things kaleidoscope be sure to pop over there and explore: The Brewster Society.
- Explore optics and light even more with a prism; we just purchased this inexpensive one from Tedco.
Are you passionate about raising creative kids?
Join over 14,890 parents and educators who want connect with kids and nurture their creative process through magical, easy projects you can do TOGETHER.
Send me awesome creative project ideas!